Top 20 Monterey attractions

Carmel Mission

Carmel Mission

The stunning Carmel Mission is a jewel in the California Mission chain.

The Carmel Mission was established in 1771.  It's a special place with an incredible ambience, situated on a hilltop.  You can tour the basilica, four museum galleries, a quadrangle courtyard, garden and gift shop. 

The Carmel Mission was the second of 21 missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans in Alta California, between 1769 to 1833, and became the headquarters of the mission chain. The goal of the Spanish Franciscans was to convert Native Americans to Christianity, and colonize Alta California, before the Russians or British did.

Father Junipero Serra was a pivotal figure, responsible for the first 9 of these California Missions.  The Carmel Mission was Father Serra’s personal favorite, and he’s interred inside the basilica. 

10 best things to see at Carmel Mission

1. Admire the stunning basilica completed in 1797.

The basilica took four years to build, constructed between 1793 to 1797 with limestone from the nearby Santa Lucia Mountains. Although the basilica's facade appears unfinished, the mismatched towers were a deliberate design decision by Mexican architect, Manuel Ruiz.  The south tower has nine bells, the north tower has two. The Moorish influence is evident in both the star window above the arched door, and the domed tower.

2. Explore the lush plantings in the forecourt gardens.

3.  Discover the beautiful alcove with the statue of Mary and Jesus.

4. Step inside the serene Jo Mora Chapel Gallery.

The Jo Mora Chapel Gallery has the Serra Memorial Cenotaph.  Father Serra is reclined on the bier, with fellow missionaries Crespi, Lasuen, and Lopez kneeling around him.  It was designed by artist Jo Mora, in 1924, and constructed from travertine marble and bronze.  

5. Stand the interior of the breathtaking Basilica Church.

Saint Junipero Serra, founder of the California Missions, is interred in the stone floor in-front of the altar at the Basilica Church.

Look up at the stunning catenary ceiling.  Notice how the walls begin to arch in at the top, seamlessly transitioning to the catenary ceiling.

This church received the designation of a Basilica in 1961, in honor of Father Serra's work.  The basilica subsequently received a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1987, where he placed a wreath at the altar, for Father Serra.

6. See founder Juniper Serra's quarters at the Convento Museum.

See Junipero Serra’s living quarters in the Convento Museum, just near the Carmel Mission’s entrance, including precious artifacts.

Master craftsman Harry Downie, built these cabinet, for the display of liturgical vestments.

7.  Learn about the master craftsman who restored the Carmel Mission.

Harry Downie was the master craftsman who spent 50 years restoring the Carmel Mission, from the 1930s to his death in the 1980s. The Harry Downie Museum in the forecourt, celebrates his achievements.  His first job was to install an authentic arched "catenary" roof in the 1930s.

The Carmel Mission fell into extreme disrepair after the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, when Spanish rule ended.  It was secularized by the Mexicans and the surrounding lands sold off.  The roof collapsed and plants encroached on the interior.  By 1884 a crude, steeply pitched roof was constructed, violating the original arched design.  However, thankfully it protected the church from total ruin.  

8. Relax in the enchanting Mission Quadrangle Courtyard.

This beautiful courtyard has a replica fountain, and and a wooden cross at the site where Father Serra placed the original one in 1771.

9. Find historic graves in the cemetery.

The cemetery is on the side of the basilica, and contains the graves of master craftsman Harry Downie (who restored the church), and his wife. Many Indians who did stonework on the basilica, are also buried here in unmarked graves.

10. See precious local artifacts at the Munras Family Heritage Museum.

The Carmel Mission is full of precious artifacts and artworks, including Father Serra’s Caravaca Cross.  Many of these treasures are housed in the Munras Family Heritage Museum in an adobe at the rear of the mission, with artifacts from a prominent local family.   

Know before you go 

  • Address:  3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923.
  • Hours and Admission: Check here. 
  • Gift Shop: yes.
  • Restrooms:  yes.

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