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 is free to visit, but I found it to be underwhelming compared to others I saw on day three of my mission road trip. It is still a great stop along Highway 101 though, read on for all the details.

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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 want 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 that has a lot of significant artifacts from the mission history and Indian history around the area as well.

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In the backroom, 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’s 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 parts of the town 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, and there is 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. It is large though, 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 was visiting the missions in a row, it was fun to see different architecture at some of them as that gives them personality.

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The altarpiece here is a lot less ornate than many of the previous missions I have been too. Also, 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 were 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 see the mission’s 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 was the statue of Father Serra and a large wooden cross. Also, off to the side, there is the El Camino Real bell that is the official mark for the road and at each mission.

Mission Court

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Lastly, this mission has a large courtyard in front, which was made by the city, and which was beautiful to stroll around. There was 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 is worth checking out.

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

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