About Us

Santa Barbara’s Spanish history began in 1542, when Juan Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer, landed and claimed the land for the Spanish crown. Settlers moved in and made friends with the resident Chumash Indians, living happily on fish caught in the Pacific and game caught in the mountains.

In 1602, a severe ocean storm blew Sebastian Vizcaino and his small fleet into the shelter of the bay. The storm blew over on the feast day of Santa Barbara and in gratitude to God for the safety of their ships and crew, one of the friars on board named the bay and the nearby region in honor of Santa Barbara.

It was not until 1782, when Father Junipero Serra traveled up from Mexico, that the Spanish really began to settle in the area. The Santa Barbara mission was founded on the feast day of Santa Barbara, December 4, 1786 and was the tenth of twenty-one missions to be established by Spanish Franciscans throughout California.

Today, the mission is still home to a community of Franciscan friars; the mission buildings, surrounded by ten acres of gardens include the main parish church, a retreat center with lodgings and conference rooms, a museum, a cemetery and mausoleum and a gift shop.

The Santa Barbara mission is situated above the town, in the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains. Its lofty perch gives striking views of the mountains behind, and in front, the whole town spread out as the land slopes down into the ocean. Perhaps it is because of this position, seated throne-like between the mountains and the sea, that the Santa Barbara mission has been called “Queen of the missions.”

The earliest buildings of the mission were made of adobe, and in fact over time three adobe churches have been built where the present one stands now. A huge earthquake did a lot of damage to the church in 1925, but in two years the building was restored. When the Spanish first established the mission and began to settle, they introduced agriculture to the Chumash Indians. The main crops were staples like wheat, barley, corn, beans and peas.

The Santa Barbara mission planted orchards of olive and citrus trees, and Father Junipero Serra himself is credited with being one of the first people to cultivate grapes in the area. The Santa Barbara mission also raised livestock, and used to own quantities of sheep, goats, pigs, mules, horses and cattle. At one time there were 5,200 cattle and 11,221 sheep.

With its idyllic setting overlooking Santa Barbara city, the beautifully maintained Spanish architecture and rich history, the Santa Barbara mission is well worth taking time to visit. Visitors are welcome between the hours of 9am and 5pm seven days a week.