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San Juan Capistrano - California

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San Juan Capistrano

Founded by Father Junipero Serra on Nov. 1, 1776, the settlement was the first in what is now Orange County. In those days, the Mission was a community unto itself. Several villages of Juaneno Indians were near the mission, and by 1794, 40 adobe houses had been built outside the mission walls. 34 more adobes were built in 1807. An earthquake destroyed the Great Stone Church in 1812 and a pirate raid in 1818 further damaged the community.

The old Mission buildings languished for many years: first it became the private home of John Forster who bought it from the Mexican government for $710. The U.S. government bought it back in 1865 and turned it back to the church, which did little with it until 1895, when the Landmarks Club and Father St. John O'Sullivan worked to begin its restoration.

The town celebrates its heritage each March, as the city's resident swallows return from their winter sojourn in Argentina. They not only build their nests under the eves of the old mission but have taken roost on some of the newer office buildings in town. The Mission is open every day from 8:30 am, with a modest admission fee.

Things to See & Do

San Juan's Mexican heritage can be seen across the town. Among the architectural treasures is a newer building which reflects the Mexican adobe period. The San Juan Capistrano Library is highlighted by adobe colors and stenciled interior design, which complement the mission and the original adobe houses still standing in this section of town. This is one of the few libraries in America that includes a bookstore.

Another building worth a visit is the old Pryor House, now the O'Neill Museum, operated by the local Historical Society. Located at 31831 Los Rios St., this Victorian-era home was transported here from its original site and is open Tuesday through Friday and on Sunday afternoons.

A guided walking tour of historical sites in the Los Rios district is given every Sunday at 1 pm by historical society members. The fee is only $1 and tours start at El Peon, across from the Mission. The tour includes visits to many of the original adobe homes.

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