Travel Thoughts by Kim

By Kim Pritt, Contributor Posted 13 February 2021 at 3:00 pm

One of several beautifully preserved courtyards and gardens on the grounds of the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, California.

Let’s go on an adventure together… to The Mission at San Juan Capistrano!

In 2017, I took a West Coast cruise on Princess Cruise Lines. The cruise began in San Francisco and sailed along the west coast, stopping at several ports along the California coast and Ensenada, Mexico, and returning to San Francisco. I also spent a few days in the San Francisco area after the cruise.

Some of you may also remember my article from April of last year about the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train I took from San Francisco to Seattle to close out that trip. It was a wonderful trip, over all, but one of my most favorite parts was visiting the Mission at San Juan Capistrano at the Long Beach, CA port stop on the cruise.

The Long Beach / Los Angeles port stop was actually the one I was looking forward to the least. I was in Los Angeles several years ago for a work seminar and did all the touristy things related to LA and Hollywood during my free time on that trip. So, been there, done that, got the t-shirt…even though I really did enjoy it very much at the time, I wasn’t all that interested in doing it, again. But, when looking over the shore excursions for that port, I found one that focused on visiting The Mission at San Juan Capistrano that looked very interesting. It was something I had heard of and I vaguely knew of the legend of the cliff swallows that migrate there every year, so I signed up for it. I was so glad I did! It ended up being so amazing and is still in the top few favorite memories of that trip.

The grounds of the mission consists of several buildings, lovely gardens and courtyards, a cemetery, and a stunning chapel. Early settlers of California built missions, like this, all along the coast with the intent to educate Native Americans to the Christian faith. They were situated with no more than a day’s ride by horse between them. Bells were installed along the route to show the way and mark the distance.

The altar inside the stunning chapel at the Mission at San Juan Capistrano.

The Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776 and is known as the Jewel of the Missions. The legend of the mission is that one of the founding missionaries was in town one day and noticed a shopkeeper swatting away the cliff swallows that flocked around his shop. The missionary asked him what he was doing and he told him that he wanted to be rid of the pesky birds that dirty the entrance to his shop and cause him to lose customers. The missionary told the cliff swallows that they would be more than welcome at the mission and to come there whenever they want. The next day, the missionary found hundreds of cliff swallows making nests around the mission. From that day forward, cliff swallows migrate from their winter nesting grounds 2000 miles away to come to the mission. This happens every year on or about March 19th – St. Joseph’s Day. The birds are still celebrated at the mission to this day.

Sadly, I was there a couple weeks late and missed the cliff swallows. But the rest of the mission took my breath away. I could have spent days there just sitting and wandering around and taking in all the beautiful buildings and stunning gardens. I spent quite a while just sitting in the chapel – so beautiful I could barely breath and got all emotional. Yes, definitely a top highlight of the cruise. The entire day was a rare treat for someone with a camera slung over her shoulder.

Beautiful view of Laguna Beach, California.

The day included an amazing lunch at a country club in Laguna Beach overlooking the ocean. On the way back to the ship, we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway through all the little beach towns. It was an awesome day. If you’re ever in the Long Beach / Los Angeles area, be sure to take time to visit the Mission at San Juan Capistrano – and, if you can be there to witness the cliff swallows, I will be so jealous!

Check out all the beautiful photos I took during my day at the Mission at San Juan Capistrano on my blog post titled Long Beach Adventure:

Happy Adventuring!