On Wednesday, March 11, my father and stepmother escorted my wife and me on trip up the coast to the mission at San Juan Capistrano (which is actually in Orange County, north of Camp Pendleton). Frankly, I'd never had much interest in the Spanish colonial missions in California, but I was anticipating seeing the cliff swallows that return to the mission each year in March. I got two surprises that day: the mission was far more interesting than I had originally anticipated, and the swallows had not yet returned (scheduled arrival: March 19).
The mission complex is huge and consists of a large, open central courtyard enclosed by adobe brick buildings. The sides of the brick buildings facing the inner courtyard are all colonnaded, so that the complex has the appearance of a cloister. The central courtyard, which must have been a dusty, dirty, and noisy compound full of industry and animals when the mission was active, has been transformed into a beautiful formal garden with fountains.
Parts of the complex have been opened to the public to demonstrate the living quarters of the mission's clergy as well as the industrial (e.g., leather tanning, smelting, ironworking) and farming (e.g., viticulture and wine production, grain cultivation) activities that took place when the mission controlled 100,000 acres surrounding the center.
The mission complex also contains the oldest building in California: the adobe mission chapel. A huge stone church was subsequently built into the walls of the mission, but an earthquake in the early 1800's demolished the building during a morning mass, killing 40 congregants. The ruins of the church are a prominent feature of the historic complex.
After visiting the mission, we went across the street and had a wonderful late lunch/early dinner in the shady courtyard of the Cedar Creek Inn restaurant. Dad ordered a Reuben sandwich, and it was delivered by our server, Reuben.
We spent an hour or so walking around central San Juan Capistrano, where there was a farmers' market in progress featuring luscious locally-grown strawberries as well as unbelievably inexpensive cut flowers.