Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: The Fifth California Mission

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is the fifth mission founded by Father Junípero Serra and the only mission to have an L-shaped chapel. Today the mission is located right in the heart of San Luis Obispo, which is a bustling college town along the coast of California. The mission here is free to visit, but I found it be underwhelming compared to others I saw on Day 3 of my mission tour. It is still a great stop along Highway 101 though, read on for all the details.

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  • Cost: Free
  • Location: 751 Palm St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

Getting There

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Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is located only minutes from the Broad St exit off Highway 101 in downtown San Luis Obispo. There is parking along the street that is $1.25 an hour, but it can be hard to find during peak times since it is right in downtown San Luis Obispo (a popular college town).

The Mission

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After parking, you can make your way to the church and gift shop right near the entrance. This mission is different than the others as you do not need to pay, and there is not a map so you simply go where you will at your own pace.

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The gift shop has all of the things you have no doubt become accustomed to seeing at the other missions you have visited, such as books on the missions, crosses, and other tourist souvenirs.

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Behind the gift shop is a small five-room museum which has a lot of great artifacts from the mission history and the Indian history around the area as well.

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In the back room, there is even a map of the early land borders for the county and a case with guns from the era.

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After walking through the museum, you will exit out into the mission courtyard.

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As with other courtyards, this one is well manicured and kept up. The plants and flowers blooming were fantastic, and it was peaceful to walk around them.

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Since the courtyard is not closed in like the other missions (you are not paying to see it) it was hard to tell where the mission ended and other more modern things began. I didn’t know whether to continue walking in a direction in hopes of seeing something from the mission’s history or to turn around.

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There is a beautiful set of three old mission bells hanging prominently in the courtyard though. There is also an old well that is picturesque amount the plants and walkways.

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After spending time in the courtyard, you will want to enter the chapel. This chapel is open to the public whenever the mission is open so it can be busier than others but it is large, so there is room to move around.

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The chapel is unique in that it is the only mission chapel to form an L shape. All of the other ones are just one long room without the side room like this one has. Since I am visiting the missions in a row, it is fun to see ones that have different architecture as that gives them personality.

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The altarpiece here is also a lot less ornate than many of the previous missions I have been too. The bottom of the L shape chapel is different than the main chapel as it let in a lot more natural light and was much brighter.

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There was also a few small alcoves that you could pray in on this side as well.

The Exterior

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After finishing looking at the chapel, I headed outside to be greeted by the missions fountain. The fountain was full of green water though and not running, so it was not as picturesque as others.

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In the front of the mission, there is the statue of Father Serra and a large wooden cross as well. Also, off to the side there is the El Camino Real bell that is the official marking for the road, and that is at each mission.

Mission Court

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This mission also has a large courtyard in front that was made by the city, and that is beautiful to stroll around. There is a fountain with a bronze bear playing in the water and a few awnings you can sit under.

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If you have more time in your parking meter, there is also a small path that walks along the stream here and that provides a beautiful area just to take a relaxing walk.

All in all, the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is a great free stop on a road trip with lots of history and unique artifacts. If you are visiting only a few missions though, it is not one of my favorites. You can read about how you can drive to all of the missions here and let me know what you think in the comments.

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