California Missions Travel Guide
The California Mission system is a spectacular display of California’s rich historical tradition. Consisting of 21 individual missions that dot the California coastline, the mission system is a wonderful part of California’s attractions, giving visitors an opportunity to learn about the state’s past while enjoying the often-beautiful gardens, fountains, and preserved rooms throughout each mission. The twenty one missions and their locations are as follows (listed from the most northern to the most southern):
- Mission San Francisco Solano, in Sonoma
- Mission San Rafael Arcángel, in San Rafael
- Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores), in San Francisco
- Mission San José, in Fremont
- Mission Santa Clara de Asís, in Santa Clara
- Mission Santa Cruz, in Santa Cruz
- Mission San Juan Bautista, in San Juan Bautista
- Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, south of Carmel
- Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, south of Soledad
- Mission San Antonio de Padua, northwest of Jolon
- Mission San Miguel Arcángel, in San Miguel
- Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, in San Luis Obispo
- Mission La Purísima Concepción, in Lompoc
- Mission Santa Inés, in Solvang
- Mission Santa Barbara, in Santa Barbara
- Mission San Buenaventura, in Ventura
- Mission San Fernando Rey de España, in Mission Hills
- Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, in San Gabriel
- Mission San Juan Capistrano, in San Juan Capistrano
- Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, in Oceanside
- Mission San Diego de Alcalá, in San Diego
The missions were founded by a group of Franciscan priests along what is called the El Camino Real, or “The Royal Highway” and “The King’s Highway.” The Spanish Franciscans, after gaining control of Baja California in what is now Mexico, decided to colonize the then-untouched California under the leadership of Father Junipero Serra (whose pioneership earned him several namesake roads throughout California). Intending to both explore, colonize, and spread the Christian faith, the Franciscan groups took a route up the coast, founding a new mission every 50 or so miles. The monks, who donned grey robes and the typical shaved head in emulation of St. Francis of Assisi, worked their way up through the unexplored California countryside, bringing Christianity to the Native Indian people as they progressed.
Unfortunately, this progress also had some unintended consequences. Despite that it did allow the Spanish to colonize California and pave the way for what we now know as the official state of California to be recognized as part of the United States, the Indian populations that had been coexisting in the state for hundreds if not thousands of years. The colonists also brought disease and hardship for the tribes, who were made to work as part of their conversion and involvement with the church. The Indians tended to the gardens and grounds of the missions as labor, theoretically aiding the monks but, in the end, they too often ended up being exploited.
However this does not get rid of the historical value that the missions give to visitors today. The long stretch of 21 missions prove an interesting destination for any visitors wishing to get a better idea of what California’s rich history was. For the missions eventually ended up turning into not just church centers but also military outposts and sites of some of the most significant events in California’s timeline. In fact, the official surrender of California to the United States as represented by Commodore John. D. Sloat took place at the Monterey Mission.
The missions are a wonderful place aesthetically, as well. Almost all of them are in perfect or near-perfect condition thanks to an extensive state program that has kept them rehabbed and established as long-standing California state landmarks. Typical “mission-style” architecture involves white stucco walls with rounded corners, red, layered brick roofs, and wooden support beams sticking out of the walls. There is always a large church that forms the focal point of the front of the mission, which usually has a bell tower. Then, to either side there are the low-lying, one-story walls that stretch into a u-shape or square, which makes up the body and main cultural center of the mission. What was once open land to be cultivated has now mostly been sold off and turned into housing in the more urban missions. Regardless, the beauty and historical tradition of the missions stands through as one of the most beautiful sets of attractions available to visitors of this majestic state.