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Visiting Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside

Our recent trip to Oceanside ended with a visit to Mission San Luis Rey, the “King of the Missions.” The hubster and I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce some California history to the chiclets, simultaneously talking to them about the Catholic faith and their Mexican roots. It was a short visit (about a couple of hours), but the topics we covered were heavy and it left a big impression on them.

Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California

Mission San Luis Rey is located at 4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside, CA 92057. The easiest way to get there is by taking the 5 and then the 76, heading inland. The mission is on the 76, and you won’t miss it. They have a lot of land, and even though they were under contraction when we visited, the sign they had up was clearly visible.

Parking is free, and there’s plenty of it too. Visitors can walk the grounds and enter the cemetery without an admission fee. There is a minimal fee ($5 and under) to enter the museum. And yes, the museum is a definite must.

The skull and crossbones above the cemetery entrance is commonly found at Franciscan cemeteries.


The cemetery has been in use since the Mission was founded in 1798. In fact, it’s the oldest burial ground in North San Diego County that is still in operation. Here you’ll find the Franciscan Crypts where the remains of many of the Friars who lived and served the mission are housed, as well as the Indian Memorial erected in 1830 (it’s the one with the big cross), and the cemetery entrance also features the skull and crossbones commonly found at Franciscan cemeteries.

Indian monument featured in the oldest cemetery in North County

oldest burial ground in North San Diego County still in operation

A door to the left of the cemetery will lead you into the Mission church. The church is always open and also gives mass. Click here for the mass schedule.

Mission Church

There are 21 California missions, and the church at Mission San Luis Rey is recognized as the most beautiful and unique in all of the missions. It’s also the largest one and the only one that is adorned with a wooden dome and cupola. Inside, you’ll walk into a church that has side altars (not seen at other mission churches) and the Madonna Chapel which was once used as the mortuary chapel.

Visitors can purchase a candle for a $4 donation to light and place inside the chapel. We purchased one in the names of my dad and Hubster’s abuelita.




The church alone was a great experience for the kids because up until then, they had only been to modern churches. It brought the catholic faith alive with the beautiful designs, statues and paintings running across the walls. After a quick prayer and lighting the candle, we made our way into the museum.


We absolutely loved this museum. We found out that only 12 of the original arches remain of what was once the convento where the friars once lived.

Today only 12 of the original arches remain and what was once the convento now houses the Museum and a Gift Shop.

Each room is split up into sections covering the history of the mission, catholic artifacts and life as it once was living there. The kitchen, which was originally a part of the convento, was left as it was, giving me the perfect opportunity to show the kids what my nana’s kitchen looked like when I visited her in Mexico.


The hubster and I also had a big first – we saw Abraham Lincoln’s signature. It turns out, in 1850 California became part of the United States, and the Catholic Bishop in California petitioned the U.S. government for the return of the missions. Then in 1865, the mission was returned to the Catholic Church by Abraham Lincoln. The document that he signed releasing the mission back to the Catholic Church is encased and displayed for everyone to see.

As a history lover, I was truly in awe to the point of tears. There’s just something about seeing the President’s signature that really gets to me.

 In 1865 the mission was returned to the Catholic Church by Abraham Lincoln.

The self-led tour leads you briefly out to see the courtyards (which was hosting an event for the Friar’s that day) and then back in to the museum.

Courtyard at Mission San Luis Rey

history of Mission San Luis Rey

Once inside the museum, visitors can see various Catholic Church artifacts, including robes used for mass, statues and artifacts. Everything was so beautiful and well taken care of.

Virgin Mary with baby Jesus

Finally, because one cannot really see what the mission looks like (parts of it is cut off from the public), a model of the Mission sits in a case for all to see.

Mission church in Southern Calilfornia

We also caught a glimpse of one of the oldest pepper trees planted in Alta California. In 1830, the first pepper trees were planted in the Mission’s courtyard from seeds brought all the way from Peru!

the oldest pepper tree in California

This out-of-the-way mission was a highlight of our staycation, and on the way home we had fun pointing out all the El Camino Real bells that connect all the missions from Baja California to San Francisco.

Mission San Luis Rey museum, church and cemetery

We can’t wait to visit more missions with the kids and see more of our history. Also, fun fact, several television episodes of “Zorro” were filmed at the mission’s cemetery.

For more information on Mission San Luis Rey at Oceanside, visit http://www.sanluisrey.org.

Mission San Luis Rey


Monday – Friday, 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Last self-guided tour begins at 4:30 p.m.


Adults $5
Seniors (65+) $4
Youth (ages 6-18) $4
Active Military and dependents, free of charge
Ages 5 & under, free of charge

Originally published on December 23, 2015. Last Updated on April 18, 2019 by Pattie Cordova



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