Home History Mission Dolores: Birthplace of the City by the Bay

Mission Dolores: Birthplace of the City by the Bay


Beat Staff Writer

When Fr. Francisco Palou established Misión San Francisco de Asís, little could he know just what he was establishing. Today, 230 years later, that small mission has resulted in one of the recognizable cities in the world.

Officially established on June 29, 1776, Misión San Francisco de Asís was the sixth of the total twenty-one California missions and has been designated San Francisco Historical Landmark # 1. Better known as Mission Dolores, the old mission is located on the corner of Dolores and 16th Street and is open daily. Admission is free but there is a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and students.

After entering the mission, the first place you will see is the original chapel. Completed in 1791, much of the chapel remains the same as when it was first built and is considered the oldest surviving building in the city. Be sure to take some time to just sit and enjoy the bright colors and architecture.

The chapel is also the final resting place of several individuals, including Lt. Jose Joaquin Moraga, the Spanish military officer who founded San Francisco, and William Leidesdorff, early San Francisco resident and millionaire.

Outside the chapel you will find an entrance to the newer Mission Dolores Basilica, which will provide an excellent comparison in styles between the eras. The architecture within the basilica is simply amazing and you may find yourself sitting down for a few minutes just to take in everything. Be sure to look at all of the stained glass windows, as those near the back of the basilica feature images of all of the 21 California missions.

Leaving the Basilica via the way you came in, the next room you will visit is the museum. Here you can find various artifacts from the mission’s history as well as see some of the inner construction of the building itself.

Stepping back outside, remember to take some time to examine the beautiful mural by San Francisco artist Guillermo Granizo which depicts the arrival of the Spanish to the San Francisco Bay.

Finally, the last place to visit on the tour is the mission cemetery. Here you will find the graves of early city political leaders as well as notable victims of the 1856 San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. Also having found rest here are thousands of the area’s Native American residents, who lie buried in unmarked graves.

Fans of Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock will also be interested in the fact that this mission cemetery was the film location for the 1958 classic “Vertigo.”

After walking through the cemetery, exit through the gift shop. Inside you can purchase mission souvenirs as well as a few religious items. However the room is small so on crowded days, try to be careful not to bump into anything.

Since it’s completion in 1791, Mission Dolores has not only somehow survived the fires and earthquakes San Francisco is known for, but also the passage of time and a growing city surrounding it. As a result, it is a great place to visit to learn about the city’s early history.