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Mission San Juan Capistrano after initial reconstruction. circa 1921
photo courtesy of

For more than 200 years, the Mission San Juan Capistrano has played a crucial part in the life of this city. Father Junipero Serra founded the "Jewel of the Mission" in 1776, and a town eventually grew up around the Catholic outpost.

Built to help colonize California for the Spanish and to ease the local Indians into the Spanish culture, the mission today makes the city a major tourist draw.

This is especially true during the annual March 19th celebration, marking the return of the swallows to their summer home. The St. Joseph's Day celebration, once a day long religious commemoration, has evolved into a three week Heritage Festival sponsored by the local Fiesta Association.

Today's San Juan Capistrano is a mix of new residents and descendants of early ranchers and native Americans. Small, modern business developments are only blocks from the mission and other historic buildings, and housing projects spread east across the valley.

Indian villages once dotted the small valleys near present-day San Juan Capistrano. Soon after the mission was built, cultivated fields, grazing lands, granaries and the making of ceramics, bricks, tiles and textiles made the settlement a self-contained village.

In the 1850's, San Juan Capistrano was booming. It was a convenient stopping place for travelers and prospectors on their way to the Northern California gold fields.

In 1888, the California Central Railroad was extended from Santa Ana to Oceanside, which brought people to San Juan Capistrano. Between 1910 and 1920, electricity, paved roads and the telephone arrived.

The 1950s brought swift changes, including the extension of the San Diego (I-5) Freeway through the city. The opening of the freeway in 1959 brought tourists - and the city began to realize its marketability.

Residents voted 358 to 88 to incorporate as a city in April 1961. At the time, the city had 1,287 residents, according to city records. Today, the population is well over 34,000.

The city's first library, completed in 1983, has received national attention for its unique mix of modern and mission-style architecture.


Historical Sites:

Mission San Juan Capistrano - Camino Capistrano & Ortega Hwy
Founded in 1776 by Padre Junípero Serra, this is the
seventh in the chain of 21 missions established in Alta California. The stone church was destroyed in 1812 earthquake. Expropriated during Mexican rule, the mission was returned to the Catholic church in 1865 by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln.

Manuel Garcia Adobe - 31871 Camino Capistrano
Built in the 1849 by Portuguese merchant Manuel Garcia, this is the only Mission-Revival Style adobe still standing in Orange County. It has been owned by the Oyharzabal family since 1880 and used as a hotel, general store and the town's first US-era post office. It is not open to the public.

The Blas Aguilar Adobe - 31806 El Camino Real
In 1794, the Mission San Juan Capistrano built a number of adobes to house soldiers and the local Native Americans who worked at the mission. Don Blas Aguilar purchased two of these adobes in 1845, which he named "La Hacienda Aguilar." The Blas Aguilar Adobe Museum is maintained and operated by the Blas Aguilar Adobe Foundation, a non- profit organization.

San Juan Capistrano Jail Cell - 31745 Los Rios St.
Built in 1896 to serve as a holding cell, the jail originally was located on the west side of Camino Capistrano at the Ortega Highway intersection. It was the scene of several jailbreaks and one hanging. The jail is not open to the public, but is pointed out on the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society's walking tour


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