Mission San Luis Rey

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4050 Mission Ave., Oceanside, CA 92057
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Daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Learn about the history of the Luiseno Indians and how the Mission San Luis Rey came to be. See our guide to Mission San Luis Rey.
Mission San Luis Rey
History of the Mission
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History of Mission San Luis Rey

Founded in 1798, Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, King of the Missions, first came to be under Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen and reflects five periods of occupation: Luisenio Indian, Spanish Mission, Mexican Secularization, American Military, and finally, Twentieth Century Restoration.

Before Spanish occupation, the Oceanside area was home to the Luiseno Indians. Their dome-shaped homes were created with branch frames and tulle and were located along the area's streams, as well as near the mountains and along the coast. The population was ruled by a chief and a shaman, and everyone worked together to ensure the people had meat, fish, and plants for food.

They were also known for making tools out of stone and baskets from grasses.

Eventually, the threat of Russian encroachment led to the establishment of the mission system. A shortage of Spaniards in the area led Spain to claim land by sending soldiers, supplies, and dedicated padres to open missions in the area. During this time, the area was home to more than 3,000 Indians and 50,000 livestock animals. Construction used local materials, such as wooden timber, fire clay bricks, and adobe, and Mission San Luis Rey was the largest building in California by 1830.

By 1847, the mission was a base that housed United States soldiers. The troops housed there were responsible for a variety of tasks that ranged from preventing depredations to assisting local ranchers.

Abraham Lincoln returned the mission to the Catholic Church in 1865, but the property then lay abandoned until 1892, when the 20th century restoration began. During this period, the church was repaired and rebuilt (today, it is the museum).

During the 1950s and 1960s, the restoration focused on rebuilding the quadrangle (today, it is the retreat center), and by 1984, stabilization and restoration efforts were complete.

Today, Mission San Luis Rey is home to a wide range of paintings, sculptures, and other educational pieces that tell compelling stories about the history of the area and welcomes thousands of visitors each year.

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What to Expect at Mission San Luis Rey

Much of what you can experience at Mission San Luis Rey is self-guided, meaning you can spend time where your interest lays most, although it's beneficial to explore it all. The grounds are a National Historic Landmark, and the tour takes you through history, beginning with the time of the Friars and early California and taking you to the present day.

The museum itself features several period rooms that allow you to focus on the parts of history that interest you most, and a gorgeous courtyard can be explored on nice days. Video tours, a gift shop, and, of course, the church itself are also available for you to walk through. On the weekends, you can experience behind-the-scenes tours. These tours are available for groups of 15 or more people and include lunch for an additional fee.

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Exhibits & Other Attractions at Mission San Luis Rey

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.

Agapito Court

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.

Carriage Arch

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.

Local Tips
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.

Historic 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.

Lavandería

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.

Madonna Chapel

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.

Museum Store

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.

Pepper Tree

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.

Soldier Barracks

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.

Educational Programs at Mission San Luis Rey

Mission San Luis Ray is proud to provide a 4th Grade Studies Program. Teachers can book a field trip that begins with a short presentation. From there, your group can tour the museum and the rest of the property at your own pace, learning about the history and seeing an active historical religious center in action.

The visit takes about three hours, and tables are available for students to have lunch before heading back to school. The mission also provides private retreats and spiritual direction, hosts quiet days, and provides other event services.

Mass is held at noon each weekday and at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Sundays. Other sacraments, weddings, and baptisms are booked on a case-by-case basis.

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Know Before You Go

  • The last self-guided tour begins at 4:30 p.m. each day
  • The museum is closed on Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving
  • Active military members and their dependents are always free of charge
  • Retreat guests can take advantage of a free pool, basketball and volleyball courts, and a picnic pavilion
  • A dining room serves buffet-style meals for retreat guests

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