Built in 1776, San Juan Capistrano was the seventh mission constructed in the chain of 21 mission along the California coast. Franciscan priests were tasked with converting the native population to Christianity in the hope that they would become Spanish citizens and secure the land as a Spanish colony.
California’s first vineyard was located on the mission grounds which also included an iron foundry, candle and soap making, cloth and blanket weaving, and leather tanning. Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas were raised.
In 1797 construction on a large domed church was started. The church, built of stone rather than the more commonly used adobe bricks, was completed in 1806 only to crumble from earthquake tremors in 1812. 42 people attending church services died. The large church was never rebuilt.
Mexico, which included most of what is now the southwest United States, won its independence from Spain in 1821. The missions continued to operate until 1833 when the Mexican government secularized them. The Franciscans left and local people carried off building materials. Native Americans still farmed the land but they gradually drifted away. Mission San Juan Capistrano was auctioned off in 1845 and the Foster family established a ranch and used the mission buildings for living quarters. California became a US state in 1850 and in 1865 Abraham Lincoln deeded the mission back to the church.
Preserving and rebuilding the mission is an ongoing project which sometimes has unintended consequents. The mission has been famous for the return of the swallows every March but conservation of the church ruins in the 1990s included demolishing the swallow nests. Swallows prefer to reuse nests but when they discovered their nests were gone they built new nests farther from town where there is little disturbance from people. Nest have been made and swallows songs are piped in an attempt to draw the swallows back to their old nesting spots but it doesn't look like it's working very well.
An audio wand for a self guided tour is provided with a ticket purchase. The grounds and Serra Chapel are beautiful and the tour is extensive with displays of church artifacts and historic information about the mission and various activities however very little is said about the plight of the Native Americans who were basically held captive and forced into servitude. Many died from diseases and the one who survived lost their culture as families had been separated and speaking their native language was forbidden.
Almost all of the mission grounds and buildings are accessible. Ask for an accessibility map if you are not offered one.
There isn’t a parking lot at the mission but there are several free parking lots in town. We parked in Los Rios Park, an easy ( but bumpy over the flagstone) 1/4 mile walk/roll west of the mission. Do not park an RV on the street. According to city codes: No person shall park and leave standing upon any public street or highway within the City of San Juan Capistrano any motor vehicle or combination of vehicles in excess of twenty-five (25) feet in length, or having a width in excess of ninety (90) inches as measured at the widest portion of the body, not including mirrors or other extensions, or a weight in excess of ten thousand pounds. Mission 33.50199, -117.66271 Los Rios Park
Friday, March 29, 2019
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Garden
The house is fairly simple consisting of a large center courtyard with a covered patio around the perimeter and doors leading into the rooms. Originally there were six bedrooms with bathrooms, a living room, dining room, a kitchen, and an office. Several walls between the bedrooms have been removed to make room for history and fine arts exhibits. Some of the rooms are furnished as the would have been when the Hanson family occupied the home. The garden area is now only half the original size and is planted with small themed gardens. The rear terrace has a great view of the ocean but there’s no direct access to the beach from the property.
The parking lot is small and oddly shaped. Small RVs will fit but if it’s busy there may not be room for larger vehicles. House 33.42237, -117.6201
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
Wilderness Gardens County Preserve
Early inhabitants of this pretty, little valley included Luiseno Indians who used it as a seasonal camp for gathering acorns which were dried and ground into a flour. As settlers from the eastern US states moved west, the Stickler Brothers from Missouri built a water powered gristmill. Later settlers established a ranch and a hunting preserve. In the 1950s Manchester Boddy, owner of the Los Angeles Daily News and an avid horticulturist, began developing the land as a public garden. The garden was never finished and the property was given to the county when Boddy died in 1967.
Little evidence of all this human activity exists in the valley. There’s an acorn grinding stone along the main trail, a barn in disrepair, a ranch house used for the park headquarters and a tiny museum, a partial foundation of the gristmill, and a pond from Boddy’s garden.
Four miles of interconnected trails loop through the preserve. Pick up a map at the day fee/information board because it’s easy to get confused about which trail goes where. The preserve has a large variety of vegetation, birds, and animals. We even got to see a honey bee swarm!
Preserve 33.34838, -117.02718
Saturday, March 23, 2019
March Field Air Museum
Museum 33.88415, -117.26724
Thursday, March 21, 2019
All visitors must show ID at the reservation entry booth.
The parking area is small with a narrow entrance and a tight circular driveway. Large RV should be parked along the road outside the gate. Museum 33.94941, -116.82485
Tuesday, March 19, 2019
In the mid 1990s the Bell family sold the property and the new owners added an open air museum with more dinosaur sculptures. This seems to be geared towards small children so we skipped it. There’s no charge to view Bell’s dinosaurs and able-bodied visitors can climb the steps inside the brontosaurus to a gift shop and small museum.
Follow the signs for RV parking. The lot is large enough for any RV. Dinosaurs 33.92023, -116.77233
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