Discover the Adventure
California Missions

Do You Know the History Behind California Missions?

The California missions of Alta California (under Spanish and Mexican rule) were built as religious and military way stations to help spread Spain's and Mexico's influences in the New World.

A major goal of the missions was to convert and educate the Native Americans they found along the way. This was to provide the church and the government with both labor and tax monies. The mission period lasted from 1769 to 1833.

Beginning in San Diego, all of the missions are located on or near Highway 101, called El Camino Real (the Royal Road) in the days of the padres.

Huell Howser, long-time host of the television series, California's Gold, did an episode about The Bells of El Camino Real, specially designed brass bells (created and produced by the California Bell Company) that serve as markers along the historic roadway.

The first mission, San Diego de Alcala, was founded in 1769 by Fathers Serra, Palou, and Parron near the mouth of the San Diego River.

The last (and only Mexican) mission, San Francisco Solano, was founded in 1823 in pretty Sonoma Valley by Father Jose Altimira. There are 21 California missions in all.

Following El Camino Real
California Missions 1 through 3

1. Mission San Diego de Alcala (1769)
The 1st of California's 21 missions, it's called the Mother of the Missions.
10818 San Diego Mission Road
San Diego, CA 92108

2. Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (1770)
It's the only mission to still have its original bell tower dome.
3080 Rio Road
Carmel, CA 93923

3. Mission San Antonio de Padua (1771)
Situated in the scenic Valley of the Oaks, period re-enactors bring the original mission back to life one day a year.
Mission Creek Road
Jolon, CA 93928

Following El Camino Real
California Missions 4 through 9

4. San Gabriel Arcangel (1771)
The only mission designed like a fortress with five-foot thick
walls and narrow windows.
428 S. Mission Drive
San Gabriel, CA 626.457.3035

5. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (1772)
The first mission to use tiles extensively on the roof to ward off flaming arrows from Indian attacks.
782 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

6, San Francisco de Asis, Mission
This mission is now surrounded by San Francisco and is the oldest building in The City.
3321 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

7. San Juan Capistrano (1776)
This is the famous mission where the swallows return each year on March 19th.
Ortega Highway at Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693

8. Santa Clara de Asis (1777)
The only mission to have been surrounded by a university - Santa Clara University.
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95953

#9. San Buenaventura (1782)
This is the last mission to have been blessed by Father Junipero Serra himself. Artifacts displayed include two wooden bells.
225 E. Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001

Following El Camino Real
California Missions 10 through 15

#10. Mission Santa Bárbara (1786)
Dubbed "Queen of the Missions," was the first consecrated by Father Fermín Lasuén, who took over presidency of the California mission change after Father Serra died.
2201 Laguna Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

#11. Mission La Purisima Concepóion (1787)
This mission is about 50 miles west of Santa Barbara, and is considered to be the best of mission architecture.
2295 Purisima Road
Lompoc, CA 93436

#12. La Misión la Exaltación de la Santa Cruz (1791)
Holy Cross Church  was built on the site of the original mission church in 1889. Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park , next door, contains the only building from the mission that has survived.
126 High Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

#13. Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (1791)
Located in what is now the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Country, Mission Soledad fell into disuse, but has been partially restored.
36641 Ft. Romie Road
Soledad, CA 93960

#14. La Misión del Gloriosisimo Patriarch San José (1797)
Don't go looking for Mission San José in the city of San Jose; it's actually located in the city of Fremont.
43300 Mission Boulevard
Fremont, CA 94539

#15. Mission San Juan Bautista (1797)
Although sitting directly above the San Andreas fault, much of the original structure remains and has been lovingly restored to its former grandeur.
406 Second Street
San Juan Bautista, CA 95045

Following El Camino Real
California Missions 16 through 21

#16. Mission San Miguel Arcángel (1797)
Mission San Miguel has been called the best-preserved church in the mission chain, thanks to the care given by its priests.
795 SLO Monterey Road
San Miguel, CA 93451

#17. Mission San Fernando Rey de España (1797)
Inside the church, above the altar, you'll find a statue of Saint Ferdinand that was brought over from Spain more than 300 years ago.
15151 San Fe3rnanco Mission Boulevard
Mission Hills, CA 91345

#18. Mission San Luis Rey de Francia (1798)
Called "King of the Missions," this mission was named for the crusader king of France, Louie IX.
4050 Mission Avenue
San Luis Rey, CA 92068

#19. Mission Santa Inés (1804)
The mission has survived several earthquakes; walk beneath the historic grape arbor to emerge into lovely gardens that almost haven't changed in 200 years.
1760 Mission Drive
Solvang, CA 93464

#20. Mission San Rafael Arcángel (1817)
At the foot of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, this mission served as a sanitarium for San Francisco neophytes who suffered from depression and disease.31104 Fifth Avenue
San Rafael, CA 94901

#21. Mission San Francisco Solano (1823)
Last of the historic California missions, this one was the site of the Bear Flag Revolt; visit in September to participate in the Blessing of the Grapes.
20 E. Spain Street
Sonoma, CA 95476

To find out more about California history, follow these links:

  1. 1906 Earthquake as told to Seán Street by survivor, Herbert Hamrol
  2. Bear Flag Revolt, an idea just slightly behind the times
  3. California Gold Discovery, the Eureka heard round the world
  4. Getting to California and the Gold: you couldn't just hop a plane!
  5. Sutter's Fort, where plans went awry for John Sutter

Please continue your exploration of what Northern California has to offer by using the Nav Bars in the left and right columns or by using the links at the bottom of the page.

Like what you're finding here at Discovering Northern California? Then please share with the Social Network of your choice.

And thanks for coming!

Return to Discover Northern California's Home Page from
Discover California Missions