The 21 Spanish missions are the oldest European settlements in California. Established by padres of the Franciscan order, it was meant to extend Spanish power and rule to the northwest of the Americans. Ingenious and versatile, the spanish padres and their staff were able to establish fully independend and self-reliant settlements in places no European had been before. The missions provided a travel path through California that is called "El Camino Real", Highway of the King. They started the general settlement of California.

Today, the missions are in various states of re-construction since many had been abandoned or damaged by earthquakes in later times. They stand as great examples of an early pioneering spirit and as places of peace. I was able to visit 19 of the 21 missions and below I rank them by my personal memories, along with pictures. Click on the pictures to enlarge. Enjoy!

1. Mission La Purisima Conception

Located in the beautiful Santa Ynez valley, I liked this mission best. It is large, well-preserved and very informative. With a large herb garden, farm animals, old farm equipment and craftsmen buildings it gives the best impression of life in the early days. El Camino Real passed directly through here and I even met a nun on her morning walk. A visitor center is under construction but so far, this mission is not crowded yet. The pretty Danish town of Solvang is close by.

2. Mission San Juan Bautista

This was the first mission I saw and the one who started my interest. Beautiful, with lots of interesting places around it, like the stagecoach stables. On weekends, church service is held in Spanish with a large attendance. The service is very pretty with church songs played by a small band on the guitar. The mission is named after St John, the baptist.

3. Mission San Gabriel Arcangel

One of the very nice places to see in Los Angeles. There are tours held by veterans who livingly tell the missions story as if it were yesterday. Enjoy the drive through pretty neighborhoods to see this mission and check out the nearby San Gabriel mountains. San Gabriel, one of the three Archangels in the bible, is the angel of mercy.

4. Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

Although very likely on many tourists path in Carmel, this mission preserved its peace and originality. Located near the beautiful Monterey bay, it has padre Serra's tomb and is consecrated as a minor basilica. The exhibition has many items of the past along with information about padre Serra. The nearby mission schools teaches children of various age.

5. Mission San Miguel Arcangel

California's heartland at is best, Mission San Miguel Arcangel isn't near major attractions but close to highway 101. Its surroundings give the feel of the past time. Stay at the Adelaide Inn in Paso Robles for a unique experience with cute rooms and a nicely set small garden.

6. Mission San Francisco de Solano

The northern-most of the missions is rich in history, especially of the short-lived Republic of California. Close by is also a Presidio with the California Bear flag and the estate of Mexican General Mariano Vallejo, Governeur and Senator of California. Famous Napa valley wineries and attractions complete the visit.

7. Mission San Diego de Alcala

San Diego is great, no question. The Harbour with the Star of India, the parks, the world-famous zoo and waterpark. Even the highways are clean and pretty. I liked the hotel Coronado del Rey. The mission was crowded due to a service. Being the first mission established, there are interesting artefacts displayed.

8. Mission San Antonio de Padua

Probably the most remote of the missions, it is located near a military fort and requires registration at a gate. One of the least visited missions, there are no crowds at all. The mission itself is quite large and well re-done with help of the Hearst Foundation. Driving there from Highway 1 at the coast is a true adventure due to crossing the coastal mountains on a steep, narrow road in the fog.

9. Mission San Juan Capistrano

Very touristy, this mission named after Franciscan friar John of Capistrano, has the only stone basilica build in California. Unfortunately destroyed by the 1812 earthquake, only ruins are left to give a inpression of its former glory. This mission was the setting for the infamous character "Zorro", created by author Johnston McCulley.

10. Mission Santa Barbara

With a picturesque ocean beach, a nice pier and good restaurants, Santa Barbara is a great getaway. Streets invite to strolling and the ocean climate is just perfect. This mission is the most touristic one, with busses unloading tourists from all over the world. Called queen of the missions, it is still nice to visit.

11. Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana

This difficult to find mission has a good library and exhibition. Old maps show that California was thought to be an island. Here they also have one of the Original pages from the Gutenberg bible. Gutenberg developed the printing machine who in turn revolutionized the world. The mission was named after King Ferdinand III. of Spain who united the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon.

12. Mission San Francisco de Asis

Famous San Francisco doesn't need many words. The mission, also known as mission Dolores like the surrounding area was called, is small but has a very nice cemetery. Next to it is Mission Dolores basilica, who was visited by pope John Paul II. in 1987. Inside the mission church is the final resting place of the family of Jose Jesus de Noe, the last Mexican alcalde of Yerba Buena, the village that would later become San Francisco.

13. Mission San Buenaventura

Not far from Santa Barbara, this mission has a school attached. It is rather small and being in the city of Ventura, the main street passes in front of it. Ventura's climate is ideal to grow citrus fruits and here "Sunkist" was formed, the world largest citrus organization. The mission is named after St Bonaventure, cardinal of Albano.

14. Mission San Rafael Arcangel

Originally it was only a assistencia to Mission San Francisco. The sick had been sent here because the weather was much nicer compared to foggy, cold San Francisco. The mission is named after San Rafael, patron of healing. Visit also the local museum in the pretty victorian house nearby and see a old pictures like that of Ignacio Pacheco who gave Pacheco pass its name.

15. Mission Santa Inez

Santa Inez is located in the charming town of Solvang. There is so much more to see and the other sights steal the show somewhat. Stop at a bakery, have a original Danish meal and stroll through the streets. Check out the windmills! Mission La Purisima is very near which makes it hard to compare.

16. Mission Santa Clara

Named after Clare of Assisi, Mission Santa Clara is not original anymore. It has been rebuild and hosts today many weddings. It has a very nice flower garden and quiet walkways. It is next to the University of Santa Clara. If you are in the area, check out the beautiful Stanford University Campus in Palo Alto or the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

17. Mission San Jose

Don't get confused by the name, which is that of St Joseph, husband of virgin Mary. This mission really is in Fremont near the Ohlone College and not in San Jose. It was destroyed and rebuild after multiple earthquakes and was once a waystation from San Francisco to the California gold country.

18. Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

San Luis Obispo is surely a nice place and college town. The mission is directly in the city and surrounded by streets so it doesn't look very real. It was very crowded there, too. I was glad we went on to Morro Bay and stayed there near the ocean. The mission is name after St. Luis, bishop of Toulouse.

19. Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

Deep in the Salinas Valley, this mission is a lonely place. The closest attraction is the Pinnacles National Monument were we found great hiking and we even went through a cave. I am not sure if there is an exhibition, it was already evening when we came here. Well, this mission was never a big one.