Old Mission, San Juan Bautista

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Old Mission, San Juan Bautista

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Review of "Old Mission, San Juan Bautista"

published 17/08/2017 | catsholiday
Member since : 03/03/2003
Reviews : 1945
Members who trust : 410
About me :
We were travelling but now back so normal service resumed.Thank you anyone who is kind enough to read then rate my reviews, especially those Es.
Pro Beautiful buildings, interesting history and cheap entry
Cons Hot when we were there, limited interest to children
Is it worth visiting?
Transport links
Family Friendly

"The Old Mission San Juan Bautista - Did I get "Vertigo"?"

Old Mission, San Juan Bautista

Old Mission, San Juan Bautista


406 Second St, San Juan Bautista, California 95045

This was not a place we had planned to visit before embarking upon our driving tour last year but while on the road w always look to see if anything else of interest is on the route we are driving and this came up. We planned it as our coffee stop so didn't plan on a long visit and prior to the visit knew nothing much about the place.


The church was built in the early 1800s and was a Catholic mission until 1835 when it was seized by the Mexican government. By 1895 the present buildings along with 55 acres were given back to the church by Federal decree of the US government. Today San Juan Bautista is the only original Spanish Plaza that exists in California.

This Mission has the largest church of any of the Missions, and its architecture and beauty are considered some of the finest. The historic plaza with buildings from the 19th century are all preserved as part of a state park.

The cemetery beside the church has the remains of over 4,000 Christian Native Americans and Europeans. Ascencion Solorzano who was the last pure blooded Native American of this mission, is buried in the cemetery and we found her grave has a red cross and there is also a plaque on the wall above her grave in her memory.

Much of the Mission and buildings have been restored but it is a work in progress and more has still to be restored including the guard tower where Spanish soldiers lived.

The San Andreas Fault actually runs along the bottom of the hill below the cemetery and in the 1906 earthquake the side walls of the church collapsed. These were restored in 1976.

We were told that parts of the original El Camino Real can still be seen near the cemetery. The El Camino Real is 'The King's Highway which was a 600 mile road starting in San Diego which connected the twenty one Spanish Missions in the various parts of California and ended up in San Francisco.

The town here is named after the old Mission has retained the charm of its former days. Interestingly this mission must be unique in that it has had an unbroken succession of Pastors from its original founding.

~~~~~VISITING ~~~~~

The Mission is next to the State historical park which is the plaza but although that is free the mission charges an entrance fee which is not a lot, around $4 I think if I remember rightly. The Mission is open from 9:30am-4:30pm daily. It is closed 1 Jan and both Christmas and Thanksgiving eves and days.

~~~~~~~~ OUR VISIT ~~~~~~

The Mission is actually not free to visit but you can gain access to some areas as they are kind of part of the town and open . You will need to pay the $4 should you want to enter the museum and church and other Mission buildings.

The church is quite interesting. It is the typical white, plain and simple style of Spanish missions from the outside. Inside it is obviously Catholic with its highly decorative screen or wall (reredos) behind the altar and various statues around the church.

More unusual we thought was the fact that the floor tiles had animal paw prints in them and these were because the tiles were left out in the sun to dry and while they were drying animals walked across leaving the prints. Waste not want not they used these tiles mixed in with others without prints. Interestingly there is also n olden day cat flap or "Cat Door" carved into one of the side doors in the Guadalupe Chapel. They wanted the cats to be able to get in and out in order to catch mice which were a huge problem in the 1800s as they ate much of the harvest.

The reredos which holds six statues was actually painted by a Thomas Doak who was an American sailor who jumped ship in Monterey. He painted the reredos in exchange for room and board.

It was lovely and cool inside the church which was a contrast to the bright sunshine and heat outside on the day we visited. Once outside again we noticed a statue of of Saint Serra and you are supposed to rub his toe for good luck.

The mission is set around a central lawn with the building around forming a square. It really does look typically Spanish and reminded me of those we had seen in Peru and Mexico and other parts of Spanish South America. The buildings were white and in the sunshine were almost blinding so going into the different buildings was a pleasant relief and nicely cooling.

The museum building was previously the padre's living quarters and also where the the Native Americans were able to work. The rooms were then used for storage and after the 1906 earthquake this was where mass was held.

The museum was quite interesting with some original furnishing, artifacts and photos. There was a model of what the mission looked like originally and a number of rooms such as a kitchen, sitting room and bedroom of the various padres. We didn't spend that long in there as we prefer the actual buildings and their history rather than artifacts, furnishings and clothes. There was also a short a short 5-7 minute film about the Mission and the preservation efforts.

We enjoyed wandering around the entire site and looking at the architecture , looking at the cemetery, the gardens and so on. We were particularly fascinated by being able to actually see part of the San Andreas fault. And look down into that section.

Another fact that interested us was that the mission and its grounds were used in Hitchcock's “Vertigo”. Hitchcock added a bell tower to the church using scale models and trick photography. The tower's staircase was actually inside a studio.

The gardens are beautiful and I especially liked the rose gardens . The flowers in bloom made a great contrast to the green grass, the white buildings and bright blue sky when we were visiting.

There is no cafe on site so we had to head into the actual town itself to have our coffee.


Well they obviously charge for admission for tourists but judging by the numbers when we were there they won't be making much from that source as we were the only people visiting that we noticed.

You can get married in the church and then have photos in the plaza and Mission area. It isn't cheap though at $1500. And then cancellations have to be in writing and if you do this with more than six months notice you only lose $500, if closer than six months you lose the lot!

If you get married in the Mission church then you could also choose to use the Casa Maria for the reception which is a beautifully restored former Parish hall.

~~~~~~ IS IT WORTH A VISIT? ~~~~~

I really liked the peaceful nature of the place and the beautiful buildings. It was lovely to be able to wander around by ourselves and there were plenty of notices around giving information. The grounds were gorgeous and little gems like the San Andreas fault , the original El Camino Real and the fact that “Vertigo” was filmed here all added up to making this a very worthwhile visit.

I am not sure how much children would get from a visit. I didn't see any toilets there and the site was mainly flat so okay for wheelchairs and strollers.You did need to walk quite a distance so if walking is tricky then it could be a challenge.

Thanks for reading
17th August 2017

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Comments on this review

  • torr published 24/08/2017
    Very well reviewed.
  • euphie published 20/08/2017
    e :o)
  • LiveMusicLoverLyn published 20/08/2017
    Lovely review
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Product Information : Old Mission, San Juan Bautista

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Type: Historic Site

City: San Juan Bautista

Address: 406 2nd St, San Juan Bautista, CA 95045, USA

Country: United States of America

Continent: North America


Listed on Ciao since: 06/01/2017