These 21 Franciscan missions represent the oldest European settlements in California and are many of the state's oldest surviving buildings. The four largest cities in California took root around the missions as the state progressed from native land to Spanish colony, from Mexican territory to independent republic, and finally joined the United States in 1850.
Built by Catholic priests of the Franciscan order between 1769 and 1833 as Spain expanded northward from their conquests in Mexico, these iconic structures were part of a Spanish program pairing religious conversion with military subjugation, whereby the Spaniards subsumed the lifestyles and culture of indigenous peoples into a new way of life centered around the Catholic ideology of the missions. Politically, the chain of missions was intended to lay claim to Alta California before other European powers, such as the Russians, English, and French.
For ease of navigation, the tour runs in geographical order from south to north.