Students in California learn about the Mission phase of California history while still in elementary school. The brainchild of Fra. Junipero Serra, the missions were designed to extend Spanish power up into California from Mexico, by building a series of self-sufficient church communities as far north as was possible. These communities would be used to “civilize” the California Indians by enslaving them, and forcing them to convert to Catholicism. The original plan was to build these churches, approximately a day’s ride apart, all the way north to where Russia was hunting and colonizing.
It’s easy to tell where most missions were built, since the vast majority of them took their names from saints, and gave their names to the towns and cities that grew around them. If you see a “San” or a “Santa” in a California city name, there once was a mission there. Some of the missions are no more, victims of changing demographics, economics, and the weather (as they were all made of sun-dried mud bricks), but many of them are still intact (and still hold church services in their churches). Mission Santa Barbara is worth a visit, as is Mission San Juan Bautista, not far south of San Jose (which is south of San Francisco, home to EC San Francisco). But San Francisco itself has its own intact mission, Mission Dolores, in the heart of the Mission district, and easy BART ride from EC. In the Mission museum you can see artifacts from the early days of California, and get a strong sense of what The City was like when it was primarily a Spanish military base (The Presidio was once a Spanish [and then Mexican] military encampment), long before the Gold Rush, the Bear Republic, or admission to America. I find the relics of the Mission days sad, a testimony to a nearly universally brutal “marriage” of religion, politics, and economics, and to a failed dream of bringing “enlightenment” through military might and terror. Still, the Mission museums (all the Missions have them) are worth a visit, and Mission Dolores is easy to get to.