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Family Guide to Mission San Juan Capistrano with kids – Where to eat & play

Experience Mission history and classic SoCal beach-city charm at San Juan Capistrano

Founded in 1775, Mission San Juan Capistrano is steeped in history, culture and religion. As the intention of all the California Missions, San Juan Capistrano was established to expand the Spanish territory by teaching natives the ways of European life and converting them to Catholicism.

Once baptized, natives were integrated into the mission community. This meant that they were not to leave the property of the mission without permission and had to make many lifestyle changes such as learning a new language, new religion, skills and social customs.

For years Mission San Juan Capistrano thrived, but when Mexico won their Independence from Spain, the Mexican government ended the missions and sold them off. San Juan Capistrano served as a private ranch home before the U.S won the Mexican American War.

Once California was given to the U.S and declared a state, President Abraham Lincoln returned the missions to the church and restoration began. All this history can be seen, touched, experienced and preserved by simply making a trip to visit a California Mission. So pack up the kids, because today we are checking out the gorgeous Mission San Juan Capistrano with kids!

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Money Saving Tips:

What I love about visiting missions is that they are usually inexpensive and the money received goes to maintaining the historical site. With low ticket prices, San Juan Capistrano makes for a perfect day trip for the family and is one of our top weekend destinations in Orange County.


Included in the cost of admission, you will receive a free audio tour with detailed accounts of various locations around the mission.

  • Adults are $9
  • Seniors (60+) are $8
  • Kids (4-11) are $6
  • Kids under 3 are FREE!
  • 4th graders get a special deal and be sure to check if there is a special event or concert going on that could change the admission price.


In various rooms throughout the mission you will notice donation boxes. They are optional and the money goes towards preserving the mission.


Not only a great place to find fun souvenirs, but also a way to give back to the mission. Net proceeds from the store help educational programs and restoration projects for the mission. So, buy away. Our visit comes days before Father Serra is to be sainted by the Pope Francis, so I bought everyone Pope Francis and San Serra metals. A nice reminder of our day and the time in history we visited.

Fun Things to do in Mission San Juan Capistrano:

The last time I visited San Juan Capistrano was years ago, before I even had babies. I used to love to wandering the historical grounds and enjoy the fantastic nearby restaurants. Recently, I was feeling the need to be around something historical, a ghost town or old town of some kind. Then it hit me! I had never taken the kids to Mission San Juan Capistrano. Bingo!

Kids at Mission San Juan Capistrano

The property is just gorgeous with fountains and gardens to explore. They make for some pretty awesome photo ops as well. I took the opportunity to recreate a photo I had taken with HotDaddy years before, this time with our happy babies. I’m a dork and love doing recreation photos of past travels, so you’ll see a lot of them on my blog.

Family at San Juan Capistrano

 The Fountains

Covered with gorgeous lily pads are giant Koi hiding below. My kids found this very fascinating and really the highlight of their day. My little mermaid, FireCracker, seemed to have a real connection the fish as they would gather near her and poke their heads to the surface for a fishy kiss.

Mission San Juan Capistrano Fountains

Ruins of The Great Stone Church

My favorite part of Mission San Juan Capistrano is the old church ruins. It is jaw dropping. Once known as the Great Stone Church, it was built in 1806 and was one of the largest structures in Alta California. Sadly, an earthquake struck during Mass in 1812 and the church crumbled, killing 40 people! What remains is a giant reminder of this tragedy that happened so long ago. I can’t get enough of it when I visit. I try to imagine how glorious it must have looked in 1806, because even now, in ruins, the Great Stone Church is magnificent.

Ruins at Mission San Juan Capistrano
Come on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th) and see the witness the miracle of the Swallows. The little swallows flock to the San Juan Capistrano to build their nests atop the ruins of the Great Stone Church. Apparently, it is quite a spectacle. On October 23rd they leave, but not before circling the ruins a few times, as if to say goodbye.

Living Quarters

Spend the rest of the day exploring the property. Checkout the soldiers’ quarters and be sure to listen to the free audio tour to hear interesting tales of pirate and soldier encounters.

Inside Mission San Juan Capistrano

You can even explore the rooms of the Padres. Such humble dwellings, you’ll learn about the modern urban luxuries of Mexico the Padres had to give up in order to serve at the missions of Alta California.

Kitchen inside San Juan Capistrano


My kids really enjoyed learning about the Native Californians. FireCracker, was really intrigued by the cooking methods of the women and kitchen at the mission. My son, CuddleBear, enjoyed playing with the musical instruments.

Kids Activity Mission San Juan Capistrano

Serra Chapel

Named after the founder of the Mission, St. Junipero Serra, this beautiful chapel is known for its beautiful and ornate baroque alter. That alter came from Barcelona, Spain is said to be over 400 years old!  Off to the side of the entrance is St. Peregrine Chapel, which is a little prayer room dedicated to the patron saint of suffers. The kids really enjoyed visiting the chapel where they made a prayer for members of our family while lighting a candle.

Serra Chapel Mission San Juan Capistrano

Places to Grab a Drink:

There great restaurants in close proximity to Mission San Juan Capistrano, many of which support the mission. Two of my favorite restaurants, also supporters, are El Adobe and Cedar Creek.

El Adobe

While I was an intern at Churm Media, I reviewed this restaurant. I love the atmosphere and the yummy Mexican cuisine. It is walking distance from the mission and was even on an episode of Real Housewives of Orange County.

Cedar Creek

It not only has delicious food, but amazing views of the Great Stone Church Ruins. I love coming here after a long day exploring Mission San Juan Capistrano, sipping on a crisp glass of Blanc while gazing upon the brilliant site. Cedar Creek also has live music on the patio during the weekends, making it a winner in my book. Hopefully your kids will be nice and tired, so you can enjoy a little wine and dine in peace.

Cedar Creek Inn Capistrano

Mission Grill

For lunch, I like to relax at the Mission Grill.It is patio seating, views of the mission and great prices. When prices are low, I can really let my hair down and over-order. Margaritas, cervezas, stuffed jalapenos, carnitas tacos, chorizo burgers, churros and more!! Plus it is nice and casual for the kids.

Mission Grill Capistrano

That’s a Wrap:

If you love visiting historical sites, then Mission San Juan Capistrano is the perfect spot to stop. It is definitely one of the most famous missions in Alta California and the ruins alone make it worth the trip. Luckily, all 21 of Alta California Missions are along California’s gorgeous coast, so after seeing the mission there is lots to explore or if you are feeling adventurous, you could take a tour on the mission trail. Needless to say, the missions are fascinating and although I have visited Mission San Juan Capistrano several times in my life, it never gets old!

Have you visited the Missions?

What’s your favorite?

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Mission San Juan Capistrano


I am a busy mama with 3 delicious babies and a serious itch for travel and writing (when I am not bartending, that is)! After graduating from Cal State San Marcos with a B.A. in Communications, I decided to start a family and pursue a career in freelance writing. I created HotMamaTravel as an outlet to do what I love while sharing useful travel tips and inspiration with others. Our mission is to show parents how to master travel with kids, while keeping your Saturday-night selves. We call it "Family travel...with a twist".


  1. Agree, travelling creates special memories. My son, 21 years now, tells me that he had the most interesting childhood because of so many great trips we took.
    The mission looks like a great place to visit.

    • Yes! I makes it all worth it when you hear your kids talk about the adventures you gave them!

    • Yeah, they had a blast and it is right in our backyard practically. We want to go back again soon and make a day trip.

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  3. Pingback: Best Family Travels of 2015 - HotMamaTravel

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