arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin

The California Missions of San Diego

San Diego's Spanish heritage is nowhere more firmly rooted than in its dramatically beautiful missions. It was here the missionary monks, led by Father Junipero Serra, began their chain of 21 missions throughout California. Two missions and two assistencias can be found within the county.

San Diego's Spanish Heritage

Mission San Luis Rey

Often called the "King of the Missions," Mission San Luis Rey is the largest of all 21 California missions. Located on Highway 76, four miles north of Interstate 5 in the seaside community of Oceanside, the mission is the second in geographical location heading north among coastline sites. Established by Father Fermin de Lasuen in 1798, the mission was the eighteenth founded and was named after King Luis IX of France. The mission now serves as a Parish church and retreat center.

Until the mid-1800's, the Mission's church was the largest structure in California. Soon after its founding in 1798, Mission San Luis Rey housed and served the largest population of Native Americans (more than 2,000). The Mission was the only one in California to have a wooden cupola and dome of its type and design, made from pine trees brought down from Palomar Mountain. Mission San Luis Rey features a museum that houses the largest collection of 18th and 19th century Spanish vestments in the United States. It’s open to the public Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM for self-guided tours. Like Mission San Diego de Alcala and the two assistencias, San Luis Rey is still used as a house of worship.

Mission San Diego de Alcala

In 1769, Gaspar de Portola and his expedition founded the Presidio of San Diego (military post), and Franciscan friars then raised and blessed a cross, establishing the first mission in what was known then as Upper California. Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first of 21 Franciscan establishments in California, was founded on Presidio Hill on July 16, 1769, by Father Serra. Colonists began arriving and, soon after,the native people rebelled. They killed the priest and two others, and burned the mission. Father Serra organized the rebuilding and, two years later, a fire-proof adobe structure was built.

In 1774, the mission was relocated to its present site six miles inland, along the San Diego River to ensure a good water supply. However, an Indian uprising and massacre in 1775 forced a temporary retreat to the Presidio. By 1797, the mission had become the largest in California. You can visit the mission today, which overlooks San Diego's historic Old Town. Restored in 1931, the mission, is open to the public from 9:00 AM to 4:45 PM daily, and features a museum, gift shop, archaeological ruins and beautiful gardens. Services are held daily in the original mission chapel.

The Father Luis Jayme Museum at the mission is the only permanent interfaith, ecclesiastical art museum in Southern California. The museum features some of the original mission records in Father Serra's handwriting, as well as many early liturgical robes, books and other relics.

Presidio Hill, the original site of the mission, is sometimes referred to as the "Plymouth Rock of the West Coast." It is now the location of the Junipero Serra Museum, which stands prominently atop the hill overlooking historic Old Town State Park and Mission Valley. The Junipero Serra Museum contains thousands of artifacts unearthed from this historic site.

Pala Mission

Twenty miles northeast on Highway 76 near Mt. Palomar, the Assistencia de San Antonio de Pala, better known as the Pala Mission, was built in 1816 as a branch of Mission San Luis Rey. This is the only California mission still used as a school and place of worship by the Indians. The Pala Mission museum contains fascinating Indian artifacts and is open 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM daily except Mondays and some Tuesdays.

San Antonio de Pala and Santa Ysabel Assistencias

Southeast of Pala, on Highway 79 near Julian, Santa Ysabel is an assistencia of Mission San Diego de Alcala. It is open to the public during summer (Memorial Day thru Labor Day) from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM and from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM the rest of the year each day. Both the San Antonio de Pala and Santa Ysabel assistencias are now under the care of the Verona Fathers, a religious order.

Mission San Juan Capistrano in Orange County

If you're planning a day-trip outside of San Diego County, Mission San Juan Capistrano is, located just a short drive up the coast in Orange County. Founded by Father Serra ain 1776 and known as the "Jewel of the Missions," the historic spot celebrates the return of the cliff swallows each March 19 (St. Joseph's Day) and hosts year-round fine art exhibitions, performing arts concerts and cultural programs for children.

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Related Articles and Features

Parks & Gardens

Wetlands and Wildlife

Get Back in Nature in San Diego’s South Bay

San Diego is one of the most biologically rich counties in the United States, sheltering more endangered plants and animals than any other county in the nation. In fact, three national wildlife preserves border the southern end of San Diego Bay and another refuge sits just a few miles off the coast, making it of the best places in the entire state to bird watch or simply get back to nature.

Discover
Restaurants

Convoy Street - San Diego's Asian Restaurant Row

Home to Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures and cuisines

On Convoy Street, fabulous Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures and cuisines all collide in an amalgamation of flavors, sights and sounds.

Discover
Hiking

Seven Dog-Friendly Hikes

Great hiking experience for dogs and their owners

This list of seven great dog-friendly hikes throughout San Diego County provides a number of starting points for adventures with your canine companions.

Discover
Action Sports

San Diego Water Sports

What you can do in the water besides surf...

With mild surf and warm temperatures all year-round, San Diego's beaches, bays and lakes are the perfect place to practice your favorite water sport.

Discover

Deals just for you

Activity

Save $136 or more at 4 Famous Theme Parks

Southern California CityPASS
Valid: Jan 1 - ongoing

Save $136 or more with Southern California CityPASS - an admission card that gives you 1-day admission to SeaWorld San Diego and LEGOLAND California, PLUS a 3-day Park Hopper® ticket to Disneyland® Park and Disney California Adventure® Park.

Shopping

Bloomingdale's Visitor Offer

Bloomingdale's
Valid: Mar 30, 2016 - ongoing

We've got special offers exclusively for you! Receive a 10% off all-day savings certificate* at our Fashion Valley store.

Tours & Sightseeing

San Diego Top 4 Attractions Pass

Go San Diego Card by Smart Destinations
Valid: Oct 31, 2016 - ongoing

Attractions Pass to the top 4 attractions in San Diego.

Events to check out

Event

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

Dec 21, 2016

The SDCCU Poinsettia Bowl delivers exciting football action and spectacular pageantry. Each year a top team from the Mountain West Conference takes on a quality opponent. This year it's the BYU Cougars!

Event

National Funding Holiday Bowl

Dec 27, 2016

Don't miss America's Finest Bowl Experience! This signature San Diego event annually showcases a thrilling game between some of college football's most competitive conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Last year the Wisconsin Badgers took down the USC Trojans 23-21. Don't miss the pageantry, excitement and football thrills this year!

Event

Farmers Insurance Open 2017

Jan 26 - Jan 29, 2017

The annual PGA Tour Farmers Insurance Open men's golf tournament is played at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, home of the 2008 U.S. Open.

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up

Visitor planning guide

For the ultimate guide to planning your San Diego vacation, view and download the San Diego Visitor Planning Guide, packed with useful information that will help you plan the perfect San Diego getaway.

Read More

Partners

Explore

Plan

Stay

Follow Us

Language:

English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China Deutschland Great Britain Japan Mexico Korea USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans Albanian Arabic Belarusian Bulgarian Catalan Croatian Czech Danish Deutsch Estonian Filipino Finnish Francais Galician Greek Haitian-Creole Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Irish Italian Japanese Korean Latvian Lithuanian Macedonian Malay Maltese Nederlands Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Serbian Slovak Slovenian Swahili Swedish Telugu Thai Turkish Ukranian Vietnamese Welsh Yiddish