California 21 Missions


In 1776 the Declaration of Independence declared the East Coast free from British control. 3,000 miles away on the West Coast Spaniards sought to claim the lands by building 21 missions from 1769 to 1823. California's 21 Missions are a fraction of over 100 missions that were built in North America.

See Return of the Swallows Event

When you take a drive along I-101 in California today, the popular coastal highway follows El Camino Real (The King's Road) created as a travel route by Spaniards who built 21 missions. Each mission was designed to be about a day's journey from the next (approx. 30 miles) and today, you can still visit replicas of these original missions as you drive on that highway that largely parallels the Pacific Ocean along its route north and south. Most of the missions are open to the public -- some charge a fee, while others are free to see.

Because the construction of the missions utilized locally available materials such as adobe brick, there are only a few mission remnants (walls, cornices, towers, etc.) from the original structures that have survived devastating earthquakes and neglect. The replicas of the original missions, however, provide experiences that allow children and adults to relive the California mission era that began in 1769 and ended not long after the last mission was built in 1823.


#1 | Basilica San Diego de Alcala | 10818 Mission Rd., San Diego, CA | 1769, restored, looks like new, church services

#2 | Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Carmelo (Carmel) | Lausen Dr, Carmel | 1770, Fr.Serra buried here, church services

#3 | San Antonio de Padua | off 101, Jolon | 1771, one of largest

#4 | San Gabriel Arcangel | 1120 Old Mill Rd | 1771, at crossroads

#5 | San Luis Obispo | Choro & Monterey St. | 1772, first to use tile tools, located downtown

#6 | San Francisco de Asis | Dolores & 16th | 1776

#7 | San Juan Capistrano | off 1-5 at Ortega | 1776, Return of Swallows

#8 | Santa Clara de Asis | Grant & Franklin | 1777, bell dated 1798

#9 | San Buenaventura | Ventura | Main&Figueroa, Ventura | 1782, last one from Fr. Serra, popular church

#10 | Santa Barbara | Laguna & Los Olivos | 1786, most beautiful, known for its twin bell towers

#11 | La Purisima Concepcion |  Near Lompoc, off 101 | 1787, original design, favorite of school tours

#12 | Santa Cruz Mission | School & Emmet | 1791, rebuilt in 1931. Only an adobe remains, part of Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park.

#13 | Nuestra Senora de la Soledad | off 101, Soledad | 1791, stood in ruins for 100 yrs., very rustic

#14 | San Jose | 43300 Mission Blvd. | 1777, noted for music

#15 | San Juan Bautista | off 101 | 1797, sits on San Andreas fault

#16 | San Miguel Arcangel | 801 Mission, San Miguel | 1797, last mission secularized

#17 | San Fenando Rey de Espana | 15151 SF Mission Blvd. | 1797, Restored in 1971

#18 | San Luis Rey de Francia | off Hwy 76, Oceanside | 1798, most successful, worth a see!

#19 | Santa Ines | 1760 Mission Dr., Solvang | 1804, favorite for many

#20 | San Rafael Arcangel | A & 5th | 1817, aided sick Indians

#21 | San Francisco Solano de Sonoma | 363 3rd St. West, Sonoma | 1823, last mission

In Lompoc you can visit La Purisima Mission and see livestock grazing in the fields. Santa Barbara's mission includes an amazing aqueduct system still in place from the mission era, and at Soledad Mission roosters roam free on the grounds, much as they would have done 200 years ago.

The California missions are only a fraction of those built by Spaniards in their quest to claim vast holdings in North America. You can travel south of the border into Mexico to see and learn about many missions there, or travel between California and Florida, discovering similar structures were built in Arizona, Texas, Mississippi and other states.

The goal of the Spanish government was to recruit local natives, then convert, educate, and civilize the indigenous populations, turning them into Spanish colonial citizens. Total assimilation of indigenous populations (called neophytes or new believers) into European culture and the Catholic religion was a doctrine established in 1531 in Spain. Believing that it was possible to create self-sustaining mission villages, the government sent "missionaries" from the Catholic church to help construct and operate each mission. The effort did introduce modern foods, trees, cultivation methods to produce wine, and livestock to areas where fish and wild game were meals of choice, but measles and other diseases also arrived, decimating entire native populations except for a few survivors.

Under the leadership of a Franciscan, Fr. Junipero Serra, the California mission system had been launched. He is buried at the Carmel Mission. When the Mexican Congress passed the Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California on August 17, 1833, it called for the colonization of both Alta (our current California in the U.S.) and Baja California (Mexico) from proceeds of the sale of the mission property to private interests. Most missions fell into disrepair, but those with a passion for history and heritage have worked hard to save these landmarks. Only one or two no longer exist.

How the mission locations were selected:
Mission sites were intended to stay close to the coast and Pacific Ocean. The furthest inland is Mission Nuestra SeƱora de la Soledad (Soledad Mission) 30 miles inland. A scarcity of imported materials and lack of skilled laborers, compelled the mission Fathers to employ simple building materials and methods in the construction of mission structures. Each mission required a water supply for drinking and growing crops, and the coastal weather provided a Mediterranean climate easier for survival.

Introduced from Spain:
Olive trees and olive oil production.
Citrus groves and orchards that launched the fruit industry.
Wine grape stock plantings and production of wine

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