This centerpiece of Orange County in Southern California and the renowned home of architectural wonders and the famous swallow birds is a site not to miss. Set in the former mission hills and valleys it is a timeless compound full of centuries old artwork, modern displays and unique architecture. The setting is the small town of Capistrano just about an hour and a half North of San Diego and two hours South of LA. It is on the Ortega highway which is just a slight diversion inland from the scenic Pacific highway that runs along the beaches.
Before the establishment of towns there were missions in Southern California. Many are still extant but this mission in Capistrano is called the jewel of the missions due to its permanence and importance in the history of the state. The ten acres of enclosed walls acted as a barrier of defense, solitude and flourishing for the priests and townsfolk who were early traders and settlers. Today the Mission takes part of its name from Junipera Serra, a founder of this outpost and many others like it.
There is an admission fee which includes a free audio guide and there are group and family rates available. Discounts apply for certain age groups and those attending just for the religious functions and services held in the chapel are of course welcome free of charge. The site has a few gift shops, restroom facilities, ample garden space, open rooms to discover and historic and educational displays. For those looking for a daytrip or a stopover, there is plenty of parking around the mission walls, lots of restaurants and hotels in the pedestrian friendly downtown of Capistrano. It is a laid back city with a good tourism infrastructure.
Oftentimes the site hosts historic re-enactments, many events during the year for school children and educational opportunities. One can especially enjoy the central courtyard with its blossoming flowers and ancient palms. This is surrounded by a cloister like hallway which leads into former cells and storage houses. The current main chapel is a work of exquisite beauty. It has traditional wood ceilings and fantastically precious stone, woods and metals carved in the elaborate style of the Spanish missions of the 17th century. Everything is carefully preserved and restored.
The general hours of the mission are 9am till 5pm daily. There are specialty tours during the day like exhibit explanations, garden tours, brickmaking and verbally guided tours. One can see here the great livestock and agricultural roots of the state of California in the high productivity and efficiency of the first settlers. The property has been visited and cared for by Presidents as a site national patrimony and heritage. Overall the mission is a great travel attraction because it is informative, unique, fun and well run.