The California missions stand as a physical history lesson on California’s settlement. From 1769 to 1833, Catholic priests traveled from Spain to California and founded 21 missions in an effort to convert the Native Americans to the Catholic faith. Not all of the structures still stand today, but those that remain hold our interesting and sometimes controversial history. Here are some of the missions that you can still visit today.
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 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 is 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. Founded in 1776. The church population grew so large that they built a new cathedral, complete with vaulted ceilings and domes, just accommodate all of the attendees. They called it the Great Stone Church. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. However, the ruins remain on the site and are surrounded by beautiful landscape. 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. A favorite feature of the chapel is the 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 Mission 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.
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; 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
5. Mission San Francisco De Asis
Mission San Francisco De Asis, named for Franciscan Order founder St. Francis of Assisi, was the 6th mission built and 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
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.
These missions, founded by Father Junipero Serra and the Catholic Church, contain rich history of California culture. Visit one this year.