Visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano

The Mission San Juan Capistrano is an amazing historical gem located in Orange County, California. Even if you are not into history, it is still worth visiting because the Mission is absolutely gorgeous. The story behind it is very interesting too!

Before my visit, I really had no idea about any of the California Missions, or what a “Mission” even was. I was never really into history, but when you get to see a historical place like this in person it’s totally different. Learning all about the Mission San Juan Capistrano was very interesting because I got to actually see it and imagine what life was really like there.

The courtyard and exterior building at the Mission San Juan Capistrano

I’m sharing this post to give you a little background of what I learned about the Spanish Missions in California (through visiting and the sources found at the bottom of this post). I also want to give you a little photo tour through the Mission San Juan Capistrano to show you just how pretty it is. I hope you have a chance to visit this place in person one day, but if not, I hope you at least enjoy it through my photos.

What You Need to Know About Visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano

Visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano

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The Mission's exterior building with archways

The Mission San Juan Capistrano is the 7th Spanish Mission in California and was founded in 1776. The earthquake in 1812 was part of the reason for this specific Mission to start declining, along with an increase of disease and death rate, and lack of supplies. In 1845 the San Juan Capistrano Mission was sold to a private party.

Today the Mission is preserved and used for educational and religious purposes. The Mission is open to the public and is also used for certain special events. Please note that weddings or any other religious events or ceremonies are not allowed. You can have your wedding photos taken here, which I highly recommend after seeing several photo shoots here with absolutely gorgeous locations.

Let’s take a little photography tour through the Mission San Juan Capistrano…

The Architecture

I am completely in love with the Spanish architecture at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Everywhere I looked there was another section that I wanted to take a photo of. All of the arches and doorways had me walking around with my camera constantly in my hand. It amazes me that this building is still in such excellent condition!

The Serra Chapel

The Serra Chapel is a lovely little chapel, with some amazing details. I see now why the Great Stone Church was built because this little chapel is not able to fit many people. Services are still held in the Serra Chapel today.

The ruins of the Great Stone Church inside of the Mission San Juan Capistrano

The Great Stone Church

This was probably my favorite part inside of the Mission San Juan Capistrano, and apparently, the popular place for photo shoots. I witnessed about 3 happening at the same time in the Great Stone Church area. This is the site that suffered damaged from the earthquake in 1812, so you can literally see where the walls fell down. It is such a historic section that cannot be missed.

The water fountain and bell wall inside of the Mission

The Bell Wall

Another popular Mission San Juan Capistrano photography spot is the bell wall. This is not the original site of the bells; they were moved here after the earthquake. Two of the larger bells were damaged in the earthquake, so replicas were made. The bells are still rung today.

The Way of Life at the Mission

There are a few sections that give more information on what life was like at the Mission. You will be able to see where and how the food was grown, cooked, and stored.

The Gardens and Blooms

I visited the Mission during SoCal’s super bloom, so the gardens and flowers were looking extra incredible. The courtyard areas inside the Mission are very well maintained.

What You Need to Know About Visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano

Where to buy tickets

You do not need to purchase tickets in advance, but you can if you wish. Ticket prices are normally around $10, but you can find good deals on Groupon. Here are a few places you can buy tickets:



When to visit

Orange County has great weather, so I really can’t say there is a bad time to visit the Mission. If you can’t stand the heat it might be best to avoid going during our hottest months of July-October.

There are certain holidays and events that might cause the Mission to be closed. You can always check their events calendar to find out what is happening.

How to get there and where to park

The Mission San Juan Capistrano is located at 26801 Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano. It is right off of Interstate 5 in south Orange County.

The Amtrak/Metrolink train station is only a couple blocks from the Mission in case you are interested in taking the train from Los Angeles or San Diego.

Once you arrive at the Mission you can find free parking along the Ortega Highway and Camino Capistrano.

The ruins of the Great Stone Church

What to expect

Visiting the Mission San Juan Capistrano is similar to visiting any other museum or historical site. Most of the grounds are outside, but there will be a few chances to peek inside of a building. You will be able to freely walk through most parts of the Mission, including the Serra Chapel and the Great Stone Church.

You can either explore the Mission on your own or take a tour! Audio tours are included with your ticket, but guided tours have an additional fee. You can find more information about the different tours offered at the Mission San Juan Capistrano right here.

During your visit you may come across several professional photo shoots like I did. If you are like me and want to take a lot of photos, you will have to be patient. Just remember those people paid a lot of money to have their photos taken here, so give them time and space. If you do find a photo shoot I recommend that you follow them, because they are going to show you exactly where the best photo spots can be found!

There is a picnic area near the back of the Mission if you would like to bring your own lunch. If not, you can find restaurants outside of the Mission. You can find several shaded areas beneath buildings to catch a break from the sun, or to hide from the rain (which is very rare in Southern California).

General rules of the Mission can be found here. Treat the Mission as you would any other museum…with respect and care.

The Swallows Legend

The San Juan Capistrano Swallows legend is a tradition that has been celebrated since the ’30s. A swallow is a bird that apparently migrates from Argentina to San Juan Capistrano every single year.

The Mission San Juan Capistrano works to continue welcoming the swallows year after year and celebrates their return on March 19th. This big celebration includes school performances, mariachi music, dances, and storytelling. You can get more information about the Swallows celebration here.

FAQ’s about the Spanish Missions in California

What is a Mission and what was its purpose?

A Spanish Mission in California is basically a building that was used by the Spaniards in order to convert Native Americans into Christians. The Missions had everything you would need to live inside. They would sleep, eat, farm, and learn all about their new religion inside the Mission. Once the Native Americans completed the training for their new religion, they were moved out of the Mission.

What was life like in the Mission?

Imagine living inside a complex of around 4 buildings that are confined by large walls for protection. There is a courtyard for outdoor space. You share space with everyone else. You go to church. You learn Spanish. The men grow the food and the women cook it. Everyone had a specific task. Some people built or fixed things and some did handcrafts. And the entire thing was controlled by Spain, and the purpose was to change your way of life.

At first, the Native Americans fought back and the very first Mission in San Diego was actually burned and had to be rebuilt. Apparently, Spain won the battle because 21 Missions were built in California.

When did the California Missions stop functioning?

It wasn’t until Mexico gained its independence from Spain that the Missions in California stopped functioning as Missions. At that time California was part of Mexico, and Mexico passed a law to end the Missions in 1833.


Have you ever visited any of California’s Spanish Missions?

Like this post?

Check out these other posts for more things to do in Orange County.

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