Date of Trip: November 2009
As a child growing up in San Diego, I never really thought about its history. School trips to the museums weren’t for learning about the city in which I was living as it was a “field trip” and a chance to not be in the class room. It wasn’t until my later teens, early twenties that I learned and really could appreciate how beautiful this city is and that people actually paid money to come to San Diego, the city that I had lived in almost every day of my life.
Since then, I’ve lived in a few other cities, and none of them are like San Diego. As a current ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, when I come back to San Diego (once or twice a year) to visit family and friends, I’m still amazed. The mere mention of San Diego, conjures up images, across the world, of beautiful California beaches, the white strips of sand, soaked in sunshine an average of 150 days a year, have been the source of tourist pilgrimage for decades and even a native, such as I, find them hard to resist when I am in town.
On a recent trip to San Diego, I decided to play tourist and actually learn something about my hometown. What I discovered, less than 3 miles from my favorite mall (Fashion Valley Shopping Mall), was Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, also known as The San Diego Mission (aka The Mission). Located in the heart of Mission Valley, is California’s first church, founded in 1769 by Padre Junipero Serra. His influence is seen throughout San Diego; you see it in the name of the baseball team, the San Diego Padres; the main street that runs the entire stretch of the valley is named Friars Road; Serra Mesa, the neighborhood on the north side overlooking Mission Valley. I started to put together that a lot of places in San Diego are named after these first European settlers.
Once inside, you can tour Father Serra’s house, the church, sit and ponder life in the garden sanctuary, with it’s uneven tiled pathways, lined with wooden benches. You can almost envision what life might have been like. The onsite museum displays artifacts belonging to Padre Serra, and the early Native Americans. You can even participate in the ongoing San Diego Mission Excavation Project. Being here, you almost forget you’re smack dab in the middle of hustle and bustle.
The mission was relocated to its current site in 1774 in order to be nearer the Indian Villages, a reliable source of water (the San Diego River), and good land for farming. Prior to this the Mission was located in what is now Presidio Park, home of the Junipero Serra Museum, one of the most familiar landmarks in San Diego. As a major symbol of the city, it stands atop the hill recognized as the site where California began. It was here in 1769 that the Spanish Franciscan missionary, Father Junipero Serra, with a group of soldiers led by Gaspar de Portola, established Alta California’s first mission and presidio (fort). The Serra Museum is available for school tours, by appointment only, and does not currently maintain regular visiting hours to the public. However, that does not mean, you should not visit this location. Perched up on the top of a hill, at the entrance into “the valley” with views over the bay to the Pacific Ocean. Once there, it is easy to see why this site was chosen.
So…should you want to get slightly off of the beaten path and take in a little bit of history, check out the Mission San Diego de Alcala and Presidio Park. And, unlike when you were in school, you can cut the history class short and head to the Mission Beach; which is only 10 minutes away.