7 California Missions to Visit this Summer

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.

Mission San Carlos Barromeo De Carmelo
San Carlos Barromeo De Carmelo
Photo: Michelle Kratzer

7 Missions to Visit

1. San Carlos Barromeo De Carmelo

We start with the headquarter of the missions. San Carlos Barromeo De Carmelo was founded in 1770 and the Mission Carmel Church 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 you in the front courtyard, where you enter the carefully restored 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

Referred to as the “Jewel of the Missions,” Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776. The church population grew so large that they built to 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

Referred to as “The Queen of the Missions”, the Santa Barbara Mission was founded by Franciscan Friar Fermin de Lasuen. It was the 10th mission, erected in 1786. A statue of Saint Barbara stands above the altar. Visit the Mission Gardens, Moorish Fountain, Cemetery and Museum with a Chumash room and altar.

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

part of the original wall at Mission Santa Barbara
Original wall at Santa Barbara Mission

4. Mission San Diego De Alcala

The first mission founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1769, would see violence and tragedy. 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

Mission San Diego De Acala
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, 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

Mission San Francisco De Asis
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.

statue of Father Junipero Serra
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.

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