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