Founded by Saint Junípero Serra in 1769, this was California’s first mission. Serra encouraged Native Americans to live here, exchanging work in the fields for religious instruction. Harassment by soldiers and lack of water supplies caused the mission to be moved from its original location in Old Town to this site. In 1976, Pope Paul VI bestowed the mission with the status of minor basilica. In 2015, Pope Francis canonized Junípero Serra, the first such ceremony to be conducted on US soil.
10818 San Diego Mission Road • 619 281 8449 • www.missionsandiego.com • Open 9am–4:45pm daily • Adm $3; Tote-a-Tape Tours $2
Church: Mass 7am & 5:30pm Mon–Fri, 5:30pm Sat, 7am, 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am, noon & 5:30pm Sun
The original 1774 adobe walls and beams survived a Native American attack, military occupation, earthquakes, and years of neglect. Padres lived simply, with few material comforts.
This graceful 46-ft (14-m) bell tower defines California mission architecture. One of the bells is considered an original, and the crown atop another suggests it was probably cast in a royal foundry.
Artifacts here include records of births and deaths in Saint Serra’s handwriting, the last crucifix he held, and old photographs showing the extent of the mission’s dereliction prior to restoration efforts.
Four charming statues of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the Native Americans; St. Serra; St. Joseph, saint of Serra’s expedition; and St. Francis keep vigil over the inner garden.
Taken from a Carmelite monastery in Plasencia, Spain, this small chapel features choir stalls, a throne, and an altar dating from the 1300s. The choir stalls are held together by grooves rather than nails. The raised seats allowed the monks to stand while singing.
Although it no longer contains real graves, this is the oldest cemetery in California. The crosses are made of original mission tiles. A memorial honors Native Americans who died during the mission era.
Also called the Royal Road or King’s Highway, this linked the state’s 21 missions, each a day’s distance apart on foot.
The width of a mission church depended on available beams. Restored to specifications of a former 1813 church on this site, it features adobe bricks, the original floor tiles, and wooden door beams.
Exotic plants add to the lush landscape around the mission. With few indigenous Californian species available, missionaries and settlers brought plants from all parts of the world, including cacti from Mexico and bird of paradise from South Africa.
On November 5, 1775, Native Americans attacked the mission. A cross marks the approximate spot where the Kumeyaay tribe killed Jayme, California’s first martyr.
Franciscan father Saint Junípero Serra spent 20 years in Mexico before coming to California. Few of his companions survived the tough “Sacred Expedition” across the desert. Serra, undeterred, established California’s first mission in 1769. His sainthood was controversial for many Native Americans as they felt the mission system had helped to fragment their culture.