California Mission Background and History

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The California Missions

The California missions represented the final expansion of the Spanish Empire. From 1769 to 1823, Spanish soldiers and monks built a total of 21 Missions and 5 Presidios (or military forts), stretching North from Mexico, along the Pacific coast, through the territory that was then known as Alta California.

Over a short period – little more than 50 years – the Spanish brought a new culture to California, spreading European religion, agricultural practices, and eventually forms of government. The settlements around the missions became the seeds of modern California’s major cities. The trail connecting the missions, El Camino Real, became California’s first “highway,” and its route is closely followed by modern Highway 101.

The designs of the missions still influence California architecture. In a very real sense, California as we know it today would not exist without the foundation of the missions.

The California Missions Today

Today, all 21 of the mission sites can be visited, and most are still in use as churches.

Unfortunately, many of the missions are in serious need of repair.  However, a few have been restored or entirely rebuilt, and one is a California State historical park.

Regardless of their current role or state of repair, a visit to a California mission provides a fascinating look into California’s early history.

More Spanish Missions in North America

Old Mission PhotoThe California missions were not unique… Spain built missions throughout Mexico and the southwest to convert the Indians to Christianity and to consolidate their hold on territory.

Read about the Spanish Missions in Texas and Spanish Missions in Arizona.


The California Missions Book

Get your copy of the California Mission Guide book in paperback, Kindle, or iBook format.

More Travel Sites

Be sure to visit our other travel sites:

Avenue of the Giants – a scenic drive through California’s redwood forests.

Chinatown Directory – a directory of over a dozen major Chinese enclaves in North America, England, and Australia.

Yucatán Travel Advisor – a personal guide to travel on the Yucatán Peninsula