Top 20 Santa Barbara attractions

Santa Barbara Mission

Tour the stunning Santa Barbara Mission, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 

The Santa Barbara Mission was established in 1786. It was the tenth of 21 missions founded by the Spanish Franciscans in Alta California between 1769 to 1833, known as the Queen of the California Missions due to its stunning, Greco-Roman architecture.

The goal of the California Missions was was to convert Native Americans to Christianity and colonize Alta California.

10 best things to do at Santa Barbara Mission

1. Stand beneath the gorgeous church facade.

Start in the front lawned area of the Santa Barbara Mission, and peer up at the Greco-Roman church facade.  The church was copied from a handbook by ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius Pollio, and the walls are six feet thick.

The church was built four times, each time with a bigger footprint. The first version was a log building with a grass roof constructed in 1786. Work started on a second version in 1788 with adobe brick and roof tiles. The third and fourth versions were constructed after the devastating 1812 and 1925 earthquakes.

Santa Barbara Mission was the only California Mission to have double bell towers, and each bell is dedicated to a saint.  The bells would be rung to call everyone to work.

Peer up at the triangular pediment on the church’s facade, to see the statues of FaithHope and Charity, with the statue of Santa Barbara directly below.  

2. Stop by the Father Serra Statue, and moorish fountain.

Just near the museum entrance you’ll notice Father Serra’s statue.  There’s also a moorish fountain that flowed into a large trough (Lavanderia), where the Chumash women washed clothes.  The trough was connected to a sophisticated aqueduct system.

3. Browse the nine-room Museum with historic artifacts.

Enter the Museum and explore the nine exhibit rooms just past the Gift Shop.  These exhibit rooms used to be living quarters.

There are exhibits on the Chumash tribe’s culture and art, a reconstructed bedroom and kitchen, chapel room with artifacts, and an overview of mission trades.  Three of the original statues from the churches facade are on display, damaged by the 1925 earthquake.

4. See the beautiful Mission church interior.

Enter the church at the Santa Barbara Mission, and peer up at the ornate altar with the crypt beneath it.  

Admire the stunning Mexican Art from the 18th Century, featuring two of the biggest paintings out of the entire mission chain.

5. Stroll around the Sacred Garden.

Wander outside into the lush garden.  

There’s a cross and bones above the rear door of the church, a Spanish symbol to indicate a cemetery is nearby.  

This is the garden where Indians learned trades, like leatherwork, pottery and weaving, to generate income for the Santa Barbara Mission.

See plants and trees that grew during the Mission era (1769 - 1836).  Book a tour of the La Huerta Gardens to see olives, bananas, guava, prickly pear and citrus trees.

This is a statue of St Francis of Assisi.

6. Examine the tombstones and crypts at the Historic Cemetery 

The cemetery was established in 1789, after the Mission church was built.

The cemetery is a resting place for Franciscan friars and notable early Spanish families, buried in the mausoleums here.  

This is a sandstone and mortar wall, with a tilted wooden gate that is no longer functional.

This is the Covarrubias family mausoleum.  Covarrubius was a french national, who settled in California in 1834, and later became a Santa Barbara County judge.

The Spanish inscription above this mausoleum reads "I want to rest with the ones I love so much."

Over 4,000 Chumash Indians are also buried here, in unmarked graves.

7.  Step inside the Historic Mausoleum.

The Old Mission's Historic Mausoleum was built in 1878, and contains the remains of friars, nuns and lay people. A beautiful, marble columbarium has since been added, where anyone can have their ashes interred.

8. Browse the gift shop.

Find an incredible selection of religious themed gifts at the gift shop.

9. Book a docent guided tour

Let an expert show you around with a docent guided tour of the Mission Church, Historic Cemetery, nine room museum, lush gardens, and Mission Church. 

10. Visit the incredible Santa Barbara Mission library

See 16,000 rare and precious books, including the 1488 edition of the Imitation of ChristFind incredible artifacts and documents to understand the history of Franciscan Missions in the Western U.S.

Know before you go

  • Address: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.
  • Parking: free.
  • Restrooms:  yes.
  • Hours & admission: check here
  • Tours: check here.  Tour the Mission church, sacred garden, nine exhibit rooms, a cemetery and mausoleum, and gift shop. 

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