California’s missions extend from San Diego to Sonoma, and the settlements associated with them are considered the starting point for the development of California’s major cities, from San Francisco to San Jose, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.
The missions in California were founded by Spanish missionaries between 1769 and 1823. If you enjoy history, culture, art and architecture, these missions offer an in-depth look at the era of Spanish monks in California’s past.
In this article we have described the missions in order from south to north, in case you are planning a road trip to visit them all. Most of the missions are located near hotels and restaurants and fit in perfectly with the rest of the tour of the California coast. Of course, you can visit them separately over time if you visit different parts of California.
A brief history of the Spanish missions in California
The California missions, about 30 miles apart so that a rider could travel from one to the other in a day, were established so that Franciscan friars, sent by the Spanish crown, could evangelize the native peoples and expand the Spanish empire in Alta California.
The missions made their living by farming and ranching, and the most successful ones gained a large part of the territory. The converted Indians, called neophytes, worked the land and performed other tasks under the direction of the Spanish monks to support and develop the mission.
In 1833, Mexico, which had taken control of Alta California after the Mexican War of Independence, passed the Secularization Act, under which mission lands were divided and given to loyal soldiers, leading to the rancho era in California history.
After California came under the control of the United States, the missions were returned to the Catholic Church, many lay in ruins, and restoration began. Today, many mission churches function as active parish churches.
This structure, one of the oldest in the state, is a popular destination for visitors who want to learn more about California’s Mission era and experience the art, architecture and gardens of the era. You can visit the churches, browse the museums and walk through the grounds and gardens.
Mission to San Diego de Alcala
Founded in 1769, the San Diego Mission was the first Franciscan mission established by Spain in California. The monk Junipero Serra (now a saint), founded a mission on the land of the Kumeyaay people. It is known as the mother of missions.
The mission gardens are beautiful, with roses, succulents, other plants and trees, and artifacts, and are a nice walk. Some of the plants here are very old!
The garden also contains statues of Junipero Serra and St. Joseph, and memorials to the Indians who died during the mission. Father Luis Jayme, the first European martyr in Alta California, is buried here.
Inside the basilica you can see paintings, sculptures and other objects. Tours are offered throughout the week and free brochures are available in the gift shop.
The campanario (bell tower) is one of the most distinctive features of the San Diego Mission. He holds five missionary bells, the heaviest of which weighs 1,200 pounds!
Location: 10818 Mission San Diego Rd, San Diego, CA 92108
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
Mission San Luis Rey, named for King Louis IX of France, was founded in 1798 and was the eighteenth Spanish mission in Alta California. It was founded by Father Fermin Lasuen, the successor of Father Serra.
Mission San Luis Rey is known as the king of missions. The present church is the third to be built on this site and serves today as a parish church. The building from 1815, with its pristine white façade, is a listed building.
California’s first pepper tree, planted in the Mission in 1830, is not to be missed. It has pink peppercorns in it. Take a walk through the gardens and visit the small cemetery. The church is open year-round for meditation and personal prayer, and the mission also serves as a retreat center.
The museum gives a fascinating insight into life as it was in the time of the monks. You can take a guided tour of the various rooms, the courtyard, the gardens and the church.
Location: 4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside, California 92057
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in November 1776 by Junipero Serra and was the seventh of twenty-one California missions. It is known as the jewel of missions.
In the years that followed, many Acjachems joined the mission, but after 1812 Mission San Juan Capistrano fell into disuse. An earthquake in 1812 destroyed the Great Stone Church. The new basilica church of the mission of San Juan Capistrano was built in 1984 and the mission complex is now a museum.
You can follow an audio tour through the exhibition rooms and the grounds of the beautiful mission. The old mission bells are on display, but in 2000 they were replaced by new bells on the bell wall.
You can see many objects from the mission of the Fathers, paintings and an exhibition of Native American art. A 1914 statue includes two statues of Father Serra with a Native American boy.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is known for the return of the swallows. A large swarm of American shorebirds arrives to nest in March each year and migrates south in October. Unfortunately, their numbers have declined in recent years.
Location: 26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Mission San Gabriel Arcangel
Mission San Gabriel was founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra and was the fourth of the Spanish missions in California. This mission is unique for its architecture in the Moorish style, with closed buttresses and narrow slit windows.
In terms of agriculture, Mission San Gabriel was the most productive of the Spanish missions, growing a variety of foods and raising cattle and sheep. He was nicknamed Queen of the Mission.
On the bell wall of the San Gabriel Mission hang six bells, the heaviest of which weighs over a ton. The oldest bell dates from the end of the 18th century and was cast in Mexico City.
Today you can visit the church, museum, grounds and gardens of the mission. There is also a souvenir shop where you can browse. A statue of Saint Serres graces the front of the church, one of many life-size statues of the saint erected by William Hannon.
Don’t miss the Stations of the Cross of the San Gabriel Mission, said to have been drawn by the neophytes of the mission. You will also find artifacts and historical markers in the field.
Message: At the time of writing, the church is still recovering from the fire that damaged it in July 2020.
Location: 428 С. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, CA 91776.
Mission San Fernando Rey de España
The Mission of San Fernando Rey de Espana was founded in 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, the successor of Saint Serra. It is the seventeenth of twenty-one California missions known as the Valley Mission.
The exterior of the Mission San Fernando is beautiful, with a large fountain in the middle of the courtyard. The garden has many plant species, including old trees and succulents. You can also see (and hear!) the peacocks that live here.
The building that housed the missionaries’ workshops is now a museum where you can see various objects, including statues of Catholic saints, as well as pots, baskets and many interesting old photographs.
The two-story Convento complex, completed in 1822, is the most important part of the San Fernando mission. It is the oldest surviving structure of the mission and the largest unburned structure of any mission. It has been extensively restored and houses many paintings and objects.
You can walk over the cemetery where thousands of Indians are buried. The Bob Hope Memorial Garden includes a garden and meditation room, as well as the crypt where Bob and Dolores Hope are buried.
Location: 15151 San Fernando Mission Boulevard, Mission Hills, CA 91345
Mission to San Buenaventura
Mission San Buenaventura, founded in 1782 by San Junipero Serra, is the ninth of the missions in California. This is the last mission founded by Saint Serra. It was nicknamed Mission by the Sea.
Thanks to the construction of a canal that connected the Ventura River to the mission, Mission San Buenaventura was able to grow a wide range of crops, including grains, vegetables and fruits, from grapes and apples to bananas, coconuts and figs.
Today you can visit the mission church, museum, garden and grounds. In the garden, located between the church and the museum, is a statue of Hannon Saint Serres. Visitors rub their thumbs for luck. The garden has a restored olive press and a water retention basin.
The restored church has a beautiful bell tower with five bells. Inside, the main altar comes from Mexico and dates back to the early 19th century. The century. It contains a statue of Saint Bonaventure, who gave his name to the mission. The interior also contains oil paintings representing fourteen Stations of the Cross.
The small museum, located next to the souvenir shop, contains many objects, including a few wooden clocks, chasubles and baskets. You will also find the application template there.
Location: 211 Е. Main Street, Ventura, CA 93001.
Mission Santa Barbara
Mission Santa Barbara, located on a hill overlooking much of the city of Santa Barbara, is also known as the Queen of Missions because of its beautiful appearance. It was founded in 1786 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen and is the tenth mission founded by the Franciscans in Alta California.
The church as we see it today was built in 1820. Santa Barbara has two towers, unlike most other missions. The beautiful Moorish fountain on the facade dates from the early 19th century. The century. In the upper part of the facade are four statues: Faith, hope, charity and Santa Barbara.
The multi-room museum contains numerous exhibits, including replicas of the businessman’s bedroom and kitchen, as well as three of the four original statues on the facade, made by the Chumash. The statues were replaced after being damaged in the 1925 earthquake.
Inside the church, don’t miss the original mission altar, now located in the baptistery at the back of the church. This is the only original mission altar left.
The sacred garden is the ideal place for a meditative walk. It has rose beds, majestic palms, hedges and other plantings and is beautiful. The cemetery is another quiet place. There are cemeteries of the Chumash and Spanish settlers.
Location: 2201 Laguna St., Santa Barbara, California 93105
Mission Santa Ynez
The mission of Santa Ines was founded in 1804 by Father Estevan Tapis. This is the nineteenth of twenty-one California missions. The location of this mission is great. From the property there are beautiful views of the Santa Ynez Valley and the mountains in the distance.
The exterior of the mission is beautiful, with a bell tower on one side of the church where the mission’s bells hang, and a long vaulted corridor with doors leading to rooms on the other side.
You can enter the Mission Museum through the gift shop. There are colorful garments on display, as well as a mission model, original clocks, pottery and other items. The chapel of the Madonna adorns a room.
The church is an active parish church. It is long and narrow, with a beautiful altar and wooden beams on the ceiling. Various statues and paintings decorate the interior.
The former mission quad is home to the current mission garden, which contains several mature succulents and other plantings, as well as a large fountain.
The mill and life-size gristmill were part of a group of buildings that belonged to the Santa Ynez mission, and you can see their location from the parking lot. You can take the Olive Grove Trail to the mills if you want to see them up close.
Location: 1760 Mission Drive, Solvang, California 93463
Mission Purisima Concept
The Purisima Conception mission was founded in 1787 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. This is the eleventh mission founded by the Spanish in California. The present mission is a reconstruction after the earthquake of 1812. La Purisima is a historic state park.
Ten of the original mission buildings have been restored and furnished, including the church, shops, living quarters and blacksmith shop. This makes La Purísima Concepción the most restored mission in California.
Start your visit at the Visitor Center, where you will find information, objects and exhibits. Then take a self-guided tour of the complex. In the barn you will find animals that resemble those that were there when the mission was active: Cattle, goats and horses.
From the cemetery there is a nice view of the Campanario with its three bells. Next to the cemetery are pits where lard was extracted from the fat of cattle to be used in candles or soap.
The interior of the church has been recreated as it was at the time of the mission. It is not an active church, there are no pews, as people stood during services in the time of the missionaries. You can also visit the garden and the recreated Indian village.
Guided tours and special events throughout the year bring the mission of the Purísima Concepción to life when the guides dress up or host candlelit tours.
Location: 2295 Purisima Road, Lompoc, California 93436
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, founded in 1772 by Saint Junipero Serra, was the fifth of twenty-one missions in California. The San Luis Obispo Mission, known as the Prince of Missions, had a roof made of some of the first shingles manufactured in California.
Mission SLO is a beautiful building conveniently located in downtown San Luis Obispo. The long corridor leading to the living quarters of the missionaries has a colonnade of round columns. In the square is a statue of Hannon St. Serra and a missionary cross.
Walking up the steps to the gift shop and museum, you will pass under five mission bells installed in 2005. The old bells can be seen in the courtyard. Five new clocks will be named after the first five missions.
The small museum features exhibits and photographs, including pictures of the Chumash, the indigenous people of the area, dresses and information about the materials used to build the mission.
The church contains some artwork from the 1800s, but has otherwise been restored. It is an active community church. The garden is small but contains many plantings, including a grape arbour.
Location: 751 Palm Street, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.
Mission San Miguel Arcangel
Mission San Miguel, named for the archangel, is located near the rural wine town of Paso Robles in Central California and was founded in 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. This is the sixteenth Spanish mission in California.
The church, built in 1797, was lost in a fire a few years later, after which a mud and brick building was erected. The church is known for its interior frescoes by Esteban Munras.
The museum houses a beautiful 16th century wooden statue of San Miguel of Spain. It dates from the nineteenth century. You can see clothing and other objects, as well as models of the Mission San Miguel and the Mission San Antonio de Padua, made by inmates of San Quentin.
There are many interesting things in the garden and on the grounds, so make time for a walk. You can also visit the priest’s living quarters and the cemetery.
The interior of the church is beautiful, with original decorations and frescoes that are said to have been made with local dyes. The colors are still vibrant. The Eye of Heaven is depicted at the top of the altar.
Location: 775 Mission Street, San Miguel, California 93451
Mission San Antonio de Padua
Mission San Antonio de Padua was founded in 1771 by St. Junipero Serra and was the third of twenty-one missions in California. Mission San Antonio is located in the Fort Hunter Liggett military reservation and close to all major highways.
Being in the middle of the countryside, the view from the front of the mission is magnificent. We visited it in the spring, when the surrounding meadows were full of wild flowers. However, this is rattlesnake country, so be careful if you decide to walk around the area.
The Campanario, which houses the three bells, is a structure located in front of the façade of the church. The design is quite unique. In the foreground is a statue of Hannon St. John. Serra.
The Mission Museum has numerous exhibitions on the life of the missionaries and the various crafts of the time, from weaving to wine making. The courtyard has a garden with a fountain and various plantings.
The church is an active parish church. Although it has been restored, the design seems to follow what it would probably have looked like when it was in use. On the altar are some statues that originally belonged to the mission.
Location: 1 Mission Creek Road, Jolon, California 93928
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad
The Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Mission was founded in 1791 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen and was the thirteenth of 21 missions in California. The original structures were largely destroyed by the floods, and the present church is a rebuilt one.
The restored Soledad Mission Chapel is small and is not on the site of the original church. The stenciled wall decorations are adorable. Statue of the Mother of Sorrows atop the altar. The paintings represent 14 stations of the cross.
The complex includes a souvenir shop and a museum. The museum includes an exhibition on the life of the Indians in the area before the arrival of the Spaniards, another on the mission era and another on the rancho period. The original mission bell is on display in the museum.
You can also explore the ruins of the original structures. The marker indicates the location of the original church and several other markers indicate cemeteries. Parts of the original earthen walls are still visible.
Location: 36641 Fort Romey Road, Soledad, California 93960
Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo
Mission San Carlos was founded in 1770 by St. Junipero Serra and was the second of the Spanish missions in California. Saint Serra is buried here, next to the shrine, as is Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. The Mission is one of Carmel’s must-see attractions.
The mission basilica was completed in 1797 and is one of the most beautiful structures you will see in a California mission. The Moorish design has two asymmetrical towers, one of which is crowned with a dome. Warm ochre façade with decorated entrance.
The garden at Carmel Mission is beautiful, with many flowers in season and mature trees. A large stone fountain is the centerpiece of the garden. The main mission fountain is located in the backyard.
The interior of the basilica was restored after the ceiling collapsed in the 19th century. It was rebuilt in the 19th century, but many sculptures, paintings and objects are original: They were removed from the church before it was damaged and later returned. The Serra Memorial Cenotaph is owned by Joe Mora.
The Orchard House, located near the front lawn, is the oldest residential building in California. The plane was built in 1774. Planted a few pear trees in father’s garden. Francisco Palou, still standing.
Location: 3080 Rio Road, Carmel B.T.C., California 93923
Mission San Juan Bautista
Mission San Juan Bautista, founded in 1797 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, is the fifteenth Spanish mission in California. This mission is not only worth a visit in itself, but also to see the historic district around it.
The church of Mission San Juan Bautista is the only three-aisled church you will find in twenty-one missions. The interior of the church has many original decorations and statues. Some plates show animal prints that were made when the plates were dried in the sun.
The mission museum is housed in rooms along the corridor that used to serve as living quarters for the monks and as workshops. It contains a number of artifacts and a reconstruction of the mission kitchen and other rooms.
The gardens of the Mission San Juan Bautista are large and beautiful, with old trees, succulents and various other plants. The artifacts and statues are located in different places. Next to the mission you can walk along a part of the old El Camino Real!
Location: 406 2nd Street, San Juan Bautista, CA 95045
Mission Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Mission was founded in 1791 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen and was the twelfth mission in California. The mission is not named after a saint, but after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Mission Santa Cruz has suffered a number of setbacks over the years. It has suffered from floods and earthquakes and has also been looted. The present structure, a replica, was built in 1931.
The church contains some original statues and paintings, as well as a chalice used by John. Serra. The museum presents exhibitions of clothing from different periods.
Nearby is Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park, where the only remaining building of the original mission complex stands, a makeshift structure that served as housing for mission residents. The exhibits document the history of the mission from the perspective of Olon and Yokut.
Location: 120 Emmet Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.
Mission Santa Clara de Asis
The mission Santa Clara de Asis was founded in 1777 by Saint Junipero Serra. It is the eighth of California’s missions and the first named after a female saint. It was originally located on the Guadalupe River, but was destroyed by a flood.
The church has been moved and rebuilt several times after damage from earthquakes and fires. In 1850 the church and grounds were donated to the Jesuits, who founded the University of Santa Clara in 1851 and rebuilt the church with an Italian-style façade and two bell towers.
The present church was built in 1926 after a fire destroyed the previous wooden structure, and serves as the chapel of Santa Clara University. The current design includes a tower and is based on an earlier version from the 1820s.
The interior of the church has a beautiful ceiling, arched doors with stenciled decorations and a red tiled floor.
Location: 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053
Mission San Jose
Mission San Jose was founded in 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen and is the fourteenth mission in California. The San Jose mission was one of the largest in California.
The mission complex of San Jose was largely destroyed by the earthquake of 1868. The Museo del Convento, which now houses the museum, is one of the few remaining buildings.
The church, built in 1985, is a replica. The wooden church that stood there after the 1868 earthquake was moved to Burlingame in 1982 before the present church was built.
The church is a beautiful replica and looks like it did in the middle of the 19th century. It would have looked like a nineteenth century The main altar and altarpiece are beautiful and contain many ancient images. The walls are painted as a creation from 1830 by Mexican artist Agustin Davila.
The museum, housed in several rooms, features exhibits from Native American times to the current 1985 church building. The exhibits range from paintings to tools and artifacts to robes and statues.
The garden has a fountain, a statue of Hannon St. John, a statue Serra and several plantations. The bell tower contains four bells from the church of 1868.
Location: 43300 Mission Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94539
Mission San Francisco de Asís
Founded in 1776 by Father Francisco Palou and Father Pedro Benito Cambon, Mission San Francisco de Asis is the sixth of the California missions. This structure survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and is the oldest intact building in the city.
Mission San Francisco de Asis is also called Mission Dolores because it was originally located near a river called Arroyo de los Dolores. The mission is not an active church, although services are held on special occasions.
The charming exterior of the church has a balcony decorated with round columns. There are no bells outside this church. The interior is beautiful, behind it lurks a sober facade.
The interior of the church has a beautifully painted ceiling, an ornate high altar and altarpiece. There are many paintings on the walls. The interior of the San Francisco mission is probably one of the most spectacular of all the missions in California.
The museum is small and includes dresses and artifacts from the Native American period to the mission era and beyond. In the courtyard is a statue of Saint Serra and a small fountain. The landscaped cemetery is the burial place of many local missionaries.
You can also stop at the Basilica of Mission Dolores, consecrated in 1918 and designated as a basilica in 1952. Regular services are held at the Basilica of the Missionary Dolores.
Mission San Rafael Arcangel
The mission of San Rafael Arcángel was founded in 1817 by Father Vicente de Sarria. This was the 20th of 21 Spanish missions in California. The San Rafael complex was originally an asistencia (sub-mission) and took in the sick of the San Francisco mission until they were cured.
In 1822 the place was successfully transformed into a mission. The original buildings had to be demolished because they had fallen into a serious state of disrepair after secularisation.
The present church is a replica of the 1818 structure, and the facade has a star-shaped window, just like the mission church in Carmel. This mission had no bell tower: The bells were hung on a stand next to the church.
The interior of Mission San Rafael is somewhat modern, but the details are well thought out and the chandeliers, which mimic those from the time of the mission, are beautiful. The Stations of the Cross is a sculpture, not a painting.
Nearby is the parish church of San Rafael, which is worth visiting for its beautiful stained-glass windows.
Location: 1104 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael, CA 94901
Mission San Francisco Solano
The last of the 21 California missions under construction, Mission San Francisco Solano, was founded by Father Jose Altimira in 1823. It was founded without the prior consent of the Church, and after Mexico had declared its independence from Spain.
The San Francisco Solano Mission is part of the Sonoma State Historical Park and the church is not active. The present church was built in 1841, and the interior is not as richly decorated as in other missions.
The appearance of the mission is pleasant, with the bell tower carrying the only remaining clock. The restored complex includes, in addition to the church, the rooms of the priest, which now house a museum, and a quadrangle where centuries-old trees grow.
Sonoma also has the California Missions Museum if you have more time. It contains scale models of the 21 missions built for the 1939 California Pacific Exposition.
Location: 114 E Spain Street, Sonoma, CA 95476
California Mission Map
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