Mission San Diego

San Diego de Alcalá Key Facts

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

General Information

San Diego de Alcalá

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

Key Facts About This Mission

Early History
Juan Rodqriguez Cabrillo
Juan Rodqriguez Cabrillo

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.

Spanish Erecting Cross
Natives Running from Spanish

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

Mission Founded

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,

Mission Named For

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

Special Designation

Mother of the Alta California Missions.

Founding Missionary
Junípero Serra
Junípero Serra
  • Junípero Serra, the first Father President of the California missions founded the mission. 
  • Serra's successor, Fr. Fermín Francisco de Lasuén served at this mission for eight years (from 1777-1785).
Mission Site
  • The site of the original mission on Presidio Hill was at a location called Cosoy by the natives. 
  • The mission was relocated about five and a half 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 mission.

A dam was finally constructed (1809-1815) six miles upstream from the mission, on the San Diego River. SDKF 09 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. 

Indians joining the mission
Painting of Diegueño
  • 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.
  • 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.
San Diego Mission Cattle Brand
San Diego Mission Cattle Brand
  • 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 245 animals. 
  • In 1822 the mission had over 30,000 animals, including 9,245 cattle and 19,000 sheep.
  • The mission had a distinctive 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.

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. Junipero Serra was baptized in 1713 in Petra on the island of Majorca.


In 1818 a sub-mission, the Asistencia of Santa Ysabel was established about 60 miles northeast of San Diego. 

Special Attraction
  • Image of the Casa de los Padres Room
    Image of the Casa de los Padres Room
    The Casa de los Padres Room, which displays drawings depicting the mission history.
  • The Mission Museum is particularly informative. 
Significant Events
Mission Attack in November, 1775
Mission Attack in November, 1775

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. 

The mission was secularized in 1834, and the buildings slowly deteriorated. By the time the mission was restored in 1931 only the church façade and arcade remained standing. 

Mission used by U.S. Army after the Mexican American War, from 1853-58 

Year Returned to Catholic Church

1862, in a proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

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

Discover More Information About California's Rich History

Browse the Mission Resource Store, where we have everything from maps to trading cards to help immerse you in the California Missions and more.

Browse Resources