A Guide to Central California’s Coastal Missions

From sunny San Diego to sultry Sonoma, there is an 824-mile trail along California's coast featuring 21 historic missions. These 21 sites all comprise California's Historic Mission Trail. These missions present artifacts, architecture, and an atlas of educational wealth, and a good portion of these missions are in the central region of California!

The central coast of California is a truly gorgeous place, lined with sea cliffs, hamlets, and wineries. This area features well-visited places such as Big Sur, the American Riviera, and Monterey Bay, as well as, of course, several historic missions.

The missions within the central region dot the already stunning landscape gorgeously, enriching the area with a tangible history and culture you can only find in Central California.

  • Mission San Juan Bautista -
    San Juan Bautista, 1797Named after John the Baptist, Mission San Juan Bautista was first dedicated in 1797 by Father Lasuen. It is the 15th mission and is known as the largest California mission church overall. It is unique in a handful of ways, for instance, it is the only mission church with 3 aisles inside, and it is also located on the San Andreas Fault. In the past, this mission was used to teach Indians musical arts and basic English reading and writing skills.
  • Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo -
    Carmel, 1770 

    With a dedication date in 1770, the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is considered to be the 2nd mission on California's Historic Mission Trail. This mission was founded by Father Serra and is known for its Moorish architecture and gorgeous gardens featuring California wildflowers.

    San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Pixabay Public Domain

    San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Pixabay Public Domain

  • Nuestra Senora de la Soledad -
    Soledad, 1791Otherwise known as 'Our Lady of Solitude', Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad is the 13th mission along the trail. It sits next to the Salinas River and is known for its rich soil, the colder, damper area having a history of putting off over 100,000 bushels of wheat in its heyday. There is a small museum within the quadrangle that is well worth the visit for historic insight.
  • Mission San Antonio de Padua
    Jolon, 1771 

    Mission San Antonio de Padua is the 3rd mission on the historic trail and was first dedicated in 1771 by Father Serra. The patron saint of this mission was known as the 'miracle worker' and the site is remembered as a truly miraculous place. Enjoy the archway bells, extensive flower gardens, and local history insight while here.

  • Mission San Miguel Arcangel -
    San Miguel, 1797 

    Mission San Miguel Arcangel is the 16th mission on the trail of 21 and was first dedicated by Father Lausen in 1797. This mission is well-known for its well-preserved murals, each done in the past by native Chumash artists. The site features a historic 2,000-pound bell and is also well known for its festival every 3rd Sunday in September.

  • Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa -
    San Luis Obispo, 1772 

    Founded in 1772 by St. Junipero Serra, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is also known as the 'Accidental Mission'. This mission is one of the best-preserved, continuously operating mission churches in California. The unique tile-topped roof is not a decorative feature, as you may first think, but was used to fend off flamed arrows attempting to catch the thatch roof of the mission ablaze. This is the 5th mission along the trail and the museum onsite holds several rare early California photos and Serra relics.

    Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Wooden Ceiling, Basilica, Altar, Cross San Luis Obispo California. Founded 1772 by Father Junipero Serra. Named for Saint Louis of Anjou

  • Mission La Purisima Concepcion -
    Lompoc, 1787Mission La Purisima was officially founded in 1787, the 11th church of the 21 California missions. The church's translated name identifies as Mission of the Immaculate Conception of Most Holy Mary, established by Father Lasuén. Recognizable by its pinkish adobe hue and Spanish style architecture, La Purisima is as enlightening today as it was when it was first opened. La Purisima is no longer an operating church, but a 2,000-acre state park with 25 miles of hiking trails, live historical demonstrations, and more.
  • Old Mission Santa Ines
    Solvang, 1804 

    Old Mission Santa Ines was named for the 13-year-old Roman martyr, St. Agnes, and was first dedicated in 1804. This mission was dedicated by Father Tapis and is the 19th mission in the California trail. Today you can visit the museum on site that holds historic vestments and missals, as well as a garden that time forgot to touch outside.

    Mission Santa Ines in California exterior on a sunny day with clouds

  • Old Mission Santa Barbara
    Santa Barbara, 1786 

    Known lovingly as the 'Queen of Missions', Old Mission Santa Barbara is the 10th mission in California, dedicated in 1786 by Father Lasuen. The mission was destroyed in 1925 by an earthquake, but it has been rebuilt to its original splendor, including original architectural elements of iron, terracotta, and carved woodwork. See the beautiful twin bell towers and see how this mission on a hilltop is reminiscent of an ancient Latin chapel during your visit.

  • Mission San Buenaventura
    Ventura, 1782 

    Mission San Buenaventura is the 9th mission along the trail, dedicated in 1782 by Father Serra. The triangular design, onsite gardens, and wooden bells make this mission stand apart from others. It is actually the only church of its kind to have wooden bells as it does. Visit the onsite museum and see the mission in all its glory sitting on Main Street of Ventura.

    The bell tower of the San Buenaventura Mission in Ventura Calefornia.