Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala. - stock photo

California's first mission.  Aloe plants blooming in foreground.

David Madison/Getty

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

San Diego

Padre Junípero Serra founded the first of California's 21 missions in 1769 on Presidio Hill near present-day Old Town but, five years later, it was moved about 6 miles upriver to be closer to water and more arable land. Destroyed, rebuilt and expanded multiple times, today's mission is the fifth on the site and an active parish. It's a lovely place to visit, not only for its historical significance but also to relax amid birdsong and bougainvillea in the serene garden.

The mission museum holds tools, pottery, clothing and weapons unearthed on the grounds of the compound. An interpretative trail links several of the buildings, including recreated friars' residential quarters in the Casa de los Padres and a replica of the simple huts that once sheltered the indigenous Kumeyaay.

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