San Luis Rey Mission



 San Luis Rey Mission

4050 Mission Ave. Oceanside, CA 92057

p. 760.757.3651


Office Hours:
Monday - Saturday
8 am - 4:30 pm

Visiting Hours:
Daily 7 am - 5 pm

 Article by David Johnson:

The San Luis Rey Mission is both a beautiful example of classic Spanish colonial architecture, and at the same time is a working 21st century church and cemetery.  Founded just before the turn of the 19th century, the mission has gone through a convulsive series of changes that reflect the political history of Southern California.

The present day mission lies within the City of Oceanside, immediately north of the intersection of Mission Avenue and Rancho del Oro.  It is perhaps 500 yards north of State Route 76.  The property contains a Catholic church, flower filled gardens, a museum, gift shop, quarters for the thirty or so Franciscan friars who reside here, meeting rooms available for a variety of educational purposes, a cemetery and several miscellaneous attractions of archeological or historical significance.

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

The Church

The mission is the home of the San Luis Rey Parish, served by the Franciscan Friars of the Province of St. Barbara.  The priests celebrate six masses on Sundays, with two being conducted in Spanish.  The first Sunday mass is held in the old mission church, and the others are held in the Parish Chapel or the Serra Center which are located adjacent to the mission grounds.  Additionally there are morning masses at 7:30 on Monday through Saturday, and all are held in the Parish Chapel.  The church is a place of almost indescribable beauty outside of its historical and architectural significance to San Diego.   While the San Luis Rey Mission facilities are venerable by American standards, the parish is a 21st century organization with a modern website, online calendar and a Facebook page.

The Museum

A highlight of any visit to the mission is a tour of the museum.  It is open seven days a week, with hours of 9:30-5 on Monday through Friday, and 10-5 on Saturday and Sunday.  There are regular guided tours during visiting hours.  Admission for adults is $5.00, children 6-18 and seniors 65+ are charged $4.00, and children and military families enter free of charge.  Be advised that flash photography is not allowed in the museum or in the church.

It is highly recommended that your visit coincide with museum hours as it contains priceless and interesting artifacts from all eras of the mission’s colorful history (which is discussed in more detail below).  It includes depictions of both a friar’s sleeping quarters, and a kitchen and dining area dating from 18th century period.  The museum is part of a section of the mission which was reconstructed more than 100 years ago, and it is attached to the now 200+ year old church.

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission 

The Cemetery

The cemetery is located immediately east of the Church and museum, and it opened in 1798.  The oldest marker in the cemetery belongs to a Mary Hayes, and dates back to 1860.  The grounds are a lovely combination of trees, pathways and grave markers, and they are bordered by walls which hold the urns of cremains.  There is a monument near the entrance dating from about 1830 that commemorates the many Native Americans buried in the vicinity.  At the west end of the cemetery against the church wall are the crypts containing remains of the friars who lived and ended their lives at the mission.  The cemetery is currently undergoing an expansion on its east end.

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

 San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

Other Attractions

Directly below the mission are the fenced ruins of barracks which housed soldiers who were garrisoned in the area during the mid-1800s.  There is a monument placed at the south end of the site by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which commemorates a Mormon battalion which served in the area in the late 1840s.  Further south of the barracks is the lavandaria.  It was a bathing area for local Indians, and also provided a water system used to irrigate fields and gardens.  It is currently a registered archeological survey site.   Finally, within the mission quadrangle is a pepper tree reputed to be the first pepper tree planted in California, still alive more than 180 years later.

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

Mission History

The mission was established on June 13, 1798, and the first structure was constructed by skilled workers from missions in San Diego and San Juan Capistrano.  It was the 18th of what would ultimately be twenty-one California missions, and it was soon one of the wealthiest due primarily to trade in leather derived from the skins of domesticated animals.

The mission grew and prospered, necessitating the construction of a larger church complete with adobe walls and a tiled roof in 1802.  Continued growth yet again required a larger building, and the current church sanctuary was constructed between 1811 and 1815.  On completion it was the largest structure in that region of California, and its appearance prompted an 1828 French visitor refer to it as “a palace.” [1]

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

As more settlers migrated to the area from Mexico, there inevitably arose tension between those immigrants and the natives who had long inhabited the region. During this period the Mexican government issued a series of decrees releasing the Indians from missionary control and placing them under the supervision of secular officials.  Inevitably control of the region’s land also passed into secular hands and in 1832, the Catholic friar most responsible for growth of the mission, Antonio Peyri, asked for and received a transfer to Mexico.[2]   This began a period of physical deterioration for the mission, as well as abandonment of its spiritual functions.

The middle of the 18th century was a period of war for both the United States and Mexico, as the two countries fought from 1846-48, and the Civil War followed between 1861 and 1865.  When American troops took control of California at the end of the Mexican War, the mission had been abandoned and the nearby Indian village consisted of only a few dozen natives.  During this period the church and grounds were effectively looted, leaving behind little of value.  For a time, church title to California’s missions was denied by the government, but ultimately the Catholic Church was granted control of mission buildings, cemeteries and gardens. [3]

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

San Luis Rey Mission

During the 1870s and 1880s there were ineffectual attempts to reverse deterioration in the mission’s structures and grounds, but it was not until the Franciscans arrived from Mexico in 1892 that substantive changes began to be made.  They were looking for a place to establish a house of studies and San Luis Rey fit their needs.  With the blessing of the California bishop, they constructed a kitchen, dining room and chapel for the priests and seminarians, and built a dormitory, library and classrooms.  They also set out to address the deplorable physical condition of the church. [4]

In the early 1900s the Mexican friars returned to their native country, but Father Joseph Jeremiah O’Keefe and the Franciscan friars who remained continued their work on the church and began rebuilding the mission quadrangle.    The new quadrangle was completed in 1912.  They also reinforced the bell tower, but a portion of the tower collapsed during heavy rains in 1926.  It was reconstructed using steel reinforced concrete.  The industrious Franciscan friars also broke ground for what ultimately became San Luis Rey College.[5]

During the 1930s and 1940s students and professors periodically worked excavating site ruins, but formal archeological work did not begin until it was organized by Father Anthony Soto in 1955.  The entire lavanderia was restored in the 1960s but fell into disrepair after that.  San Luis Rey College closed more than twenty years ago, but the mission retains its regional educational function.  In 2013, the Franciscan School of Theology was opened at the mission.[6]



References for Further Study

[1] “Mission San Luis Rey A Pocket History”  Harry Kelsey, Liber Apertus Press, 2014, p. 14

[2] Kelsey, op. cit., p. 21.

[3] Kelsey, op. cit., p. 24-5.

[4] Kelsey, op. cit., p. 29.

[5] Kelsey, op. cit., p. 34-5.

[6] Kelsey, op. cit., p. 35-7.

 Personal Experience: I'm surprised it took me this long to visit this mission!  This is instantly my favorite mission in San Diego now.  There is a museum but I got here too late so I will have to make another trip to see it.  It is gorgeous!  And they have an old cemetery, which I love old, historical cemeteries.  P.S.  There is another old cemetery across the street from the mission.  I will posting about that soon!


Locations Nearby:

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