There are 21 California Spanish Missions that reach from San Diego to north of San Francisco,
each with a unique story to tell. These missions represent the first contact the California Native
Americans had with Europeans and are a living history of the struggles and triumphs that each
culture experienced hundreds of years ago. The missions were all established as churches and
some are still active with mass held regularly since their founding. Others have become part of the
California State Park system. The buildings started as humble rooms and grew to the stately adobe
structures that are still standing today. They were started by the Franciscan order with the first one
in 1769 and the last in 1833. The El Camino Real, or The Royal Road, still links the missions from
San Diego to Sonoma, although it follows modern highways today. Each mission has a fascinating
founding story that is steeped in history and the politics of Spain at the particular time that they were
built. Some of the most interesting ones to visit today are:
The Santa Barbara Mission
The Santa Barbara Mission is the 10th mission that was founded in 1786 and christened
by Father Lasuen as the Queen of the Missions. It was restored to its original grandeur after an
earthquake in 1925. The inside has not been significantly altered since 1820. The mission had an
extensive water system that still functions today and is part of the water system of the City of Santa
Barbara. This Mission has the oldest unbroken tradition of choral singing of any California institution.
Santa Ines is the 19th mission and is named for a roman martyr who refused to sacrifice to
the pagan gods in ancient Rome in 304 AD. It has survived several earthquakes and has a large
collection of church records and missals that are of great historical value. It also has some of the
original wall paintings and decorations. Visitors walk through a historic grape arbor as if stepping
back in time. The walkway emerges in gardens that look the same as they did 200 years ago.
La Purisima Concepcion
La Purisima Concepcion is the 11th mission founded in 1787. It is considered to have the best
example of mission architecture with 37 rooms that are restored and furnished. There are living
history demonstrations for visitors including candle making and weaving. The garden has a stream
that flows through several pools and a fountain and contains plants from all the other missions
creating the best collection of early California flora that still exists today.
San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is the fifth mission founded in 1772. This was the first mission
to have a tile roof to repel the flaming arrows of the Native Americans. This mission is famous for
agriculture and has two water-powered grist mills. It was restored in the 1930s to its almost original
condition. It is the home of a rare collection of early California photographs, examples of Chumash
Indian craftsmanship as well as authentic Junipero Serra relics.
San Miguel Arcangel
San Miguel Arcangel is the 16th mission founded in 1797. It is located in the Salinas Valley
midway between the San Luis Obispo and the San Antonio Missions. The Native Americans painted
the walls and ceilings with designs, and these murals are the best preserved in California. Visitors
enjoy the celebration on the third Sunday in September to honor Saint Michael the Archangel of
These are just a few of the sights that you can experience on a trip to California. If you are
fascinated by history and beautiful architecture, a California mission tour might just be the perfect trip
About The Author
Darren Davis is a truck driving instructor and published travel writer from Tucson, Arizona.
San Luis Obispo Blog
We look to provide ideas to get folks away from the couch, and out exploring California. We aim to provide day-trips. We want to provide suggestions of things to do, in a single day. Whether you're from out-of-town, or looking to get to know the our magnificent section of California (and beyond) a little better....we want to inspire you to explore.