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San Francisco's Top 10 : Mission Dolores

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The old Misión San Francisco de Asís acquired its popular name, Mission Dolores, from a small stream that once flowed nearby, Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. It is the oldest building in the city of San Francisco and the only intact mission chapel in the chain of 21 (of which it was the sixth) established under the direction of Franciscan friar Father Junipero Serra. The site was consecrated in 1776, and the chapel was built in 1782–91, with the labor of Ohlone Indians. Its adobe walls are 4 ft (1.2 m) thick and its red-tile roofs are typical of the “Mission Style” which can be seen all over California in both old and new buildings. Reportedly, 36,000 handmade and sun-dried adobe bricks were needed to complete the structure.

  • 3321 16th St at Dolores St

  • 415 621 8203

  • www.missiondolores.citysearch.com

  • Open 9am–4pm daily

  • Dis. access

  • Suggested donation $5 adult, $3 child; 40 minute audio tour in English $5


Junipero Serra and California’s Missions

In 1769, Gaspar de Portola led an expedition to establish missions in California, in the company of Father Junipero Serra and 60 men. They founded Mission San Diego, and then worked their way up to Monterey. Continuing up the coast, within seven years Father Serra had established a mission in San Francisco, with the assistance of Father Francisco Palou. In all, Serra founded 21 missions in Upper and Lower California, many of which survive.


Plan of Mission Dolores

Chapel and Basilica façades

For a fresh, authentic taste of Mexico, head for Pancho Villa Taqueria.


Check out the old photos in the covered walkway on the right side of the chapel, which depict, among other things, early Indian festivals and the total destruction in 1906 of the church next door, which was replaced by the basilica.


Dolores Park is popular during the day, but at night it can become a connection point for drug dealers.




Top 10 Features
  1. Cemetery and Serra Statue

    This leafy, picturesque cemetery is a gently contemplative place. Many of San Francisco’s early leaders are buried here. Central to the space is a life-size sculpture of Father Junipero Serra.

  2. Chapel

    The central building still retains the original redwood beams, lashed together with rawhide. The amber-colored window glass gives the interior warmth, reflected off gold-leafed fixtures.

  3. Altarpieces

    The hand-carved, gilded and painted wooden reredos and side altars were brought from Mexico in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

  4. Beamed Ceiling Decoration

    The imaginative painted ceiling design derives from Ohlone basketry.

  5. Diorama and Museum

    Just outside the chapel is a diorama showing what life was like at the mission 200 years ago. A small museum at the back of the chapel contains documents that pertain to the mission’s history.

  6. Mission Façade

    The modest white façade of the chapel is typical of the Mission Style. Its four columns support niches for three bronze bells, which are inscribed with their names and dates. They were added to the mission in the late 18th century.

  7. Sorrows of Mary Panels

    These images along the front of each of two side balconies in the basilica detail the seven moments when Mary was overcome with sorrow.

  8. Choir Windows of St Francis

    At the rear of the basilica, jewel-like stained-glass windows depict scenes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, revolutionary patron saint of San Francisco. The lower side windows depict the 21 California Missions.

  9. Dolores Street

    Undulating like a rollercoaster, this is one of the loveliest streets in San Francisco. Palm trees grace its center all the way along.

  10. Dolores Park

    One of the few large green spaces in the Mission District, this park is situated high on a hill and affords excellent views of the city. It was originally the site of San Francisco’s main Jewish cemetery, but was transformed in 1905.

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