The self-guided tour through Mission San Luis Rey features several stops along the way and begins with several period rooms. You'll explore the rooms in order of the history of the mission, beginning with the Luiseno Indians and their lifestyle before moving into rooms that show what life was like once the area was turned into the mission.
You'll see such exhibits as the original document that President Abraham Lincoln signed to return the mission to the Catholic church, as well as information showing how the area was restored and turned into a historic landmark. From there, you can visit several other exhibits and attractions.
Once a private courtyard for the mission's friars, today the restored area is an excellent place to enjoy the beauty of California. Originally, it houses fountains for drinking water and was used to grow herbs and plants for medicine.
Just to the left of Agapito Court is the Sacred Garden, a private garden for the people who live at the mission.
One of the only remaining remnants of the original quadrangle, the Carriage Arch is a four-sided patio that was used for outdoor activities of both work and pleasure. It was a shared space used by the surrounding classrooms, workshops, and dormitories.
A kitchen, winery, and infirmary also shared the space. Today, these buildings are used as the mission's Retreat Center.
The First Pepper Tree
The first Peruvian Pepper Tree in California was planted here in 1830, now iconic, widely planted, and renamed the California Pepper tree in the state. Mission San Luis Rey has a Museum, Visitors' Center, gardens with the historic Pepper Tree (first in CA), and the original small cemetery.
In operation for more than 200 years, the mission's historic cemetery is the oldest community burial ground in North County San Diego.
In addition to graves for early settlers, the cemetery houses a monument for the Luiseno Indians and crypts for friars' past.
Historic Mission Church
When you step through the front doors of the mission's historic church, you'll enter a world of traditional Spanish Colonial architecture featuring Classical and Baroque styles. The combination of the cultures of the Luisenio Indians and the Spanish is apparent in the decorations and paintings that adorn the church's halls.
In addition to exploring the beauty of the church, you can use the space from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for private prayer and meditation each day.
Step under the gated arch and make your way down a grand staircase to visit the mission's lavandería, a place where members once washed their clothing and took their baths.
Aqueducts poured water into gorgeous stone and tile pools, and gargoyle fountains even spouted water onto the mission's lush orchards.
Originally a mortuary chapel and unique to Mission San Luis Rey, the Madonna Chapel features small doors that lead to hidden passageways.
A staircase to the right rises to a mourners' balcony, while the left is the friar's entryway.
If you love the history and architecture of the mission and want to see it continue to thrive, consider making a purchase in the museum store. The gift shop provides a range of souvenirs, videos, books, and even Catholic prayer statues.
If you love botany as much as you love history, you need to stop to take a look at the mission's pepper tree.
The oldest one in California, this tree was planted by Friar Peyri in 1830. Once just Peruvian seeds, today the old tree's branches must be supported by tall stakes.
They once housed the area's Spanish soldiers. Today, the soldier barracks are in ruins. Even so, a walk through the ruins shows you the history of the mission, including its apartments, a lookout tower, and more. Visit this area to learn how the troops lived during the Mexican-American War in the 1840s as well.
The self-guided tour will end with a short video presentation. The video tells you even more about the history and allows you to purchase a 30-minute version to take home.