Mission Dolores, a historical curiosity

The Mission of St. Francis of Assisi, better known as Mission Dolores, is the oldest building in the city. Built in 1776, it has witnessed all of San Francisco's history, including the California Gold Rush and the 1906 earthquake. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it's a historical marvel and an important Native American site that's impossible not to visit.

Front view of Mission Dolores Church, San Francisco

- © Dan Schreiber / Shutterstock
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Historical point

It was built by the Amerindians under the authority of the Spanish colonists. The Amerindians worked and lived in disastrous conditions, and many succumbed to the diseases introduced by the Europeans. The church retains an Amerindian identity thanks to its ceiling with traditional weaving motifs. The town of Yerba Buena, the future San Francisco, grew up around the mission, which became a central location. The Catholic Church was entrusted with the building in 1857.

Dolores Mission Church, San Francisco

- © Iuliia Serova / Shutterstock

The Old Mission Church is the oldest intact building in the whole of San Francisco and the only one of California's 21 missions still standing. Built from adobe (mud bricks and sun-dried straw) and whitewashed, it has withstood all the disasters the city has seen, including the 1906 earthquake. Unlike the neo-Gothic cathedral, which was destroyed by the earthquake, it has been replaced by the Mission Dolores basilica, which is part of the tour.

Mission Dolores Basilica, San Francisco

- © Iuliia Serova / Shutterstock

The visit

The visit is free, there is no guide, but a route has been set out. At the start of the tour, a flyer will be handed out containing information on each stage of the visit and providing a better understanding of the history of the mission. The first stop on the tour is the church, with its accompanying cemetery and gardens. There is a memorial to the 5,000 Ohlone and Miwok workers who died during the measles epidemics. It is also the final resting place of the natives who built the mission, as well as the first Californian pioneers and other important figures in the town's history.

Dolores Mission Church Cemetery, San Francisco

- © Naeblys / Shutterstock

The gardens surrounding the church are magnificent and were completely restored a few years ago. Comprising traditional native trees, shrubs, plants and flowers dating back to 1791, they allow visitors to immerse themselves in what was once the environment of peoples who have now disappeared. The gardens also feature a rose garden donated by the Golden Gate Rose Society, which is tended on a weekly basis.

Dolores Mission Church cemetery and garden, San Francisco

- © Naeblys / Shutterstock

The visit continues with the museum and photo exhibition retracing the history of the mission and the terrible earthquake of 1906 that devastated the town. They are located next to a charming little chapel. The last stop on the tour is the mission basilica, where masses are held. Built in the Churrigueresque style after the earthquake, it is a tribute to the missions that no longer exist. Its stained glass windows represent the 21 missions of California and its panels refer to the Seven Tongues of Mary.

The interior of Dolores Mission Basilica, San Francisco

- © Roberto Valz / Shutterstock

Dolores Park

Surrounding the mission is Dolores Park. After visiting the church, tourists can sunbathe and relax on the grass. The park is renowned for its sports facilities, including six tennis courts, a basketball court and two football pitches. There are also facilities for children and a dog run. It regularly hosts festivals, shows and other cultural events.

Did you know? The "blue house" in Maxime Le Forestier's song San Francisco is in a street near the park.

Le Dolores Park par une journée ensoleillée, Mission District, San Francisco

- © Chon Kit Leong / 123RF

Practical information

📍 Location: Mission Dolores is located in the Mission District at 3321 Sixteenth Street.

🚌 Getting there: the church is accessible by bus on line 22 and by metro at the Mission Station stop

👛 Admission: from 1 May to 31 October from 9am to 4.30pm and from 1 November to 30 April from 9am to 4.30pm. There are special opening times on certain days, such as Good Friday (9am-12pm) and Easter Sunday (10am-1pm). The church is completely closed on Thanksgiving Day, 25 December and 1 January.

Times: $7 per adult and $5 for children, students and senior citizens, the visit is free.

Where to sleep?

1906 Mission San Francisco
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1906 Mission

Located in San Francisco, 1906 Mission features a modern, eco-friendly design. A terrace and shared lounge area are available on site.
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by Faustine PEREZ
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