Mission Dolores

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October 3, 2017
Mission Dolores in the Mission District

Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Mission Dolores

Most visitors head to Mission Dolores to get a glimpse of the oldest building in San Francisco, while those in the know go there to view rare art, listen to an acclaimed choir and see one of the most stunning rose gardens in San Francisco. With its history dating back to the city's original settlers and its welcoming staff, it's no wonder Mission Dolores is at the top of any history buff's San Francisco must-see list.

Mission Dolores History

Established in 1776 by the Franciscan order, the mission is the oldest surviving building in San Francisco. Formally named Mission San Francisco de Asís, after Saint Francis of Assisi, the mission was nicknamed Mission Dolores after the nearby creek, Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. The current mission building survived the Mexican War of Independence, the California Gold Rush, and several earthquakes, most notably the earthquake of 1906 that destroyed a nearby brick church. Friar (now Saint) Junípero Serra y Ferrer famously officiated while Mission Dolores was under construction. The nearby basilica was finished in 1918 and overshadows the original adobe mission.

Services at Mission Dolores

The mission serves parishioners in the Castro, Lower Haight, the Mission, Noe Valley and Upper Market neighborhoods. The staff at Mission Dolores is extremely proud of its diverse congregation and encourages worshippers of every culture and background to attend mass there. Visitors are also welcome for Catholic masses. 

Basilica Choir

Churchgoers can enjoy the glorious voices of the Basilica Choir every Sunday at the 10 a.m. mass and on major church holidays. The choir is comprised of congregants and has traveled on many large world tours. 

Blessing of Animals

Like many Franciscan churches, Mission Dolores blesses animals annually in honor of its namesake, St. Francis, the patron saint of animals. Visitors and congregants can bring an animal to be blessed after select services.

Gardens and Cemeteries

Many visitors flock to Mission Dolores to see the gardens and cemetery. Adjacent to the mission, the gardens contain the same types of plants as they did in the 18th century. The Golden Gate Rose Society gifted the rose garden to the mission. The society tends the garden weekly. There is also an Indian ethno-botanic garden on the property that contains Native American artifacts and plants.

The cemetery is one of the few still in San Francisco proper and is the final resting place of a few notable San Franciscans. An estimated 5,000 people have been laid to rest at the mission, and the gravestones date back to 1830. You’ll find graves of Ohlone and Miwok settlers, as well as the founders of the mission. Luis Antonio Arguello, Lieutenant Moraga and the Committee of Vigilance victims were all interred here. 

The Mission Dolores Mural

One of the most popular attractions at Mission Dolores is the secret mural painted by Native Americans in the 18th century. The delicate mural has been covered by a reredos (ornamental screens) for centuries to protect it from exposure to light. In 2000, the mural was digitized to allow visitors to get a glimpse of what is called the "best-preserved example of art from the period of first contact with Europeans.”

Tours of Mission Dolores

Docent-led tours of the mission are available for groups of 10 or more by contacting the curator’s office at 415-621-8203. Reservations should be made 4–6 weeks in advance. The mission also encourages school groups to visit. If you’d like to make a reservation for your class, contact the mission at the above number. Most groups are scheduled at either 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. The suggested donation is $3 per student. 

Getting to Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores is located at 3321 16th St. in San Francisco. Getting to the mission by bus is very easy; the 22 Fillmore bus stops right at the mission. Or take the J Church streetcar to Church Street and walk one block to the mission. If you’re arriving by BART, you can take it to the 16th and Mission stop, then walk three blocks east down Mission Street. If you’re driving, you’ll enjoy complimentary parking on the east side of Church Street on the weekends. Enter between 16th and 17th Streets. 

Nearby Attractions

Located at the intersection of five neighborhoods, Mission Dolores is near plenty of other attractions. These are some you won’t want to miss. 

Mission Cultural Center For Latino Arts
The Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA) was established in 1977 by artists and community activists with a shared vision to promote, preserve and develop the Latino cultural arts that reflect the living tradition and experiences of the Chicano, Central and South American, and Caribbean people. Today, it offers many arts and cultural activities, such as affordable classes in dance, studio recording, printmaking and music for youth and adults exhibits in their gallery reflecting the tradition and experiences of Latino communities.

Mission Dolores Park
Mission Dolores Park is a few minutes' walk from the mission itself and offers some of the best views of the city. The park is a meeting point for hundreds of locals every day and is especially popular on sunny weekends.

The Castro Theater
The Castro Theater is a popular place to see a classic (or a cheeky new take on one). It's a famous San Francisco landmark, first opened in 1922. It's now one of the few remaining operating "picture palaces" in the country.

Clarion Alley Murals
The Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP) was a grassroots project founded by artists in 1992 to revitalize and beautify a neighborhood alley. Visitors can check out the block-long stretch of murals for free or take a 45-minute guided tour for only $5.

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