Santa Bárbara


Founded: December 4, 1786

Founder: Father Fermin Lasuen

Status: An active Catholic Church

Indian tribes native to surrounding area: Barbareño, Ineseño, Chumash

Nickname: The Queen of the Missions

Location: 2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

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Mission Santa Barbara

The mission at Santa Barbara was envisioned by Father Junipero Serra as a kind of “bridge” connecting San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and San Gabriel Arcángel. Due to opposition from the governor, who opposed expansion of the mission system, it was not built until after Serra’s death.

The mission was protected by the Santa Barbara Presidio, or military fort, built four years earlier, and together with the missions at San Luis Obispo and San Gabriel, solidified Spanish control over the channel area. The Santa Barbara Presidio was the fourth and final military outpost constructed by the Spanish in Alta California (a fifth Presidio, at Sonoma, was built by the Mexican government after independence from Spain).

In 1818, the Argentine privateer Hippolyte de Bouchard landed a force near the mission and raided surrounding farms, but he withdrew after seeing the strength of the defenses.

The mission church, which occupies a central place in the modern city of Santa Barbara, was damaged several times by earthquakes, but survived and was extended and enhanced. A unique and beautiful neoclassical stone façade was added to the church in 1820. A second tower was added in 1831, but collapsed within two years and was subsequently rebuilt.

Mission Santa Barbara relied on the most extensive water system of any of the missions; many of the aqueducts can still be seen, and the route of the water system is still used by the city’s water company.

La Misión de La Señora Barbara is the only mission that remained under continuous control by the Franciscan order, so records, artwork, and valuables from several of the other missions were transferred to Santa Barbara.

Key Events

1782 – El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara  is founded.

1786 – Mission founded.

1820 – Neoclassical stone façade added to Church.

1831 – Second bell tower added to Church.

1833 – California mission headquarters moved to Santa Barbara (until 1946).

1834 – Mission secularized.

1865 – Mission returned to the Catholic church.

Visiting the Santa Bárbara Mission

There is a great deal to see at Mission Santa Barbara, including the restored church with its unique façade, an extensive museum and art collection, beautiful gardens, tile fountain, and out-buildings including a mill, tannery, and parts of the original water system.  The unique altar, encrusted with abalone shells, was crafted by Chumash Indians in the 1790s.

The Moorish style fountain in front of the monastery wing was created by Antonio Ramírez in 1808.

Visiting the Santa Bárbara Presidio

The presidio at Santa Barbara was responsible for the defense of the missions at San Fernando, San Buenaventura, Santa Barbara, Santa Inés, and La Purísima.

El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park is operated by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Visitors can see two restored Presidio buildings as well as later period adobes, ongoing archeological excavations, and a collection of artifacts.


Santa Barbara Presidio. Built circa 1782;, restored in the 1990s.
Santa Barbara Presidio. Built circa 1782,
restored in the 1990s.


Mission Santa Barbara chapel interior. Photo by Kevin Cole.
Mission Santa Barbara chapel interior.
Photo by Kevin Cole.
Mission Santa Barbara circa 1876.
Mission Santa Barbara circa 1876.