California Cities

San Juan Capistrano, CA, the Mission City in OC

San Juan Capistrano contains new homes and new attitudes, but is is also a city where history lives on in Orange County. As the only OC city with a mission, many of the activities and events that attract tourists and provide the centerpiece of community living take place at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Each year when the "Return of the Swallows" occurs, national media attention focuses on the mission and the long tradition of looking for little birds that build their mud nests on the sides of buildings and under eaves. One of the rites of spring, this is the biggest event all year to showcase a beautiful place with so much history.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776 under the direction of Padre Junipero Serra. One tiny crumbling edifice remains from the original building, while the artfully restored mission remains true to character and detail and acts as a testament of the past to preserve the region's foundations for kids and adults to learn about now.

Situated in a coastal valley only one mile from the Pacific Ocean near beach cities Dana Point, Laguna Beach and San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano features an old fashioned square where there's an Amtrak train stopping at the depot. Everything within the shopping and Mission district is just a short walk from the train. The Los Rios district includes includes 31 historic structures along Los Rios Street between Del Obispo and Mission Streets. Be sure to check out the shops, historic buildings and charm that feels as if you have stepped back in time.

San Juan Capistrano is halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, and is directly off the 1-5 Freeway or San Joaquin Tollway, designated by well-marked signage.

THE MISSION: Mission San Juan Capistrano has been the center of Orange County since its founding by Padre Junipero Serra on November 1, 1776. Today, it is one of California's most important historical, cultural, and educational centers. Mission San Juan Capistrano is the 7th of 21 Spanish Missions established in California by Franciscan Padres. Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas & Good Friday p.m. Ortega Highway at Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. From Interstate 5, take Ortega Highway west two blocks to the Mission entrance. For information, call (949) 248-2040 (Hours are subject to change, always call before going.)
Left: Damien Shilo, Chairman of the Juaneņo Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, whose ancestors built the mission. Return of the Swallows Celebration includes dancing, food, swallows, story telling and more. In 1915, Mary Pickford was married in the Mission chapel.

Thousands of years before San Juan Capistrano had a mission, protectors of the pristine Southern California coast lived with a different premise than those that came to conquer and claim. The Acjachemen (A-hash-she-men) Nation of native Americans lived and continue to this day, as guardians or protectors and keepers of the land they think of as Mother Earth. Inhabiting a region which spanned from Southern Los Angeles County through western Riverside County and south to northern San Diego County, thousands of archaeological sites contain the artifacts of a civilization which lost its footing when a new wave of immigration swept California in the 1700's. Read more information about 21 California Missions.

There are many books written and many perspectives about the relationships between native Americans and European settlers to the region. Regardless of sentiment, it is a fact that the mission Indians built Mission San Juan Capistrano, under the guidance of Fr. Junipero Serra. In 225 years since the mission bells were mounted, Damien Shilo has followed in the footsteps of his elders and worked hard to preserve a culture which is the lifeblood for thousands of Southern California natives. Current efforts include educational seminars and workshops, involvement at archaeological sites and lobbying to gain acknowledgment and recognition of the Acjachemen Nation. For more information, visit an informative web site: or call 949-488-3484 SWALLOWS FESTIVAL: The Swallows Festival or "Fiesta de las Golondrinas" is a two-month long celebration of the return of the swallows on March 19 of each year. The festival begins in late February with the "Taste of San Juan Reception". In mid-March, Swallows Week is kicked off with the President's Ball followed by a week of events such as the Hairiest Man Contest, Pets on Parade, Hat Contest, Hoosegow Day, pancake breakfast, rodeo, and the annual Swallows Day Parade. When you go: Capistrano Seaside hotel sits overlooks on the coast on the San Juan Cliffs. Technically not in San Juan Capistrano (which also is not a beach city), the hotel offers beaches within reach of the mission and downtown shopping at San Juan Capistrano. Ideally situated between the two coastal destinations, Dana Point and San Clemente, you may want to stay in some lovely San Clemente Hotels. Whatever you choose, you're bound to have a fantastic vacation visiting one of California's most interesting missions. WALKING TOUR: Enjoy a free self-guided tour using the City's own Walking Tour Brochure. These beautiful maps, reproduced in Sunset Magazine, provide visitors a walking guide through San Juan Capistrano. To obtain a Walking Tour Brochure, just visit one of the six downtown street signs (at El Camino Real/Ortega Highway, in front of the Mission, at Camino Capistrano and Verdugo, Camino Capistrano and Yorba, in the Depot waiting area, or at the kiosk adjacent to the Depot, and at Acjachema and El Camino Real).

LOS RIOS HISTORIC DISTRICT: The Los Rios District includes 31 historic structures which line both sides of Los Rios Street between Del Obispo and Mission Streets...> more

MUSEUMS: O'Neill Museum: Located in San Juan Capistrano's Los Rios Historic District. This rustic but genteel wooden structure was one of the town's first homes and provides today's visitors with a charming glimpse of life one hundred years ago. Located at 31831 Los Rios Street, call for hours and admission fees, if any. (949) 493-8444

Orange County Natural History Museum: In the Franciscan Plaza at the corner of Verdugo and Camino Capistrano (across from the Mission in San Juan Capistrano). An interesting array of fossil displays, preserved specimens, and live reptiles are on view. Monthly lecture series and hands on demonstrations available to the public. Call for hours and admission fees, if any. (949) 487-9155.

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