For years I have had it on my massive LA bucket list to take the train down to check out Mission San Juan Capistrano. However not being a California native I am not too up on California history so I wasn’t sure exactly why I needed to visit this jewel of missions so it continued to be pushed down my list. We were invited down by the Mission to check it out, so we hopped on the train not quite sure what the day had in store for us.
Boy was it a mistake to put this visit off for so long. The Mission San Juan Capistrano is so much better than I had anticipated and now we can’t wait to visit again. It is a wonderful mixture of history and culture provided in an inspiring and educational package that even the youngest visitors can appreciate. And yes, it’s even engaging for those who aren’t history buffs!
History of Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano’s story begins in 1775 when the Mission was first founded by Father Lasuen, however it really started as a home to many from 1776 when Saint Serra re-founded the Mission. From this point on it has a colorful history providing refuge and home to many throughout it’s 230 years of history. The Mission is the seventh of nine missions founded by Saint Serra. As with other missions in California, it was created as a way to spread the Catholic faith.
These days, the Mission is known for its learning opportunities and as a top choice for 4th grade field trips, but also for the swallows who return here each year to nest.
The Mission itself is gorgeous and full of beautiful Spanish architecture which alone would be worth a visit. However, there is even more on offer here. The structures are surrounded by lush gardens that are swirling with nature – butterflies, hummingbirds and swallows nests, providing the perfect backdrop for families to spend a day exploring, learning and being free to run around.
What to See & Experience at the Mission
There are a great deal of activities to see and experience at the Mission that unless you plan to spend the entire day here, you may not get to it all. Our top picks of what you should not miss are given below. If we have missed your favorite, make sure to let us know as we will be back!
Follow the Audio Tour
The Mission has done an amazing job at creating an audio tour that is engaging for children and adults. My 7 year old loved following along with the audio tour, searching out his next number! The audio snippets are informative, funny and short which is the perfect combination for success in my book.
Visit the Mission Clubhouse
The Mission Clubhouse was one of our favorite places at the Mission and one we visited several times during our day here. Don’t miss the hands on activities such as building an arch with blocks and basket weaving. The room can get busy at times; we recommend doing a little bit and then returning when the crowds have died down.
Feed the Koi Fish
Grab some fish food from the main office before you set off on your tour. Trust me you and your kids will love hanging out at the fountain feeding the massive koi fish. We spent ages here feeding the fish and enjoying how close they would come up to us to grab their pellets of food!
Have a Picnic
The gardens at the Mission San Juan Capistrano are spectacular. Sit down anywhere on the lawn and enjoy your lunch while soaking up the warmth of the sun, smell of the flowers and the beauty of the butterflies flitting around. I can’t think of a better place for a family picnic.
Spin the Wheel
One of my son’s favorite activities in the Mission Clubhouse is a wheel that you spin to find out what your job would have been in the past. Mine was a latrine builder! His was amazingly a cowboy which is pretty much what he is in this life too!
Get a Pressed Penny
If you are a pressed penny collector like we are, you can’t miss your opportunity for a cool souvenir! There are two machines with slightly different offerings, so you just might walk away with two pennies. Machines are located at the front entrance and in the Mission Clubhouse. The gift shop will provide change if needed, but I suggest coming prepared with your quarters and pennies.
Participate in Craft Sessions
On weekends and during holidays there are a variety of craft sessions at the Mission such as adobe brick making, weaving and more. These sessions are not included in the admission price, but they are well worth the extra pennies.
Search for Swallow Nests
One of the coolest things we discovered while at the Mission was the Legend of the Swallows. Legend says swallows return to the Mission each year from their winter homes in South America between March and October to build nests. Due to years of conservation efforts and earthquake retrofitting, the swallows began moving their homes to other places in the area. With great sadness at their change in habitat, the Mission has put in a great deal of effort to bring them back to their rightful sanctuary. The Mission is excited by the first spontaneous nest built last year which they hope signals the continual return of more and more swallows. Excitement is brewing over how many will come this year. Make sure to have a look around the eves of the buildings to see how many you can find!
Explore the Veggie Garden
In addition to the main garden in the courtyard, there is a vegetable garden that is worth exploring. See if you can find all the blacksmith items scattered around as well.
Complete your Mission Passport
Make sure to pick up your Mission Passport when you arrive. It has several activities for kids to complete as well as a place to secure your Mission Branding stamp that the kids will have fun searching for while exploring the grounds.
Visit the Gift Shop
We are always fans of visiting gift shops and the one here at the Mission is pretty great. Tons of cool Spanish inspired items like pottery and wind chimes as well as religious items. The kids section is loaded with cool stuff from rocks to mission related books. Take a few minutes to check it out on your way out.
There are special events at the mission throughout the year. Most notable is the Return of the Swallows Festival on March 19 every year. Saint Joseph’s Day is the day Father O’Sullivan decided to host his wonderful party every year (which also happens to be his birthday!). This is a great must visit event that everyone in the family will enjoy.
Another fantastic family friendly event hosted each year is the Battle of the Mariachi’s held in May. This event showcases wonderful mariachi musicians young and old. This year’s event will be held on May 12, 2018.
In addition to these special events, there are regular family friendly events held throughout the year. Check their calendar for up to date information on activities.
The Mission provides a unique reminder of the past with its original historical building ruins as well as a place to learn about how people lived in this area throughout history. It’s an amazing destination for a family day out.
Children (4 to 11 years): $7
Children under 3 years: Free
If you love it as much as we do, you might consider getting a membership during your visit. Memberships are economical, starting at $40 and give you a great reason to keep coming back!
While it is easy to drive to the Mission San Juan Capistrano, we highly recommend taking the train and making it a fun day trip excursion! Hop aboard Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner all along the Los Angeles- Orange County corridor for a quick trip. The Mission is a few minute walk from the station.
Have you been to San Juan Capistrano? Do you agree it’s California’s jewel mission?
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