Historic Mission San Juan Capistrano is a California icon. Perhaps most famous for visits from its annual guests of honor, the swallows, the Mission means many things to many people. For Californians, it is a powerful symbol of the state's complicated colonial history. For Catholics, it is a profound religious site, indicative of the Church's own complex heritage. History buffs spend hours reveling in the facility's many exhibits and displays, connecting viscerally with the sights, sounds and feelings of generations long past. For visitors of any background, it is an undeniably gorgeous place to spend an afternoon-replete with striking architectural elements and lovingly cared-for gardens.
Founded in 1932, this is likely the best all-around museum in Orange County. The complex has particularly come into its own since its re-opening in 1992 with expanded and improved exhibition spaces. Created with funds donated by Charles Bowers, the complex was built in the style of the California Missions, and is adorned with murals honoring that motif. Originally intended by Mr. Bowers to focus on local history, the museum has since enlarged its focus to incorporate artifacts from the cultures of Southeast Asia, Oceania, Mexico and Native America.
Laguna Beach has long been a center for art. Creative types flocked here in droves to work their magic along Laguna's pristine shores. The Laguna Art Museum continues this proud heritage with an impressive list of year-round exhibitions and programming. Within these hallowed halls, you'll find classic and contemporary works by artists both fledgling and world renowned. An emphasis is placed on artists hailing from California, but the museum's scope is global nonetheless.