Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa serves as a parish with an active church attendance and services. Tourists can wander into the chapel and onto the grounds to see the beauty of this beautiful mission located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the 5th of 21 missions built in California. It was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1772. The mission site was chosen by Serra after he returned to his home-base mission in Carmel and the food supply began to dwindle along with support for the mission effort from Spain. Father Serra remembered the valley where bears were abundant and would make good meat to feed the staff. Now called Los Osos, a bear statue marks an area of San Luis Obispo County not farm from the city.
Mission San Luis Obispo was built slowly with a small staff directed by Father Cavalier and scant funds in a slow process. It is now in the center of the city that formed around the mission and is one of the few missions where the city center actually grew next to the mission. Its location within downtown San Luis Obispo makes it a favorite for tourists, and the outdoor steeps and an amphitheater provide a venue for special events, concerts, and performances under the shade of oaks and other trees above a creek that runs next to the mission.
The mission renovations generally do not attempt to remain true to historical renditions. Several examples of missions nearby that are more authentically restored and painted include La Purisima Mission in Lompoc to the south, and Mission San Miguel near Paso Robles to the north. At Mission San Luis Obispo an inner courtyard features an arbor with grapes growing on it, and a replica Chumash Indian oven. The courtyard contains a BBQ area, stone walkway and a grass courtyard all used actively by parishioners today.
There was no fee to wander inside the chapel during our previous visit to the mission. It is a working church so you should be respectful of prayer sessions, lit candle traditions and any ceremonies occurring.
Mission Timeline of Significant Dates:
1772 Mission founded by Father Junipero
Serra, accompanied by Padre Jose
Cavaller and Captain Pedro Fages on
September 1st, 1772.
1778 Fr. Serra receives permission to confirm from the Pope. He confirms 265 persons at Mission San Luis Obispo.
1783 Beginning of official informes, which include spiritual and agricultural reports.
1784 Fr. Serra dies; Fermin de Lasuen, O.F.M., replaces him as Padre Presidente.
1789 Fr. Cavaller dies and is buried in the Mission floor in front of the sanctuary.
1793 Present Mission Church completed.
1800 Building under Martinez: Permanent dwellings for families, a granary, weaving room, and 6 adobe houses.
1810 Beginning of Mexican War for independence against Spain.
1812 Mission renovation: re-plastering, paving.
1820 Mission bells arrive from Lima, Peru cast by Manuel Vargas.
1821 Mexico wins independence from Spain.
1824 Natives at Missions Santa Barbara, Santa Ines, and La Purisima revolt against civil authority.
1824 Mexican Congress decrees that all Californians must sign oath of allegiance to Mexico.
1827 Mexican Congress decrees that all Spaniards under 60 years old shall be expelled.
1830 Fr. Luis Gil y Taboada, O.F.M., assigned to take over the Mission. He died in 1833 and was buried in the floor before the sanctuary.
1834 Mexican Congress approves Secularization Act: All Mission lands become property of Mexico and subject to disposition.
1835 Inventory and formal possession of Mission buildings by Mexican Government.
1842 Fr. Ramon Abella, O.F.M., dies; last Franciscan at the Mission.
1845 "Governor" Pio Pico sells remaining Mission lands including church and Laguna Rancho sold to Captain John Wilson and partners Scott and McKinley.
1846 Commodore Sloat raises U.S. flag over Monterey, War with Mexico begins, Pio Pico is deposed and his grants are suspended.
1847 Governor Kearney issues a proclamation protecting religious institutions.
1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed ending the Mexican-American War.
1855 Bishop Alemany's claim to Mission lands upheld by U.S. Land Commission.
1856 San Luis Obispo incorporates as a town.
1861 Stagecoach runs between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
1876 San Luis Obispo re-incorporates as a "city".
1893 Fr. Valentin Aguilere decides to enlarge Church, builds annex to the right of the sanctuary.
1894 San Luis Obispo reached by railroad, Southern Pacific builds Ramona Hotel.
1901 California State Polytechnic College established.
1933 Restoration of the Mission (back to Spanish style) begun by Fr. Harnett.