Prior to European contact, conservative estimates say that the Luiseño population reached 15,000. Major villages and gathering sites stretched from the Peninsular Ranges to the Pacific Ocean. The abundance of wildlife and plants on the land and in the water allowed the Luiseño to maintain a relatively sedentary lifestyle in the mild climate of Southern California.
The Luiseño people enjoyed life in a land rich with diverse plants and animals. Our people have been described as hunters and gatherers.
The men hunted deer, antelope, rabbits, wood rats, ducks, quail, seafood and various insects. Hunters used bows and arrows, spear throwers, rabbit sticks, traps, nets, clubs and slings to catch game. Fishermen and traders used dugout canoes in the ocean and tule reed boats or rafts in the rivers and lakes. Family groups had specific hunting and gathering areas in the mountains and along the coast. Individuals from outside these groups only crossed the boundaries of these areas upon permission.
Women gathered seeds, roots, wild berries, acorns, wild grapes, strawberries, wild onions and prickly pear in finely woven baskets. The Pauma and other Luiseño peoples are world renown for their expertise in coiled baskets made from the flora of the region.
At the heart of our traditional foods is wìiwish, a tasty ground acorn mush and healthy food staple rich in protein. Evidence of acorn and seed processing and shellfish use dominates ancient sites throughout the Luiseño territory. The most visible evidence is the bedrock milling stone mortars used for processing seeds like acorns. These bedrock mortars sites are located throughout our region.
The traditional territory of the Luiseño people extends along the coast, from the north near San Juan Capistrano, south to the Encinitas/Carlsbad area and east to the valleys of the coastal mountains and Mt. Palomar. Today this area is in northern San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties.