Travel back in time to Santa Barbara’s earliest days at the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara. With its grand double bell towers, lush gardens and the majestic San Ynez mountains as a backdrop, the Mission is one of the city’s most picturesque landmarks. Known as “Queen of the Missions” for its exceptional beauty, the Santa Barbara Mission was founded by the Spanish Franciscans in 1786. More than 200 years later, it’s still an active parish church and a vital and enduring element of Santa Barbara’s cultural landscape. History comes alive as you explore the grounds, church and on-site museum, where you’ll see fascinating 17th-century art, artifacts, tools and re-creations of the Mission’s living quarters and kitchen, complete with an original adobe wall. Outdoors, you can admire the building’s graceful architecture, explore the colorful gardens and take in expansive views of the city and the Pacific Ocean.
Old Mission Tours and Hours
The Mission is open daily for self-guided tours from 9 a.m to 4:15 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors and $4 for children, and includes access to the museum, church, Sacred Garden and cemetery. Docent-guided tours are available every Thursday and Friday at 11 a.m., and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. On the hour-long guided tour, docents share insight into the Mission’s history, architecture and its most precious artifacts. Private tours are available by reservation for large groups.
Tips for Your Visit
Don’t miss the La Huerta Historical Garden, which takes you on a botanical trip back to the 1800s. Wander among citrus trees, olives, Sonoran wheat, sugar cane and other plants true to the Mission era.
If you’re visiting over Memorial Day Weekend, enjoy stunning outdoor artwork at the Mission’s annual I Madonnari Street Painting Festival. Artists transform the pavement of the plaza with 150 vibrant, large-scale pastel masterpieces.
The Mission’s cemetery and mausoleum provide interesting historical context and are worth a look. Buried behind the church tower is the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, upon whom author Scott O’Dell based his main character in the classic children’s novel Island of the Blue Dolphins.
Stroll across the street from the Mission to the A.C. Postel Memorial Rose Garden, a wonderland of more than 1,500 rose plants. Spring is the best time to see the roses in their full glory, although they often bloom longer because of the region’s extended growing season. You’ll also be at a great vantage point to view and take photos of the Mission’s façade.
Note that because the Old Mission Santa Barbara is an active parish, the church is not open for tours during its services. Inside the church are notable sculptures and paintings and a unique altar built by the native Chumash people, so check the church schedule before you go to make sure you don’t miss out on seeing it.