Mission San Juan Capistrano: The “Jewel of the California Missions”.

Truthfully, California is positively rich with shit to do. One could do an entire travel blog on this state alone. You can hit major cities/areas like San Diego, Los Angeles, Hollywood, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, or Catalina Island; go to cool hot spots like the Watts Towers, Winchester Mystery Mansion, the Whaley House, or Cabazon Dinosaurs; visit geographical wonders like Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Redwood National Park, Death Valley (hottest temp ever recorded on the entire planet was there), and the Mojave Desert.

Or just find minor, more local things that make a fantastic day trip.

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One local thing I did this past December was visit Mission San Juan Capistrano with my little brother Travis (aka “Don’t Be A Travis” from 2017 Solar Eclipse: Gods’ Gift to Man.) when he was home visiting for Christmas from graduate school. He enjoys historical things and makes a great mini-roadie partner, so off we went.

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Considered the “Jewel of the California Missions”, its slogan is “worth a visit” (I want to throat- punch whoever was in charge of picking that). It is 1 of 21 missions located all the way up and down the coastal region of the state. I went to elementary school in California, where the history of these missions is heavily taught; however, I’m not sure how much other states focus on it, so I’ll explain a little. These missions were all Catholic religious institutions, established by the Spanish between 1769 through 1833. They were miniature communities, where Spanish Catholic priests would work to “help” the indigenous folk “reach God”, as well as learn new tools and ways of life. Now they stand– quite well preserved, I must say– as historical reminders.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776, the same year America declared itself free of English rule, but since it was in the California territory, it was not yet part of the United States. This portion of the U.S. was still heavily dominated by Spanish explorers and conquerors; hence why the missions started going up. Spanish Catholic priests made it their “mission” to “rehabilitate” and convert the Native Americans, leading them away from their “savage” ways and into a God-fearing, civilized life.

This mission is in the city of the same name, about 1 hour and 15 minutes south of Los Angeles, give or take with traffic. Located at 26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, it’s open daily from 9am to 5pm, closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and closes at noon on Good Friday, Romance of the Mission, and Christmas Eve. Tickets cost $10 per adult, $9 for seniors (60+), $7 for children age 4-11, and children under 3 are free. They offer a wide variety of tours; however, the only one that comes with the cost of admission is the audio tour, which is like a giant remote that you carry around yourself and punch in the number of the exhibit you want to learn about.

The area with the Catalan Furnaces. According to one of the plaques, “Excavations carried out in 1935 unearthed the ruins and foundations of the Industrial Area where Mission products were made. These furnaces were used to smelt iron ore into metal. Mission blacksmith’s used the metal to make tools, hardware, and farm implements. The circular terracotta tile pipe extending from the top of each furnace would have had a large bellows attached for forcing fresh air into the furnaces to promote a hotter fire. The unearthed rectangular tiled section, directly to the right of the furnaces is the remains of the smithy storage area for raw materials such as charcoal.”
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There are many things to do and see at this mission, but some of the main highlights are: the Great Stone Church ruins (destroyed in the earthquake of 1812), two original bells that once hung in the Great Stone Church, the swallows nest and legend, the Serra Chapel (the only standing chapel where Father Serra gave mass), a 400-year-old golden retablo (painting or image behind or above an alter), beautiful gardens and fountains, areas where the Native Americans used to make food and wine, the “Mission Treasures: Historical Collection Revealed” (which has historical clothing, documents, paintings, and other artifacts like horse saddles and religious relics), a room with an educational video, and children’s craft areas. 

I enjoyed this mission because 1) it was so well preserved, and 2) it was educational and easy to walk around. We stayed for about 3 hours and were able to easily see all the rooms and exhibits. We did go at the end of December, so many students had already headed back to school. I’m not sure how pleasant it would be smack-dab in the middle of summer (however, I’ll probably find out since I’m planning a mission trip to all the southern California missions).

Overall, it was fun visiting this historic mission, knowing how important the missions were to California’s history. It’s definitely an outing for someone who enjoys history and/or learning about the past, so if that’s not your jam, I’d skip it. But if it is your jam, and you live nearby or are visiting, I highly suggest you go. It’s worth a visit!

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