7 California Missions Plus a bit of their History

The California missions stand as a physical history lesson on California’s settlement. From 1769 to 1833, Spanish Catholic priests traveled to California to convert the natives to Catholicism. They founded 21 missions, some of which still stand today. Those that remain hold our interesting and sometimes controversial history. Here are some of the missions that you can still visit today.

San Carlos Barromeo De Carmelo
Photo: Michelle Kratzer

7 Missions Plus a bit of Their History

1. Mission San Carlos Barromeo De Carmelo

Mission San Carlos Barromeo De Carmelo is the headquarters of the missions. It is located off HWY 1 in the cozy seaside town of Carmel, California. Spanish Priests founded the mission in 1770 along with the Mission Carmel Church, which was completed in 1797. Although the structure itself has been restored, the original bell tower dome, as well as several original bells remain onsite. A statue of the mission’s founder Father, Junipero Sierra, greets visitors in the front courtyard, near the entrance of the church. At the side of the church sits a small cemetery where Father Serra, as well as mission’s longtime curator, Sir Harry Downey were laid to rest.

Location: 3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923.

2. Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano proudly stands as the “Jewel of the Missions. The structure, built originally in 1776, became too small to seat the growing congregation. So, a new cathedral, complete with vaulted ceilings and domes, was built. They called it the Great Stone Church. Unfortunately, an earthquake destroyed the church in 1812; but, the ruins remain, surrounded by beautiful landscape. In addition, four original bells from the Great Stone Church remain onsite in the Bell Wall. In 1782, the mission added a new church structure called Serra Chapel. The chapel features a cherry wood altar with 52 faces of angels-one for every week of the year.

Location: 26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

3. Mission Santa Barbara

Franciscan Friar Fermin de Lasuen founded Mission Santa Barbara in 1786. Fermin de Lasuen assumed responsibility over the mission chain after Father Junipero Serra’s death. The mission, known as the “Queen of the Missions”, sits upon 15 acres of ocean-view grounds and lush gardens. In addition, the property includes a 9-room museum featuring historical art and a Chumash room. The mausoleum, restored in 2011, serves as a final resting place for the Franciscan Friars and prominent Santa Barbara citizens. The mission also warmly welcomes visitors to explore the Mission Moorish Fountain and Cemetery. The site still serves as a parish church today.

Location: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.

Original wall at Santa Barbara Mission

4. Mission San Diego De Alcala

Father Junipero Serra founded the first mission, Mission San Diego De Alcala in 1769. Unfortunately, violence and tragedy plagued this California Mission’s history. The native Tipai-Ipai resisted the missionaries’ efforts toward colonization. Sadly,, fighting ensued, taking members of both the native tribe and the Catholic missionaries. The Tipai-Ipai burned the mission’s original structure, which inspired the missionaries to rebuild the mission like a military fort. Hard times persisted, but so did the missionaries. The mission still stands today as both an active parish and a popular tourist attraction featuring high windows and a 46-foot bell wall.

Location: 10818 San Diego Mission Rd, San Diego, CA 92108

Mission San Diego De Alcala
Photo: Guy Dugas

5. Mission San Francisco De Asis

Mission San Francisco De Asis, named for Franciscan Order founder St. Francis of Assisi, stands today as the oldest original structure in San Francisco. The chapel features unique artwork mixing both Catholic and Indian designs. Three original bells hang in the entrance and are still used today. The Ohlone Indians became part of the church whose relatives still proudly run the mission.

Today, additional buildings have been added to the location at 3321 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Dolores Park overlooking Mission San Francisco De Asis
Photo:  Richard James

6. Mission San Juan Bautista

Founded in 1797, Mission San Juan Bautista boasts 30 historical buildings. and beautifully landscaped grounds and courtyard gardens featuring a statue of John the Baptist. This mission sits on the only remaining Spanish plaza in California as well as the only remaining original adobe nunnery in the state.

Location: 406 2nd St, San Juan Bautista, CA 95045

7. Mission San Miguel Archangel

San Miguel Archangel was founded in 1797 and has been beautifully restored to reflect its authentic beauty. 12 arches of different sizes and shapes grace the wall along the colonnade’s worn adobe walls. The mission also features arched gates, a large cemetery and fresco murals.

Located in San Luis Obispo County at 775 Mission St, San Miguel, CA 93451.

Father Junipero Serra
Photo: Oleg Ilyushin

These missions, founded by Father Junipero Serra and the Catholic Church, contain rich history of California culture. Visit one this year.

Published by Michelle Kratzer

I like to write. I love the ocean. I live for babies and dogs and giggles.