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California has 21 historic Spanish missions from San Diego to Sonoma in the northern San Francisco Bay Area. Most were built during the late 1700’s, with the two northernmost being completed in the early 1800’s. These stunning sacred structures are the state’s oldest buildings. All of these California missions are now state historic monuments that are available for the public to visit. Many are active Catholic churches that still have mass regularly, but all the missions are open to self-guided tours, most of them seven days a week. Docent led guided tours are available at several of the missions and they are a great way to hear stories, facts, and other historical tidbits that are otherwise missed.

The missions were built along an old horse and wagon road called El Camino Real or The Royal Highway. This historic path is similar to the current Highway 101 route. Each mission was built in an area that could be farmed and they were spaced out to be about a one-day trip between them. As you can see by the map above they are lined up along the coastal region.

IMG_5027 inside mission san diego bryce (Custom)Inside view of Mission San Diego de Alcala

Each mission has a unique design and an interesting history. They are beautiful buildings inside and out and often have equally impressive gardens. Many are operated as a non-profit and will ask for a small fee or a donation for touring the property (some are free). A few are now protected as California state parks. Take your kids to California missions to introduce them to these historic sites. Many of them have gift shops with interesting things

Below is a list of the missions from Southern California up to Sonoma County.

Attractions on this map

  • Mission San Diego Bryce apr16 (12)

    Mission San Diego de Alcala

    Mission San Diego, California’s First Church, is a State and National Historic Landmark. As the first of the 21 Spanish missions in California, it is known as the Mother of the […]

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  • Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

    Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

    Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is the 18th in a chain of 21 California missions. It was established in 1798 by Father Fermin Lausen who was president of […]

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  • Mission San Juan Capistrano

    Mission San Juan Capistrano

    Mission San Juan Capistrano is the only California Mission in Orange County. It was founded by Padre Junipero Serra in November of 1776. Today, it is one of California’s most […]

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  • San Gabriel Mission

    San Gabriel Mission

    San Gabriel Mission Arcangel is located in eastern Los Angeles in San Gabriel near Pasadena. It is an active church, but can be visited any day of the week. This […]

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  • Mission San Fernado Rey de Espana

    Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana

    Mission San Fernando Rey de España was founded in 1797 in the Mission Hills district of Los Angeles. It was named for Saint Fernando as was the nearby city of […]

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  • The Old Mission San Buenaventura

    The Old Mission San Buenaventura

    The Ventura Mission, one in a chain of 21 California missions, is perched on a hill above the Pacific Ocean. You can stand on the mission stairs and view a […]

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  • Old Mission Santa Barbara

    Old Mission Santa Barbara

    Santa Barbara’s “Queen of the Missions” was dedicated on December 16, 1786 as the 10th of 21 California missions. This beautiful mission is the only one with two bell towers and […]

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  • Old Mission Santa Ines

    Old Mission Santa Ines

    Mission Santa Ines was founded on September 17, 1804 by Father Estevan Tapis. It was named in honor of Saint Agnes, an early Christian martyr of the fourth century. The […]

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  • La Purisima Mission

    La Purisima Mission State Historic Park

    Mission La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima is located a short drive off Highway 101 near Lompoc, California. This beautiful mission is set amongst the oak-studded hills, farms and residential […]

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  • Mission San Luis Obispo

    Mission San Luis Obispo

    Set along shaded streets and framed by beautiful mountain tops, Mission San Luis Obispo is the fifth California mission and was founded by Father Junipero Serra in September of 1772. […]

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  • Mission San Miguel

    Mission San Miguel

    Mission San Miguel Arcángel is a quick stop of Highway 101 eight miles north of Paso Robles and Templeton in the Central California Coastal region. Set in the small town […]

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  • Mission San Antonio de Padua

    Mission San Antonio de Padua

    Mission San Antonio de Padua was established in 1771 in the small community of Jolon in San Luis Obispo County. It’s about equidistant between Highway 101 and the Big Sur […]

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  • Mission Soledad

    Mission Soledad

    The Mission Soledad is certainly one of the loveliest, rural missions. It is set among the beautiful hills and mountain range that separates this fertile Monterey County valley from the […]

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  • Carmel Mission

    Carmel Mission

    Built in 1771, the second of the 21 California missions was Father Serra’s headquarters. It is officially called Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmel and is one […]

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  • Old Mission San Juan Bautista

    Old Mission San Juan Bautista

    Mission San Juan Bautista is located in San Juan Bautista a small town in northern San Benito County. This mission was founded in 1797 as a Roman Catholic church and was named for […]

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  • La Exaltacion de la Santa Cruz

    Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

    The Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park sits atop Mission Hill in Santa Cruz offering a patio, gardens, and excellent views of the city. This is one of 21 different […]

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  • Mission Santa Clara de Asis

    Mission Santa Clara de Asis

    Mission Santa Clara de Asis is located on the campus of the private Catholic Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA. It was established in 1777 as the 8th of […]

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  • Mission San Jose

    Mission San Jose

    Mission San Jose is located in Fremont California near San Jose in the South Bay Area. This mission was completed and founded in 1797 and was the 14th mission established […]

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  • Mission San Francisco de Asis

    Mission San Francisco de Asis

    Mission San Francisco de Asís, a.k.a. Mission Dolores Basilica, is located in the Mission District of San Francisco at the corner of Dolores Street and 16th Street. It was founded in 1776 […]

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  • Mission San Raphael

    Mission San Raphael

    Mission San Raphael is located north of San Francisco Bay in San Rafael. It was completed in 1817 and was one of the last missions built in the chain of […]

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  • Mission San Francisco de Solano

    Mission San Francisco de Solano

    Founded in 1823 by Father Jose Altimira, Mission San Francisco Solano was the northernmost and final mission in a chain of 21 California missions built along the King’s Highway, El […]

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