Off the Beaten Path: Day Tripping, a California Mission Crawl

February 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Day Tripping - California Mission Crawl

Little gets me moving like the prospect of a day trip. The night before I check and double check my kit: batteries charged? glass clean? memory cards in place? directions uploaded? Then, at some point before I drift off to sleep, I remember to pack my overnight bag and cooler.
El Camino Real marker

El Camino Real ("King's Highway" or "Royal Road") traces California's mission history in asphalt from San Diego to Sonoma. All 21 missions were built between 1768 and 1823, prior to California's admission to the United States. They served as travelers' way-stations, agricultural and educational centers, trading posts, and the surrounding community's religious core. Many have been absorbed into or surrounded by their fancier, more famous neighborhoods but each still holds a day's worth (or at least an afternoon's) of fascination.

San Antonio de Padua

Mission San Antonio de Padua, campanario and edifice

Mission San Antonio de Padua. Partially restored by the famed William Randolph Hearst in the 1940s.

Mission style architecture, arcade, and gardens. Most mission grounds are laid out in the traditional quadrangle.

The church's patterned artwork was painted by the mission's native parishioners comprised of the North Salian, Yokut, and Esselen tribes. Elaborate statues ("bultro") of San Miguel and San Antonio are displayed behind the altar.

Illuminated by a combination of natural light, candles, and lamps, the church conveys a warm peaceful sanctuary that's just as compelling now as it must have been 2 centuries prior. The mission is now hosts a retreat center.

 La Purísima Concepción de Maria Santisima

Mission La Purisima Concepcion - Visitors
Re-incarnated as a California State Historic Park, La Purisima Concepcion has been fully restored and offers re-enactments, classes, concerts, and activities led by traditionally costumed docents and staff demonstrating mission life year round. 

Here, the preserved outbuildings and garden are the highlight of the tour with the church itself coming in a distant third. In addition to the candle making room, I visited a small dormitory with handmade cots and a thatched roof. La Purisima is the 11th mission but the only one laid out in a linear, rather than (traditional) quadrangle, style. 

(left) candle making room; (right) garden and fountain fed with spring water via a series of aqueducts and pools

Walking the trail above the mission.

Santa Barbara

Designated the "Queen of the Missions", Santa Barbara attracts thousands year round. Beaches, the botanical garden and zoo, the pier, UCSB, downtown, and the Paseos are all about 10 minutes away. The city itself is a gateway to neighboring wine country and Montecito (hi Oprah!) galleries and shopping.

Like most Southern California beach cities, creativity and a laid back attitude are welcomed. Chalk paintings commissioned by local businesses for the I Madonnari Festival grace the driveway in front of the mission church.

Of all the mission churches I've visited this one is the most ornate and best preserved. With ongoing Franciscan management and a large parishioner base, the mission is able to support and maintain the church, cemetery, mausoleum, museum, library, 1/2 city block rose garden, a retreat, commercial kitchen and dining room, and several meeting rooms. 

One of two huge Moreton Bay fig trees in the city that migrated from Australia with a little help.

Among the notable names interred in the church cemetery is the "Lone Woman of San Nicholas Island". Christened "Juana Maria" at the mission shortly before she died, she was the last survivor of her Nicoleño island tribe and her story was re-imagined in Scott O'Dells children's book Island of the Blue Dolphins

Sculpture in one of the chapels. The expression on her face is so vivid.

I rarely pass up the chance to shoot on old buildings, museums, and places of worship. Blended together in architecture and art, the artistry and craftsmanship beg to be "captured" and displayed.

Out the of the 21 California missions, I've managed to visit one-third. While it's a better record than their inhabitants during the late 18th and early 19th centuries (unless you were a seaman or in the military), I'm still lagging behind. So they remain on my "to go" list, along with Turkey, Scotland, Burkina Faso, Vancouver, and the plethora of other places my lens will take me. 

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both...


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