Is it true, as the song goes, that the swallows always come back to Capistrano? On March 19, you can find out for yourself at a special celebration at Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, the 7th of 21 missions in what was known as Alta California, is often called as the “jewel of the missions.” While it’s known for its beautiful courtyards and lush landscaping, it’s also famous for its birds – swallows, to be exact.

The swallows that make their homes in the nooks and crannies of the mission buildings are said to migrate annually to Argentina in October, and return to their spring and summer home in San Juan Capistrano in March. Each year, on March 19, the mission marks a double celebration: the traditional feast of St. Joseph, and the return of the swallows.

The significance of the swallows dates back centuries ago, as legend has it, when a local innkeeper destroyed the mud nests of local swallows, and the swallows soon took refuge in the mission buildings. Mission padres observed that the migrating birds’ return roughly coincided with St. Joseph’s Day on the church calendar, March 19.

The return-of-the-swallows celebration has achieved international prominence since then – and even inspired a hit song in the 1940s, “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.”

This year’s special event includes ringing of the historic bells, live mariachi music, and various local school and community presentations. The bells will ring at 10:00 AM and at noon; the official bell-ringing ceremony will start at 11:55 AM. Renowned cliff swallows expert Dr. Charles R. Brown will give a lecture on the swallows in the Soldiers Barracks Gallery from 2-3 p.m.

Travel note: You don’t necessarily need a car to get to San Juan Capistrano; the Amtrak station is just steps from the mission. Hungry after touring the mission? Head straight across the street from the mission to Pedro’s Tacos for a tasty and inexpensive lunch.

Return of the Swallows Celebration
Monday, March 19
10:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Cost: $10 for Adults, $9 for Seniors (60+) and $5 for Children (Ages 4-11)

Before you go, check out our handy Guide to San Juan Capistrano Mission.

Jeanne Ponessa Fratello has plenty of reasons to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day: Her grandfather, father, and brother are all named Joseph. She writes about kids’ nutrition at Jolly Tomato and about South Bay events and attractions at South Bay Sparkle.

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