California travel expert Veronica Hill tours Mission San Diego, the first California Mission, in this episode of California
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The jewel of the California missions, Mission San Juan Capistrano has a colorful past filled with stories of pirates and Indians, ghosts and padres. Located an hour south of Los Angeles in Orange County, San Juan Capistrano is a historic walking town filled with great restaurants, shops and bars. But its main claim to fame is the gorgeous mission which is visited by more than 500,000 people a year.
Every year on Saint Joseph’s Day, the mission celebrates the “Return of the Swallows” from Goya, Argentina. Founded by a Franciscan padre Junípero Serra on November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano was the seventh of 21 missions established along El Camino Real, the King’s road.
When you arrived, sign up for the free adieu tour and begin your journey through these beautiful grounds. Serra Chapel is the only surviving church where Father Serra performed mass. Here you can light a candle and quietly tour this gorgeous Catholic Church built in 1777. It’s the oldest California building still in use. The hand carved wood and gold leaf or tableau is more than 400 years old.
The Great Stone Church completed in 1806 was considered one of the most magnificent chapels on the west coast. Dubbed the American Acropolis, the Great Stone Church is one of the mission’s most popular sites. Tragically in 1812, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake destroyed the church killing 42 parishioners. Some believed is still home to a ghost named Magdalena who was killed in the rubble. Four bells from the wreckage were saved and re-hang in the campanario.
After founding the mission, Father Serra shared his faith and knowledge with the native Indians who were called La Niño. Approximately 1500 Indians lived at the mission learning new skills ranching, wood working and farming.
In the Mission’s garden residents grew fruits, vegetables, herbs and olives. La Pozolera was the mission’s outdoor kitchen where more than a thousand people were fed at a time. In 1779, California’s first vineyard of Criolla grapes was planted here. Many experts believed this is where California’s wine industry began. Grapes were crushed by feet and batch and the mission produced its first wines in 1783.
In 1818, a band of pirates landed at Dana Point and came here to the mission raiding them of their food and wine. The fleet was led by Hipolito Bouchard who was searching for the mission’s gold. Fortunately, residents were warned of the assault and hid most of the treasure.
One of my favorite areas of the mission is this central courtyard which used to be the center of activity here at the mission. The courtyard is a great place to relax beside a bubbling fountain filled with coy or admire the colorful poppies and fragrant flowers around the garden. I promised if you visit this gorgeous California mission you’ll fall in love with its beauty time and time again.