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10 Spanish Missions Along California's El Camino Real

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Also known as The Royal Road, El Camino Real is a pilgrimage route tracing the 21 historic Spanish missions that were established between the mid-18th and the mid-19th Centuries. These were commissioned by the Spanish monarchy for their colony, then known as Alte California, and the entire route stretches roughly 800 miles (1287 kilometers). Here is a collection of 10 prominent ones along the route 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. 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. Mission San Francisco Solano has also played a vital role in the wine-making history of the Sonoma county.

114 East Spain Street, Sonoma State Historic Park, Sonoma, CA, USA, 95476
Mission Dolores

Die hohen Kirchtürme an der Ecke Dolores und 16th Street gehören nicht zu der nördlichsten der von Vater Junipero Serra gegründeten Missionen Kaliforniens. Sie sind ein Teil der Mission Dolores Basilika, die 1918 erbaut wurde, um die frühere Basilika zu ersetzen, die im Erdbeben von 1906 zerstört wurde. Die Mission selbst, das älteste Bauwerk in San Francisco aus dem Jahre 1788, ist das schlichte Gebäude aus Lehmziegeln gleich daneben. Beim Betreten wird man unwillkürlich in die spanische Kolonialzeit San Franciscos zurückversetzt, unter Dachbalken, die von Lederbändern zusammengehalten werden. Der beschauliche Garten ist den Sommer über mit Blumen geradezu überfüllt. Auf dem Friedhof finden sich sowohl die Gräber berühmter Familien aus der Kolonialzeit als auch die der amerikanischen Ureinwohner, die verpflichtet wurden, beim Bau der Mission zu helfen und später dort zu dienen. Ihre Gräber sind an den Abalonmuscheln zu erkennen, mit denen sie gesch! mückt sind. Im Museum befinden sich Gebrauchsgegenstände und Schriften.

3321 16th Street, San Francisco, CA, USA, 94114
Mission Santa Clara de Asis

The gleaming centerpiece of the Santa Clara University, this Spanish outpost has undergone numerous facelifts to reach its present-day 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 the El Camino Real, this mission strongly upholds the principles of the Franciscan order. The mission church is ornamented with a string of ornate interiors along with a huge wooden cross that fronts it and adds 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.

500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA, USA, 95053
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. The interiors of the mission feature an exquisite altar and beautiful paintings. Mission San Juan Bautista's cemetery is a resting place for many Christian natives that inhabited this land. Padre Esteban Tapis, under whose leadership the mission's choir had bloomed, is also interred here.

406 Second Street, San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, San Juan Bautista, CA, USA, 95045
Carmel Mission Basilica

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. The building, which fell into ruins in the 19th Century and has since been completely restored, exhibits classic fortress-like architecture, with thick, bougainvillea-covered walls and a central courtyard. A Moorish-style bell tower contains nine bells and is open to the public. The steps to climb the tower are a bit steep, but the views from that vantage point are magnificent.

3080 Rio Road, Carmel, CA, USA, 93923
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 charming fountain having gleeful bear statues. The altar of the mission is serene and has many ancient artifacts. This is a perfect setting for an intimate wedding and other religious ceremonies.

751 Palm Street, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA, 93401
Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara was established by Father Fermín Lasuén in 1786 and it still stands today as a prominent part of local culture and history. Preserving one of the most extensive and closely monitored collections of colonial Franciscan music manuscripts in the world, Mission Santa Barbara is also defined by its age-old tradition 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 with and conducts a number of humanitarian activities for the underprivileged.

2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA, USA, 93105
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.

26801 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano, CA, USA, 92675
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.

10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego, CA, USA, 92108
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