Don't Miss California's Missions

The Golden State's mission trail is a stunning focus for travelers who want to experience varied facets of California Photo: San Juan Capistrano

WASHINGTON, February 09, 2012 - Planning a trip to the Golden State?

California vacations often mean urban excitement, long and languid tours of the Golden State’s beautiful beaches and rugged coastal scenery, along with winery visits and culinary adventures.

For faith travelers, there’s even more cultural excitement on the state’s Spanish Mission Trail that stretches 600 miles from San Diego to Sonoma.

The Franciscans built 21 missions between 1769 and 1823 along the legendary ElCamino Real, a route that corresponds roughly to modern U.S. Highway 101. The padres’ objective was to convert the Indians to Christianity and in what was then Mexico’s territory.

Mission San Miguel arches

Mission San Miguel arches

The mission era ended with Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821, the gold rush in 1848, and California statehood in 1850. Today, the missions stand as symbols of California’s cultural legacy, storehouses of art and archaeological artifacts, and repositories of stories romantic and real.

Most (19 or the 21 churches) continue as active Catholic worship sites. Each has its own character and interest. Several are located in some of thestate’s most spectacular scenery.

Think about including some mission stops in your next California sojourn:

Mission San Miguel - This mission is distinguished by its authenticity - it has the only surviving original church interior, accented by original Native American art. While the art in most other missions on the trail got modified or covered with plaster, San Miguel benefitted from neglect - nobody altered it.

However, in December 2003, a 6.5 earthquake hit California’s central coast, and badly damaged San Miguel’s church and friars’ living quarters.

historic hotel, and charming restaurants.

Mission San Carlos Borrowed

Mission San Carlos Borrowed

A $12 million restoration followed, and the church reopened in 2009. What visitors experience today is transport back in time, something other missions may lack. The nearby town or Paso Robles is popular with wine and food enthusiasts, and offers an old plaza.

Mission San Carlos Borrowed - Franciscan Father Juniper Serra founded the missions, and this was his headquarters. Established in 1770 as the second mission, San Carolos Borrowed was prominent of the era. Today visitors see Sierra’s living quarters, and visit the chapel where he is buried. Museums honor Sir Harry Downy, restorer of the missions, and display artifacts of the period.

San Juan Capistrano - Perhaps the most famous of the trail missions, this site was built in 1776, and is generally regarded birthplace of Orange County. It is halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles, and is known as the “miraculous” place where swallows return each year on March 19, Saint Joseph’s feast day.

Besides its church and ten acres of gardens, there is the padres’ quarter, industrial area, soldiers’ barracks, and cemetery.

Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara - “Queen of the Missions,” this site is on a hilloverlooking the Pacific Ocean and the town of Santa Barbara. It’s one of the trail’s most popular stops, and is unique because it’s the only mission that has remained under Franciscan control without interruption. In 1803, it had a population of over 1,700 people. Today it’s an active church, and has anIndian art room and an original missionary bedroom.

For more information and interesting facts about the missions, visit their web site.

Read more of Ruth Hill’s columns at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Ruth Hill

Ruth Hill writes for magazines and newspapers about the business and pleasures of travel. Read more about her views and news of Christian heritage travel around the world at

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