Wednesday, August 3, 2011

GOLDEN PLACES: The (Northern) California Missions

10 FAVORITES will return next week and, from then on, it will rotate each week with a new column I am introducing today called GOLDEN PLACES.  With this new column, I intend to promote some of the most amazing places that are pretty much right "in my own backyard."  For those of you who have yet to realize, I live in the great state of California.  California has a rich history and a gorgeous landscape filled with different cultures, people and lifestyles.  The Golden State is the most populated state within the U.S.A and is the third largest state in geographical area.  Among its many sights include Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley and Disneyland.  But in this column, I want to explore some of the places that don't usually get that kind of national (or international) attention.  I wish to explore the true GOLDEN PLACES.

Long before the California Gold Rush (and the original Forty-Niners!), the area that would become the state of California served as a launchpad of some of the oldest Catholic Churches in the western United States.  Beginning back in 1769, a Spanish-born Franciscan priest named Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Diego de Alcalá in what is now the northeastern area of San Diego (For the American Football fans out there, the Mission is situated somewhere near Qualcomm Stadium where the San Diego Chargers play!).  Mission San Diego became the first of 21 Catholic Missions founded within the state of California.  Mostly situated along the state's coastline, the Missions stretched from San Diego up to San Francisco (and beyond!).  Each of the 21 Mission sites have either the original church structure or a very well-constructed (and sometimes intricate!) replica of what once stood in the area.  I was lucky enough to have visited ALL 21 Missions within my childhood.  A couple of months ago, my father and I decided that we should revisit some of the Missions that are within our general area.  It just so happens that 9 of the 21 Missions are in the part of the state that is generally considered Northern California.  So, we visited these 9 Missions and I would like to share with you what makes each of these 9 Missions special.  Here they are, from the Southernmost to the Northernmost: 

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad
Soledad, CA (about 25 miles south of Salinas, CA)
Located within the agricultural lands of the Salinas Valley, the original Mission itself fell into decline when the Mexican government began secularizing the California Missions in 1835.  It wasn't until the middle of the 20th Century (1954), that a restoration and reconstruction effort began to give tourists an idea of what the Mission was like for the native residents in the 1790s and early 1800s.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (pictured above)
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA (about 5 miles south of Monterey, CA)
The second Mission founded in the chain of 21, the Carmel Mission has quite an expansive operation going on down there (much like the ones at San Diego and San Francisco!).  The Mission was Father Serra's "personal favorite" and, upon his death in 1784, he was buried on the Mission site.  The historical landmark has four surrounding museums chronicling the Mission's several restorations, the history of the influential Munras family, several art exhibits and the room that served as Father Serra's home and deathbed.

Mission San Juan Bautista
San Juan Bautista, CA (about 15 miles south of Gilroy, CA)
In the quaint little town of San Juan Bautista is their crown jewel attraction of the Mission.  With a beautiful chapel and an informative museum, the Mission is a little gem that features a beautiful Garden that displays a quick history of each of the 21 Missions.

Mission Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA (located near Downtown Santa Cruz)
If you're going to Santa Cruz for it's Historic Downtown district or for its famed Beach Boardwalk, you must stop by the Mission to take a quick look at the quaint Chapel that sits across the street from the beautiful Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) parish.

Mission Santa Clara de Asís
Santa Clara, CA (located on Santa Clara University campus)
This beautiful replica Mission Chapel is situated on the Santa Clara University campus, which was one of the first colleges in California.  It also has the distinction of being the first California Mission named in honor of a woman, Saint Clare of Assisi (one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi).

Mission San José
Fremont, CA (about 15 miles north of San Jose, CA)
This one is practically down the street from where I live!  The Mission has the distinction of being the first Catholic Church within the San Francisco East Bay (the Oakland-Berkeley area) and was the primary parish for several influential families within the area (i.e. Livermore, Peralta and Vallejo).

Mission San Francisco de Asís (pictured below)
San Francisco, CA (located in San Francisco's Mission District)
Within the heart of the city's Mission District is this gorgeous Basilica (nicknamed Mission Dolores) that served as the first Mission within what is now the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Mission protected, taught and housed the native Ohlone people, whose tribes were once all over Northern California. 

Mission San Rafael Arcángel
San Rafael, CA (about 15 miles north of San Francisco, CA)
This Mission's chapel holds a special place in my heart as it was the parish that my Grandfather belonged to when he was a young boy.

Mission San Francisco de Solano
Sonoma, CA (about 40 miles north of San Francisco, CA)
The final Mission founded is one of two Missions that are owned by the CA State Parks Association.  When going to this Mission, you also get a look at one of the Army barracks and you get a tour of the house of General Mariano Vallejo.

Next week, 10 FAVORITES returns.  In two weeks, GOLDEN PLACES will explore the delightful and charming Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA.  Until then, take the time to explore some of the best (and sometimes unsung!) places in your state, province or country.

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