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10 Spanish Missions Along California's El Camino Real

By: Cityseeker
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Here's a collection of 10 California missions to inspire your next road trip.


Mission San Francisco Solano

Founded in 1823, the last California mission, Mission San Francisco Solano, served only 11 years before its secularization. But without it, history would be rewritten to upset many wine-loving travelers: Sonoma Valley wine country wouldn't exist, and the town of Sonoma wouldn't exist. Today, the mission is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park in the lovely downtown. It is rather small, but theexhibits are impressive in terms of variety and quality, from watercolor paintings of California missions by Chris Jorgensen to flea-market-finds oil paintings and artifacts. The courtyard is anoasis filled with olive trees, walls of cactus and rosemary.

Sonoma, CA, United States
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Mission San Francisco de Asis

Founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1779, Mission San Francisco de Asis, also known as Mission Dolores, is the oldest structure in San Francisco. The mission and the city that surrounds it was named after St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. The Mission Dolores has gone through several repairs and renovations since its founding and the mission's original adobe structure still stands on-site, as well as a section of the original cemetery. The mission was the first location to be designated by the City of San Francisco as a protected historical landmark in 1968.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Mission Santa Clara de Asis

The gleaming centerpiece of Santa Clara University, this Spanish outpost has undergone numerous facelifts to reach its present-say standing. Behind the ornate, ecru-hued facade are tales and religious stories which date back as far as 1777. The eighth Spanish mission founded along El Camino Real, this mission strongly upholds the principles of the Franciscan order. The mission church is ornamented with a string of ornate interiors, plus, a huge wooden cross that fronts it, only add to its charm. Topped by rustic wooden roofs, the mission is awash in quintessential semblances of Neo-colonial architecture. Named after Saint Clare of Assisi, the mission today serves as a magnanimous chapel for the university students.

Santa Clara, CA, United States
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Mission San Juan Bautista

Established under the Franciscan order in 1797, the Mission San Juan Bautista is a Spanish mission whose name is extended to the city it calls home. The mission is centered around emerald landscapes, and its premises are home to a nunnery, the living quarters of the fathers and ancient soldiers dormitories also form a part of the mission. The interior of the mission has a gorgeous altar and the floor of the church is adorned with intricate paintings of animals. Its cemetery served as a resting place for many Christian natives that inhabited this land and Padre Esteban Tapis, under whose leadership the mission's choir had bloomed, is also buried here. A landmark of religious tolerance and cultural synthesis, Mission San Juan Bautista is worth your admiration.

San Juan Bautista, CA, United States
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Carmel Mission

Also known as Mission Carmel Basilica and more formally, as Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, this was the second of the nine missions founded by Father Junipero Serra. The area was originally chosen for its agricultural possibilities in 1771, but the temperate climate and exquisite landscape soon made it Father Serra's favorite. Indeed, he is buried, as per his wishes, in front of the church's main altar. The building, which fell into ruins in the 19th Century and has since been completely restored, exhibits classic Mission-style, fortress-like architecture, with thick, bougainvillea-covered adobe walls and a central courtyard. A Moorish-style bell tower contains nine bells and is open to the public. Though some may find the climb up the steep staircase taxing, the views from that vantage point are magnificent.

Carmel, CA, United States
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Mission San Antonio de Padua

Founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1771 in the present-day town of Jolon, Mission San Antonio was the third Spanish mission built along El Camino Real and the site of the first Christian wedding in Upper California. The mission's unique location inside the San Antonio River Valley gives visitors a remarkable glimpse into mission life during the late 18th century. After taking nearly 50 years to restore to its former glory, Mission San Antonio de Padua currently stands as a shining example of the many Spanish missions along the King's Highway.

Jolon, CA, United States
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Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Commemorating Saint Louis of Anjou, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is one of the most revered landmarks of the city of San Luis Obispo. The mission was built under the leadership of Junípero Serra, after this city came to his party's rescue when the food supplies at the Carmel Mission dwindled. San Luis Obispo was considered as a bountiful land, and hence the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded here. The church was built with the help of Spanish soldiers, local neophytes and the Chumash community, thereby becoming a symbol of communal harmony. The mission was built in a peculiar style; it has an angelic-white entrance that is graced with a gorgeous fountain having gleeful bear statues. The alter of the mission is serene and has many ancient artifacts. This is a perfect setting for an intimate wedding and other religious ceremonies.

San Luis Obispo, CA, United States
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Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara was established by Father Junipero Serra in 1786 and it still stands today as a prominent part of local culture and history. Holding one of most extensive and closely guarded collections of colonial Franciscan music manuscripts in the world, Mission Santa Barbara also has one of the oldest traditions of choral singing in California, performances of which can be heard frequently to this day. In addition to its historic importance, the mission is actively involved and conducts a number of humanitarian activities for the underprivileged.

Santa Barbara, CA, United States
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Mission San Juan Capistrano

Historic Mission San Juan Capistrano is a California icon. Perhaps most famous for visits from its annual guests of honor, the swallows, the Mission means many things to many people. For Californians, it is a powerful symbol of the state's complicated colonial history. For Catholics, it is a profound religious site, indicative of the Church's own complex heritage. History buffs spend hours reveling in the facility's many exhibits and displays, connecting viscerally with the sights, sounds and feelings of generations long past. For visitors of any background, it is an undeniably gorgeous place to spend an afternoon--replete with striking architectural elements and lovingly cared-for gardens.

San Juan Capistrano, CA, United States
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Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

Founded in 1769, Mission San Diego de Alcalá was the first mission founded by Father Junipero Serra in The Californias. Like many of the Spanish missions that were built along California's famous El Camino Real, the mission is actually the namesake of the major city it's near--in this case, San Diego. The mission experienced a tumultuous history since its founding, and its church building has since been rebuilt five times on the same site. Today, the mission stands as a remarkable example of early California history and is currently registered as a National Historic Landmark.

San Diego, CA, United States
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