I grew up in Ventura County and my mom took my siblings and me to what seems like every Mission in Southern California during those years. She loved visiting them. It’s been over 25 years since I’ve been to one, so I didn’t remember a lot about them other than that we went. I recently took my kids on a school field trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano, and I think I now have an appreciation for why my mom enjoyed them so much. There is such a rich history of California there in such a peaceful setting.
The mission was built in 1776, the same year the Declaration of Independence was signed – clear on the other side of the country! The east coast was working towards creating a new country, while on the west coast, Father Serra was working towards converting the natives to Christianity and turning the people into good Spanish citizens.
We were part of a school group and had a fabulous docent. She was very knowledgable about the Mission and was interesting to listen to as an adult, as well as kept all of the kids’s attentions with the facts she shared and the stories she told. (The Mission also has self-guided audio tours for both adults and for children). We started the tour by meeting an actual descendent of the Acjachemen tribe – the Native Americans who lived in the area before the mission was built and many of whom lived at and worked on the mission. He showed us the beautiful baskets he had made as well as a few other handmade items. We learned of the Acjachemen’s use of native plants for healing as well.
As we toured the Mission, we saw rooms used for sleeping, for an indoor kitchen, for making wine. We visited the outdoor gardens where a lot of the food was grown, as well as the area where the cows were branded. Much of the original adobe brick used to build the Mission are still there and we could even see bits of straw poking out of the mud brick. The stone church collapsed in an earthquake in 1812 and the ruins still remain.
The central courtyard is beautiful, complete with a koi pond and water lilies floating about. We enjoyed some time relaxing by the pond when our tour was done. My kids loved watching the koi fish swimming about. We spent a couple of hours at the Mission and enjoyed every minute. It is an inexpensive place to visit and well worth the time and money to go. Be aware that school field trips are popular here and can make it busy on some days in the mornings. Mission San Juan Capistrano is a great opportunity to learn of California’s history. Check the website for special events held at the Mission too.