San Diego's Missions
San Diego Travel News ( Press Release )
San Diego Celebrates 234 Years of History with First, Largest and Most Missions in
Grown from missions built by 18th century Franciscan friars, San Diego has kept its
Spanish flavor. Architectural and cultural reminders are everywhere, from the sparkling new city
curled around a vast Pacific harbor to the region's historic neighborhoods and landmarks-most
notably, San Diego's well-preserved missions.
It is ironic, considering the area's present popularity, that it took more
than two centuries after the landing in 1542 of the first European who dis-
covered it-the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailing for
Spain-before the Spanish Empire ventured back and colonized California.
The first mission was built in San Diego shortly after the king's viceroy in
Mexico appointed the Franciscan friar, Junipero Serra, to lead a contingent
of fellow monks northward. The 21 missions they would eventually establish
throughout California firmly anchored Spain's claim on its most distant colony.
Their site selections favored San Diego with two missions and two of the six asistencias (branch
missions) that once bore witness to their parent-settlement's prosperity, while all other California
counties had to be content with a single mission or none.
First Mission - Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala
On July 16, 1769, after an arduous 750-mile mule-back trek north, the determined Padre Serra
planted a cross on Presidio Hill, above Old Town-now a State Historic Park-and there the first
California mission of the 10 he founded during the last 15 years of his life was built. Named , it
was relocated in 1774 to its present site, six miles inland along the San Diego River, to assure a
good water supply. Except for a short, temporary retreat back to Presidio Hill during a 1775
Indian uprising and subsequent massacre, San Diego de Alcala has been both the religious and
cultural center of San Diego's Mission Valley area. Its buildings were completed in 1813, and a
1931 restoration has made this rare time capsule a favorite and frequently visited attraction.
Services in the original mission chapel are held daily at 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on
weekdays, and every hour on the hour on weekends. The public is also welcome daily, from 9
a.m. to 4:30 p.m., to join docent-led tours or stroll through the mission's museum, gift shop,
archeological ruins and lovely gardens. Group tours can be booked and information about
holiday closings can be obtained by calling (858) 565-9077 on Mondays and Thursdays from 12
noon to 2 p.m. For more information, call (619) 283-7319, or visit www.missionsandiego.com.
The Father Luis Jayme Museum at the mission is the only permanent interfaith,
ecclesiastical art museum in Southern California, and is known for its collection of original
mission records in Father Serra's handwriting, as well as early liturgical robes, books and other
Presidio Hill, the original site of the mission, is sometimes referred to as the "Plymouth
Rock of the West Coast" and is crowned by the Junipero Serra Museum. Imposing in its
simplicity and famous for its cache of artifacts excavated from the area's archeological sites, the
museum overlooks historic Old Town and nearby Mission Valley. For more information, visit
San Diego de Alcala's asistencia, Santa Ysabel, is located on Highway 79, near the
picturesque town of Julian. Santa Ysabel is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily between
Memorial Day and Labor Day and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. through the rest of the year. For
more information, visit www.sandiegohistory.org/collections/missions/ysabel.htm.
Geographically second among northbound coastal sites, but the 18th to be founded, is
Mission San Luis Rey in the North County community of Oceanside. Established by Father
Fermin de Lasuen on June 13, 1798 and named after France's 13th century Crusader king, it has
earned its moniker "King of the Missions" for being the largest of all 21 religious communities
built along the California coastline. San Luis Rey is an imposing presence on Highway 76, four
miles east of Interstate 5, where it still serves as a Parish church and retreat center.
Until the mid-1800's, Mission San Luis Rey was distinguished by many superlatives: its
church was the most spacious structure in California; it housed and served the largest population
(more than 2,000) of Native Americans; it was the only mission in California to have a wooden
cupola and dome of its type and design (made from pine trees brought down from Palomar
Mountain), and within its nearly six-acre compound, it had large military barracks, a spacious
tiled laundry with water channeled from nearby springs and a sunken garden. Even now San
Luis Rey owns bragging rights for the largest collection of 18th and 19th century Spanish
vestments in the United States, which is displayed in its fine museum, open to the public and
offering self-guided tours daily from 10 a.m. to 4:05 p.m. In the old chapel, Mass is held on
Saturdays, at 5:30 p.m. in English and 7:00 p.m. in Spanish, and the mission's gift shop is open
daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The complex is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year
and after 12 noon on Good Friday. For more information, call 760-757-3651, or visit
Twenty miles east of San Luis Rey, on Highway 76 near Mt. Palomar, is the Asistencia de
San Antonio de Pala, better known as the Pala Mission. Built in 1816 as a branch of Mission San
Luis Rey, the Pala is operating as an independent mission now-the only one in California that
still has its own school (kindergarten through sixth grade). While the Pala Indians worship at
this mission year-round, each summer on the first Sunday in June, all the surrounding tribes
assemble at San Antonio de Pala to celebrate Corpus Christi with a procession and fiesta. Guests
are also welcome.
The Pala Mission museum has a fine display of Indian artifacts and is open from 9:30
a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For more information, visit
Up the coast in neighboring Orange County, within a day-trip of San Diego, Mission San Juan
Capistrano evokes nostalgia and brings back memories of an old song dedicated to the return of
cliff swallows to their seasonal nests in the mission, each March 19th on St. Joseph's Day.
Founded by Father Serra and inaugurated on November 1, 1776, San Juan Capistrano is known
as the "Jewel of the Missions" for its graceful structures and lavish gardens. The chapel, often
referred to as "Father Serra's Church," is believed to be California's oldest building.
The mission's fine art exhibitions, performing arts concerts and cultural programs for children are
For more information, call 949-234-1300, or visit www.missionsjc.com.
For more information on San Diego, visitors can contact the San Diego Convention & Visitors
Bureau, 401 B Street, Ste. 1400, Dept. 700, San Diego, CA 92101-4237, or call (619)
236-1212. In San Diego, visit the International Visitor Information Center, 11 Horton Plaza at
First Avenue and F Street (please note: new location after January 1, 2004 is 1040-1/3 West
Broadway at Harbor Drive), and the La Jolla Visitor Center, located at the corner of Herschel
Avenue and Prospect Street in La Jolla. Internet users can visit www.sandiego.org.
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