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 and re-creations of the Mission’s living quarters and kitchen, complete with an original adobe wall. Outdoors, you can admire the 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 9:00 a.m to 4:15 p.m. Admission is $12.00 for adults, $10.00 for seniors and $7.00 for youth 5-17, and includes access to the museum, church, Sacred Garden and cemetery. Hour-long docent-guided tours are available Monday through Friday at 11:00 a.m., Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Docents share insight into the Mission’s history, architecture and its most precious artifacts. Private tours are available by advance reservation for groups of 10 or more.
Tips for Your Visit
With a two-week advance reservation and 10-person minimum, you can add a 30-minute visit to La Huerta Historical Garden to your docent-guided tour, 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 the Memorial Day Weekend, enjoy stunning outdoor artwork at the Mission’s annual I Madonnari Street Painting Festival. Artists transform the pavement of the Mission plaza with 150 vibrant, large-scale pastel chalk 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 Old Mission Santa Barbara is an active parish, the church is not open for tours during Masses, funerals and weddings. Inside the church are notable sculptures and paintings, and a unique altar built by the native Chumash people. So call before you go to check the church schedule to make sure you don’t miss out on seeing it.