If you are around Northern California, a great place to take a day trip is the Carmel Mission Basilica and Museum at Carmel-by-the-Sea.
If possible, rent a hotel room or Airbnb to further explore the town of Carmel and its quaint charm, but if you don’t have the time or inclination, the basilica and museum will be enough to fill your day. We visited Carmel two years ago, and took almost an entire day just to tour the mission.
The Carmel Mission was founded by Father Junipero Serra, whose statue greets visitors at the entrance among a garden of flowers. The courtyard is peaceful and spacious, ideal for families and young children.
Upon entering the basilica, we saw only a few people inside, quietly praying. It’s not a large space, but it is a commanding one, with sweeping stone architecture and a high arched ceiling. It is here where Father Junipero Serra is buried beneath the altar of the basilica.
Returning outside, there is an area where visitors can learn more about the mission and its founding through videos depicting its history.
The museum also houses a reconstructed version of Father Serra’s ascetic living quarters, complete with a small bed and desk, among other artifacts.
Also on the grounds is the Junipero Serra School, which closed its doors in the spring of 2020. The cobblestone courtyard is scenic, complete with trees, and is a great spot for taking photos.
Although Father Serra is credited as being the father of the California missions, and was even canonized in 2015, many of the local natives were pressured into converting to Christianity, and were even subjected to brutal corporal punishment if they didn’t toe the line. In addition, the settlement of the area in regards to mission work devastated the environment by introducing European diseases and foreign livestock, sadly killing much of the indigenous population in the process.
There will always be two sides to how people today view Father Junipero Serra, but it is still worth a visit to this historical site, which is deeply woven into the history of California.