It’s no secret that people vacation in Santa Barbara for the weather, waves, and wineries. Most people don’t even think to take advantage of the area’s rich heritage. At the root of Santa Barbara history is the Santa Barbara Mission, located only three miles from Marina Beach Motel.
Santa Barbara was established with the founding of this mission on Saint Barbara’s feast day, December 4, 1786. Franciscan Catholic monks founded the parish as the tenth of twenty-one missions in California before the Gold Rush or even Manifest Destiny. Catholic monks formed the core of California’s earliest colonists, and of course they needed a place of worship, so they built the Santa Barbara mission. Rather than the other way around, the county and city were named after the mission.
These early missionaries moved to California and constructed the mission with the express purpose of converting the Chumash, the Native American Indians in the Santa Barbara area. The monks built the mission three times, each time rebuilding it larger than the last. The one still standing today was completed and dedicated in 1820.
The mission still functions as a church while also serving as a historical art gallery as well as a monument to Santa Barbara history. It’s open to visitors daily, and passion for the area and its history mean that all tour guides work on a volunteer basis, thereby continuing the tradition of servitude on which the mission was built. Today, the mission is the only church building still owned by the Franciscan Catholic months. The rent it out to the local parish yearly to be used as a church.
Old Mission Santa Barbara, as it is officially named, hosts both guided and self-guided tours of the grounds, during which visitors can learn not only the history of the mission but also of the area and of Santa Barbara herself.
The mission grounds additionally contain elaborate gardens and pomegranate and orange groves called La Huerta, looking not unlike what would have been seen around the time of the mission’s initial founding. People visit the mission not only to honor Santa Barbara history but also to experience an historically significant place of worship and witness some gorgeous natural beauty.