If you ever want to learn about a unique and interesting part of California history, consider visiting the state missions. There are 21, stretching from San Diego, California to Sonoma, California. Designed to be about a day’s ride apart, these missions were built between 1769 and 1833 and were established as part of the Spanish empire.
I live very near La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, and I have been a docent there for two years. I love all the missions, but I love this one most of all because it is the most completely restored Spanish mission. It’s very close to my house and I love walking there many afternoons.
Originally, this mission was located about 4 miles away from the present site. However an earthquake on December 21, 1812 destroyed it. At that time, the Padre received permission to relocate and rebuild the mission nearer to a river. That mission was fully used until around 1834, when the Mexican government had gained independence of the area from Spain. The property passed into private ownership, and by the early 1930s was owned by the union oil company. They gave the mission to the State of California. At that time, the Civilian Conservation Corps moved in and reconstructed the buildings, pads, walkways, water wells, gardens, and even the irrigation system.
I believe this mission is exceptionally beautiful. Ten of the buildings have been fully restored and furnished. This includes the church, shops, soldiers quarters, blacksmith shop, and more. Additionally, there is an outdoor kitchen, gardens, and livestock such as a bull, cows, horses, and I think I’ve seen a goat there too a few times. Additionally, has a very nice visitor center, displays, self guided tours and more.
The mission has many fun events and activities throughout the year, including Traditional Mission Life Day, Sheep Shearing Day, Harvest Mission Life Days, Natural History Days, Village Days, and more.
My favorite is the Candlelight tours. These tours are mid-September and are escorted walking adventures by candlelight. We bring small groups of guests through the mission at night; there are docents recreating well-loved scenes from the 1820s. It ends with a hot drink and snack. I love working at that event every year.
My husband’s favorite event is Mountain Man Days. An association called American Mountain Men meet to set up camp for a weekend. They teach cooking, hide preparation, leatherworking, rope making, and blacksmithing. They also will tell tails around the campfire night night.
My husband and I and daughters love to walk on the walking paths. Some are more difficult than others, but they are all beautiful! Some of the trails are semi-paved, some sandy, some are packed dirt. They are very rustic, but there are maps available so you will not get lost. You will almost certainly run into a friendly face on these walks. There are over 25 miles of hikes on 2000 acres, and dogs are allowed. Many days, people bring their horses out for a jaunt and it’s always lovely to see them! Expect to see all sorts of birds, plants, and sometimes other animals like jackrabbits, mountain lions (these are naturally very shy and will avoid human contact as much as possible).
La Purisima is located off Highway 246, about 15 miles west from the 101. If you are driving north from Los Angeles, turn west onto Highway 246 at Solvang. Continue straight until you see the mission on the north side of the road.
It’s free to visit, but parking is $6 a car. Free guided tours are available Wednesdays through Sundays. You can also pick up $1 self-guided maps at the entrance station, or the Visitor’s Center. I like them, they offer maps, historic information and planned events.
If you ever find yourself on the Central Coast of California, please consider a quick stop off Highway 101 to La Purisima Mission State Historic Park. It’s a beautiful way to spend a day!