Coastal breezes blow and church bells toll as you approach Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside, a peaceful and serene national historic landmark and crucial piece of early California history. Begin your visit by taking a self-guided tour through the mission museum. The tour starts with a glimpse at what life was like for the Luiseño Indians, the natives who lived here before the mission was built, and then proceeds through the creation of the mission and its history to date.
Stroll through the grounds of the mission to see the cemetery (like the mission, it dates back to 1798) and the church, pausing to admire the Spanish Colonial architecture and the intricately hand-painted designs on the structures. The oldest pepper tree in the whole state can be found growing in the courtyard near the welcome center, planted there by the original mission friar back in 1830.
The 56 acres surrounding Mission San Luis Rey are also worth exploring. Head across the grassy lawn adjacent to the parking lot, passing by the old soldier barracks from a period of US government occupation during the Mexican–American War, and walk through the old adobe and clay archways. The other side feels like a California-style secret garden filled with prickly pear cactus, lupine, and palm trees. As you walk along the half-mile nature trail, keep your eyes open for wild rabbits and hummingbirds. The trail will take you past the old mission kiln and the impressive lavanderia where mission inhabitants would do their laundry and bathe. For more than 200 years, Californians have walked on those same steps. You’ll feel that history—and hear ancient echoes in the mission bells.
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is at 4050 Mission Ave. in Oceanside. From I-5, take CA-76 east about 4 miles and turn north on Rancho Del Oro Dr., which leads directly to the mission. The mission and museum are open Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors over 65, $3 for ages 6 to 18, and free for ages 5 and under. Parking is free. The grounds (except cemetery) are dog-friendly!