San Diego de Alcalá

San Diego de Alcalá

General Information


July 16, 1769 - The 1st California Mission

Also Called:

Mission San Diego

Current Status:

Active Roman Catholic Church of the diocese of San Diego, properly referred to as the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. The mission was made a Minor Basilica in 1976 by Pope Paul VI.


California's first mission was founded on July 16, 1769. Mission San Diego’s church (rebuilt in 1931) has a captivating 46 foot Campanario (bell wall) you won't forget. This mission has inviting grounds, informative displays, and a rich history.


10818 San Diego Mission Road
San DiegoCA 92108
United States

Get Directions


If you have a GPS system in your car, use it the first time you visit this mission. Detailed instructions from different locations within the San Diego area are posted on the mission website. There is a Mission San Diego stop on the city trolley.

In addition to the main parking lot there is a small lot in front of the church. (You can climb up to the mission on a stairway to the right.)

Supporting Organization

There is an active group of docents who provide an invaluable service in keeping the Mission Basilica San Diego and its museums well preserved and open to the public.


619-281-8449 - Gift Shop / Visitor Center

619-283-6338 - Library and Archives (By Appointment Only)

619-283-7319 - Parish Office

Fees, Hours, Tours and Church Services

For fees, hours, scheduling of individual and group tours, please contact the mission directly by telephone or by visiting the Mission San Diego History website for the most current information.

For the current mass schedule, please visit the mission website Mass Times page.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, it is best to check for current information.

Mission San Diego Today
Mission San Diego Today

Weddings and Other Special Services

The church provides special services for each of the seven sacraments:

  • Baptism
  • Reconciliation
  • Holy Eucharist
  • Communion
  • Matrimony
  • Anointing of the Sick
  • Holy Orders

Visit the mission website to download special PDF's with details and instructions.

San Diego Church Interior
San Diego Church Interior

Special Events

San Diego holds several annual events, including the “Festival of the Bells” in mid-July on the weekend closest to the mission founding date of July 16th.

For a comprehensive list of current events, visit the Mission San Diego History website.

Unique Attractions

  • The Casa de los Padres room has large full-color drawings of mission events as well as a detailed model of the mission. Located on the left after you leave the gift shop.
  • The mission church (built originally in 1813 and fully restored in 1935) is one of the most inviting in the mission chain.
  • The distinctive feature of this mission is the striking 46’ tall companario (bell tower). Detailed information on the bells and the role they played in the mission era is on a sign in the garden area behind the bell tower.
  • The mission museum contains many informative displays.
Casa de los Padres Room
Casa de los Padres Room
Mission San Diego Today
Mission San Diego Today
Mission San Diego Bell Tower
Mission San Diego Bell Tower

Other Historical Attractions

  • Junipero Serra Museum on Presidio Hill (original site of mission) – 2727 Presidio Drive, 619-232-6203.
  • The Old Mission Dam was the first major irrigation system in the West. This historic site has an informative Visitor and Interpretive Center and offers several trails. Details can be found on the Mission Trails website.
  • Asistencia of Santa Ysabel is located in the mountains 60 miles east of San Diego. The current chapel was built in 1924 and is surrounded by a very picturesque countryside.
  • Cabrillo National Monument. The site offers great panoramic views of the city and has an extensive Visitor’s Center. There is a striking statue of Cabrillo. The monument is located at 1800 Cabrillo Monument Drive, San Diego. 619-551-5450.
  • Maritime Museum of San Diego. Extensive displays covering the maritime history of this major port. 1492 North Harbor Drive. 619-234-9153.
Statue of Junípero Serra
Statue of Junípero Serra
Asistencia of Santa Ysabel Chapel
Asistencia of San Ysabel Chapel
Cabrillo Statue at the Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo Statue at the Cabrillo National Monument

Tips for Visitors

  • When you are in the church, be sure to look at the burial marker honoring Fr. Luis Jayme, who was killed in the 1775 attack on the mission. The remains of Fr. Jayme are entombed beneath the chancel floor (area around the altar).
  • An ideal time to photograph the mission is in the late afternoon (the church faces southwest). Photograph from several angles and from below.
  • Don't miss the statue of Fr. Junípero Serra, the mission's founder, best seen from the private road (to the far left of the small parking lot).
  • Enjoy the mission gardens and explore the area behind the campanario.
  • Allow at least two (2) hours to properly tour this mission. In addition to mission-era displays, you will find other striking religious art on the grounds.
The San Diego Mission Gardens
The San Diego Mission Gardens
Statue of Junípero Serra
Statue of Junípero Serra
Pieta Statue by Christopher Penn Statoff
Pieta Statue by Christopher Penn Statoff

Year Secularized


Year Returned to Catholic Church

1862 - in a proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

Early History

The Bay of San Diego was first discovered by Juan Rodqriguez Cabrillo in 1542.

Cabrillo came ashore but did not do an extensive exploration.

The Spaniards and Natives observed one another, but there was no extensive communication.

The area was named San Diego by Sebastián Vizcaíno, an explorer who mapped the coast in 1602.

Spain did not settle the area until Russian encroachment and growing superpower interest in the region prompted them to do so in the late 18th century. The plan was to send two ships to rendezvous with two land-based expeditions at the Bay of San Diego in the late Spring 1769 with a supply ship to arrive somewhat later.

First land expedition arrived later than planned. It took one of the ships (San Carlos) 54 days to reach San Diego Bay, and it arrived with most of its crew dead, dying or otherwise incapacitated. The Spanish did erect a cross and claim the territory for Spain.

It was difficult for the padres to establish relations with the natives.

Cabrillo's Ships Entering San Diego Bay 1542
Cabrillo's Ships Entering San Diego Bay 1542
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Spanish Landing at San Diego
Spanish Landing at San Diego
Raising the Cross for Spain
Raising the Cross for Spain
The Spaniards and Natives Observed Each Other
The Spaniards and Natives Observed Each Other

Mission Founded

The mission was founded on July 16, 1769 on Presidio Hill. A primitive compound that consisted of little more than brush covered enramadas and several grass huts was erected.

Founding of Mission San Diego by Carl Oscar Borg
Founding of Mission San Diego by Carl Oscar Borg

Patron Saint (Named For)

St. Didacus of Alcalá, a fifteenth century Spanish Franciscan.

Special Designation

Mother of the Alta California Missions.

Prominent Missionary Leaders

  • Founding Father President - Junípero Serra - First Founding Father President and founder of the California missions.
  • Prominent Missionary Leader - Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuén served at this mission for eight years (from 1777-1785).
Fr. Junípero Serra
Fr. Junípero Serra
Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Fr. Fermin Francisco de Lasuén

Indians Joining Mission

  • The prominent Indian tribes in the area were the Tipai-Ipai. The native term most frequently used for the San Diego natives is Kumeyaay, one of the principal dialects.
  • The Spanish called the neophytes at Mission San Diego Diegueño.
  • The Kumeyaay resisted the Spanish occupation and settlement, and conversion was quite slow.
  • The records which have survived show only 16 baptisms in 1771.
  • Unlike other missions, the neophytes at San Diego continued to reside in traditional villages in part due to food shortages at the mission.
Mission San Diego Diegueño
Mission San Diego Diegueño
First Baptism in California
First Baptism in California

Mission Site

The site of the original mission on Presidio Hill was at a location called Cosoy by the natives. The mission was then relocated about five and a half (5 1/2) miles inland at the village of Nipaguay in 1774.

Mission Layout

Traditional quadrangle. Records show a large garden and vineyard were located near the mission.

Water Source

Limited and uneven water supply hampered growth and viability of the mission.

A dam was finally constructed (1809-1815) six miles upstream from the mission, on the San Diego River. Water was brought to the foot of Mission Hill via an aqueduct or zanja and then by way of a noria or waterwheel into the mission.


The neophyte population at San Diego in the mission’s peak years (1797-1831) averaged over 1,500. The highest population was 1,829 in 1824.


In 1773 (the first year for which we have records) the mission had 40 cattle, 74 sheep, 55 goats, 10 pigs, 29 horses and 28 mules, a total of 236 animals.

In 1822 the mission had over 30,000 animals, including 9,245 cattle and 19,000 sheep.

Mission San Diego Cattle Brand
Mission San Diego Cattle Brand

Agricultural Output

Over the years 1782-1832, the mission produced 259,545 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, lentils, garbanzos (chickpeas), and habas (broad beans).

Mission Church

The church was originally built in 1813 (the fourth church on this site). After the mission was secularized in 1834, it rapidly fell into ruin. The mission was rebuilt and fully restored in 1931.

Mission Bells

A striking 46' campanario (bell wall) on the left side of the church rises above the mission gardens and contains five bells. The largest bell, called Mater Dolorsa weights 1,200 pounds. It was cast in San Diego in 1894.

Sign of the Mission San Diego Campanario
Sign of the Mission San Diego Campanario

Mission Art and Artifacts

The baptismal font in the museum is original to Mission San Diego. The baptismal font in the church is a replica of the one in which Fr. Junípero Serra was baptized in 1713 in Petra on the island of Majorca.

Significant Events

  • The mission was destroyed in an Indian attack in November, 1775. One of the missionaries, Fr. Luis Jaime, and two others were killed, including Urselino the mission carpenter and the blacksmith Jose Romero.
  • In 1818 a sub-mission, the Asistencia of Santa Ysabel, was established about 60 miles northeast of San Diego.
  • The buildings slowly deteriorated after secularization in 1834. By the time the mission was restored in 1931, only the church façade and arcade remained standing.
  • The mission was used by the U.S. Army after the Mexican American War from 1853-1858.
Fr. Luis Jaime Killed During an Indian Attack 1775
Fr. Luis Jaime Killed During an Indian Attack 1775

For Additional Information

  • Engelhardt, Z. (1920). Mission San Diego, Mother of the Missions, 1920 (The definitive early history of the mission).
  • Broule, Mary Null. Mission San Diego (California’s Heritage Series), 1988.
  • Weber, F.J. The Proto Mission: A Documentary History of San Diego de Alcalá, 1980.