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California’s Mission Trail

California’s Mission Trail is comprised of 21 mission churches established between 1769 and 1833 to help colonize New Spain and convert the local Native Americans to Catholicism. Today these churches are beautiful examples of art and architecture despite mixed feelings about their past. Find a taste of what your group will enjoy along the California Mission Trail with these fun facts.


The First Mission: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

San Diego

Built in 1769 and fully restored in 1931, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego was the first of the mission churches to be built in New Spain.

The King of Missions: Old Mission San Luis Rey de Francia


This Spanish-Colonial church, designated a National Historic Landmark, is the largest of the California missions and is called the King of Missions for this reason. Read more about Old Mission San Luis Rey in our article here

California’s First Hospital: Mission San Rafael Arcángel

San Rafael

Named for Saint Rafael, the angel of healing, this mission was built in 1814 by Father Vincent de Sarria to treat the ill and ailing Native American converts of the area.

A Precarious Perch: Old Mission San Juan Bautista

San Juan Bautista

Old Mission San Juan Bautista lies next to the San Andreas earthquake fault. During the 1876 earthquake, the side walls of the church collapsed but were restored in 1976. The original tile floors, a vast collection of books and artwork and the only original Spanish Plaza in California have survived.

A Colorful Church: Old Mission Santa Inés


The Manicured gardens, well-preserved paintings and original wall frescoes of Old Mission Santa Inés make this one of the most charming and colorful missions. Many paintings were restored in celebration of the mission’s 200th anniversary in 2004.

The Last Mission: Mission San Francisco de Solano


Part of the Sonoma State Historic Park, the Mission San Francisco de Solano was built by a young and ambitious Franciscan friar, José Altimira, who acted without the complete approval of the Catholic Church to move forward with the building project. It is the newest and northernmost of the 21 missions.

Find more about all 21 of California’s missions along with resources to help plan your trip at

Ashley Ricks

Ashley Ricks is the circulation and marketing manager for The Group Travel Leader Inc.