The other weekend, my sister came to visit us at The Aerie for a few days. It was a very good visit — she brought with her the only fall-like temperatures we’d had in Southern California (before today) in what has truly been a seemingly “Endless Summer”.
For one of our outings my sis, The Beloved and I decided to take a little day trip up to San Juan Capistrano. Capistrano is about 50 miles north of where we live. As part of our adventure, we decided to take the train. Amtrak runs nearly hourly north-south along the coast, so we figured why not? It was a nice ride, taking about the same amount of time as driving, and conveniently dropping us off right by the town’s small historic district. The area has a selection of shops and restaurants, a nice park and a petting zoo.
After getting a great, though not inexpensive, brunch at The Ramos House Cafe, we toured the historic district and then made our way over to the Mission. The Mission at San Juan Capistrano was the seventh of 21 missions founded by the Spanish in what is today California. It also contains the oldest building, a chapel, that has been in constant use in the state.
The Mission grounds have been restored over much of the 20th century (after falling into disuse for much of the 19th) and the current exhibits show what life was like when the Mission was founded in 1776, including the padres quarters, soldiers quarters, and how the local native Americans lived and adapted to Mission life. As someone that grew up on the East Coast, I’m always sort of amazed at the lack of West Coast colonial history coverage in schools. It seems as though the theory is that if it wasn’t originally settled by the English, it doesn’t count. Such a loss.
Perhaps for more than its historical significance, the Mission is also renowned because of the famous “Return of the Swallows” at the beginning of spring. The popular legend began in the early part of the 20th century and became immortalized by the song “When The Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”.
The popularity of the event brought in thousands of visitors every spring. Sadly, these days, the Mission has about as many swallows as The Aerie does. Apparently, the decline of swallows at the Mission is thought to be due to development in the region and apparently now the swallows mostly nest at peoples’ houses and under highway overpasses. That might not make for great songs, but the Mission gift shop is full of swallow kitsch anyway.
All in all, the day was a great success — the Mission is a great place to visit and the grounds are a beautiful place for a stroll. If you ever find yourself in Orange County and looking to for something to spend half-a-day at, there probably aren’t many better places. I’m sure we’ll be returning again sometime soon.