Join us virtually for the world-renowned tradition celebrating the annual return of the famous swallows at the historic Mission. We’re sorry we are not able to put together an in-person event and gather due to the ongoing pandemic. The Swallows Day Parade has also been cancelled.

We hope that by bringing you St. Joseph’s Day and Return of the Swallow celebration digitally, you are able to celebrate the swallows returning to Capistrano from wherever you are. We are looking forward to celebrating this continued tradition in person with you in the near future.

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St. Joseph’s Day 2020

Please join for St. Joseph’s Day and Return of the Swallows Celebration!

St. Joseph’s Day and the Return of the Swallows Celebration is a world-renowned tradition celebrating the annual return of the famous swallows to Capistrano. This tradition was started by Father O’Sullivan in the 1920’s at Mission San Juan Capistrano, historic California landmark and home of the swallows, and is carried each year on March 19th.

This historic celebration full of tradition, community, and festivity, is celebrated annually on March 19, marking the return of our famous swallows to Capistrano and the coming of spring – a time of renewal and rebirth.

Typical highlights of the day include:

  • Ringing of the historic bells
  • Live Mariachi music
  • Community presentations
  • Native American Storytelling
  • Mission Basilica School performances
  • Flamenco dance performance
  • History of St. Joseph’s Day and Swallows Legend
  • Craft Station for Kids
  • Interpretive Station Tours
  • Complimentary Garden Tours and more!

Learn more about the origination of this annual celebration!

Watch Swallows Watch 2018 Episode 1

See Photos of St. Joseph’s Day 2018
Photography courtesy of Lisa Renee Photography.

Read the Legend of the Swallows of Capistrano

Watch the Mission Tone News Video about the Swallows

2020 Ticket Information


St. Joseph’s Day is FREE for Mission Preservation Society Members!

Show your Member ID card with valid photo ID upon entry to receive free admission. No advance reservation or ticket(s) needed.

Become a Member today to attend St. Joseph’s Day for free!


Advance ticket sales begin Monday, February 3rd at 10:00 a.m. Tickets will also be sold at the Main Entrance on the day of the event on March 19.

Festival Admission for Adults is $12 (ages 12 to 59).

Festival Admission for Seniors is $11 (ages 60 and over).

Festival Admission for Children: $8 (ages 4 to 11). Toddlers 3 and under are free.

*The following vouchers/promotions/offers are NOT valid for entry on Thursday, March 19, 2020: Complimentary Admission Guest Passes, Members $5 guest tickets,  CertifiKID, Gold Star, Groupon and Travel Zoo. 


Ticket sales are final. Mission San Juan Capistrano is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. It requires immense effort and administration to process ticket orders. We are unable to accommodate refunds or exchanges. Thank you for your understanding.

Should there be conditions related to weather, rain, emergency or other conditions beyond control of Mission staff that should necessitate cancellation of the event, tickets will not be refunded. Please consider the cost of your tickets a charitable donation in support of Mission San Juan Capistrano, historic California landmark #200 and 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization #95-1904079.

Nest Reenactment Exhibit 2020

Dr. Charles Brown at the Nest Reenactment Exhibit, 2016

Cliff swallows expert Dr. Charles Brown, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Tulsa, implemented Phase I — the Vocalization Project — in 2012, in which recorded courtship calls were played through a speaker on the Mission grounds to lure the cliff swallows that were flying overhead.

Phase II of the project, the Swallows Nest Reenactment Exhibit, was introduced in March of 2016. According to Dr. Brown, anecdotal evidence suggests the vocalization playbacks at least occasionally bring in passing cliff swallows that fly over the site but do not stay to nest. The next step is to increase the stimulus being presented to these passing birds by creating the nest wall.  Research has shown that cliff swallows prefer to re-use existing nests where possible, as this saves time and energy in building a nest from scratch.

Once the birds notice the plaster nests and begin using them, spillover or additional settling birds likely will lead them to building nests on the walls of the Ruins of the Great Stone Church. And once nests are built, the artificial arch would no longer be needed.

In recognizing the national goals for the proper care and treatment of the historic landmark, Mission San Juan Capistrano will ensure that this temporary experiment recommended by Dr. Brown will not obstruct sensitive views or adversely impact the historic grounds and buildings in any way.


“When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” Performed by Recording Artist, Renee Bondi
With Mariachi Tapatio de Los Angeles
More About Renee Bondi

Traditional Student Performances by Mission Basilica School 

Journeys to the Past Native American Storytelling
Presented by Educator and Acjachemen Descendent, Jacque Nunez
More About Jacque Nunez

Native American Basket Weavers 

Duende Flamenco

Food Vendors

Homemade Mexican Food

Coffee, desserts, pastries, and fresh beverages (lemonade and juice)

*Food vendors accept cash and credit cards*

History of St. Joseph’s Day and the Swallows Legend

The swallows are said to migrate annually to Goya, Argentina in October, and return to their spring and summer home in San Juan Capistrano each March. The Swallows celebration began centuries ago when Mission padres observed that the birds’ return roughly coincided with St. Joseph’s Day on the church calendar, March 19. The celebration has achieved international prominence since then.

In his book, Capistrano Nights, Father St. John O’Sullivan, Pastor of Mission San Juan Capistrano 1910-33, relates how the swallows first came to call the Mission home. One day, while walking through town, Fr. O’Sullivan saw a shopkeeper, broomstick in hand, knocking down the conically shaped mud swallow nests that were under the eaves of his shop. The birds were darting back and forth through the air squealing over the destruction of their homes.

“What in the world are you doing?” Fr. O’Sullivan asked.

“Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!” the shopkeeper responded.

“But where can they go?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” he replied, slashing away with his pole. “But they’ve no business here, destroying my property.”

Fr. O’Sullivan then said, “Come on swallows, I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.”

The very next morning, the padre discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside the newly restored sacristy of Father Serra’s Church. Another favorite spot was the ruins of the Great Stone Church, which was once lined with hundreds of swallows’ nests.

Fr. O’Sullivan noticed that the small birds migrated south in the autumn and returned to the Mission in the spring on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19th. Upon their arrival, the swallows immediately went to work patching up their old nests, building new ones, and disputing possession of others with vagrant sparrow families as they may have taken up illegal quarter there during the swallows’ absence.

With a great flutter of wings, the swallows would peck at the soil, fly with a bit of it from the old Mission lagoon to the northeast of the buildings. Using the water, they made a paste of the earth in their beaks, amid more fluttering of wings at the pond’s edge. They then flew to the eaves of the Mission to deliver their loads of mud plaster for the walls of their inverted houses and, as O’Sullivan observed, “receive the noisy congratulations of their mates.”

One of Fr. O’ Sullivan’s companions at the Mission, José de Gracia Cruz, known as Acú, told Fr. O’Sullivan many stories and legends of the Mission. Acú, a descendent of the Juaneño band of Mission Indians, was the Mission’s bell ringer until his death in 1924, and spent long hours under the Mission’s famed pepper tree making various items from leather.

One of Acú’s most colorful tales was that of the swallows (or las golondrinas as he called them). Acú believed that the swallows flew over the Atlantic Ocean to Jerusalem each winter. In their beaks they carried little twigs, on which they could rest on water when tired.

Mission Swallow Policy Statement

Our signature swallow consists of an illustrative fork tail swallow, in-flight. This type of swallow art is unique to the Mission San Juan Capistrano brand because of its popularity in the 1930s and usage in vintage and historic memorabilia. The American public, and even the world at large, has come to associate the Mission San Juan Capistrano landmark as the home of these famed birds. When the Mission portrays the literal swallows, we use the photographic, authentic and real life image. In graphic form, we use the romantic version, fork tailed, in-flight swallow.

Getting to San Juan Capistrano

Take the train to San Juan Capistrano for the Return of the Swallows Celebrations to avoid traffic and parking. The Metrolink and Amtrak both stop in downtown San Juan Capistrano. Click the links to plan your trip.

Swallows Parade Shuttle: There is a shuttle service on Saturday, March 21 for the Swallows Day Parade; provided by the City of San Juan Capistrano. For information, visit

Discover Downtown San Juan Capistrano

St. Joseph’s Day/Return of the Swallow Celebration on Tuesday, March 19 ends at 3:00 p.m. The Swallows Day Parade takes place on Saturday, March 21 from 11:00 a.m. until approximately 2:00 p.m. Plan your whole visit to historic San Juan Capistrano for dining, shopping and exploring before and after the festivities by checking out all our recommendation destinations!

Download 2020 Downtown Map & Guide

Underwriting and sponsorships available for all events, for more information please contact the Events Department at (949) 234-1317.

Swallows Day Parade and Fiesta de Las Golondrinas 2020

Announcement from the City of San Juan Capistrano, click here.

For more information on the Swallows Day Parade and all the Fiesta de las Golondrinas events, visit

The traditions of celebrating the return of the famous swallows, originally started at Mission San Juan Capistrano by Father O’Sullivan in the 1920s, have grown into a community-wide season of festivities in San Juan Capistrano. The Fiesta de las Golondrinas is a series of events, hosted by the San Juan Capistrano Fiesta Association, celebrating the return of the swallow to Capistrano. This includes the highly-anticipated Annual Swallows Day Parade, the largest non-motorized parade in the country.

The annual Swallows Day Parade begins at 11:00 AM. The Parade takes place in downtown San Juan Capistrano on the streets surrounding the historic Mission.