There are 21 missions on California’s Historic Mission trail, running from San Diego de Alcala in the south (the first mission, founded in 1769) to the Mission San Francisco Solano (1823) in the northern wine country. I don’t find the individual missions themselves very exciting, but, taken as a whole, as part of California’s living history, I find them fascinating. And, of course, since they are catalogued as a trail, I want to visit them all. Most of the missions are along Route 101, which traces the historic route of El Camino Real, the Royal Road established by the Spanish as they moved their empire northward through California. On my most recent trip to Southern California, I visited two: the Mission San Antonio de Padua, 40 miles north of Paso Robles, and the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
Mission San Antonio de Padua was the third mission built in California and possesses the first bell made in the state. I’m not so sure I would categorize it as worth the detour, mostly because it is a really, really long detour off of 101 (25 miles or so), on an army base, with nothing in the vicinity.
But, if you are interested in missions, it is a different architectural style than the others I’ve seen, with a very pretty interior garden, and in a very beautiful setting. There are also picnic tables on the grounds that would be perfect for a picnic lunch rest stop.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the fifth mission to be built in California in 1772. It is unusual in that the chapel is L-shaped, with a very pretty ornamental archway separating the two halves. The decoration in general makes this mission a bit more inviting than others I have seen. I particularly liked the fountain sculptures outside in the plaza, which reflect the historic nickname of this area, the “Valley of the Bears.” Unlike San Antonio de Padua, this mission is right in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, and is easy to visit if you happen to be in this very cute town, or are staying at the Madonna Inn.