San Francisco Solano


Founded: July 4, 1823

Founder: Father Jose Altimira

Status: California State Historic Park

Indian tribes native to surrounding area: Miwok, Wappo, Patwin, Pomo

Nickname:  Mission Sonoma

Location: 114 East Spain Street, Sonoma, CA 95476

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San Francisco de Solano (at Sonoma)

The final California Mission, and the only mission founded after Mexico’s independence from Spain.

The mission was the result of a political compromise between its ambitious founder, Father José Altimira, and church authorities. Altimira founded the mission without church authorization as a replacement for Mission San Francisco de Asís (at San Francisco).

Altimira was allowed to proceed with the construction of the mission, but Mission San Francisco de Asís and Mission San Rafael Arcángel continued to operate as well.

All three missions were intended to act as a barrier to Russian expansion in Alta California, and to that end a Presidio, or military fort, was also built at Sonoma. (Since the barracks were built under Mexican rule, and not as part of the Spanish military system, many people dispute whether they can properly be called a Presidio.)

However, the feared military conflict never occurred. In fact, as the community at Sonoma grew, the padres and settlers regularly traded with the Russians at Fort Ross.

In later years, Sonoma was the site of the Bear Flag Revolt, which declared Alta California independent from Mexico.

Key Events

1823 – Mission founded.

1834 – Mission secularized.

1881 – The mission is sold to a private party.

1911 – A replica of the original mission church is built.

Visiting the Sonoma Mission

The mission is adjacent to a Mexican-style town square, the largest in California, which is still the heart of downtown Sonoma.

Visitors can see a 1913 reconstruction of the mission’s adobe chapel, as well as the nearby Presidio.  The original padres’ quarters now house a museum.

Visiting the Sonoma Presidio

Visitors can see the barracks and outbuildings of the presidio, now operated as a museum by the State of California.

In additional to the excellent museum, there are several other historic buildings nearby, including Captain Salvador Vallejo‘s Casa Grande, the Blue Wing Inn, the Sebastiani Theatre, and the Toscano Hotel.

Together the many attractions make Sonoma a must-see for anyone interested in California history.

The California Missions Museum

Just a few miles from the mission itself, visitors will find the California Missions Museum (at Cline Cellars).

The museum houses a collection of detailed models of each of the 21 missions, originally constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair. There is also a life-size figure of Father Junipero Serra, mission paintings by artists Robert Morris and Henry Nelson, and two stained-glass panels originally housed in Mission San Francisco de Asîs (prior to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake).

Bell at Mission Sonoma, dated 1829.
Bell at Mission Sonoma, dated 1829.
Adobe building, part of Vallejo's Casa Grande, near the mission.
Adobe building, part of Vallejo’s Casa Grande, near the mission.
Mission walkway.
Mission walkway.

Ready for a Drive?

Mission San Francisco de Solano is the northernmost of the California missions, but if you’re ready for a drive, we recommend two other fascinating places to visit:

  • Fort Ross, about an hour and a half from Sonoma, is a former Russian colony located on the California Coast. It’s now operated as a California State Historic Park.
  • The Avenue of the Giants is a scenic drive through California’s giant redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. There are lots of hiking opportunities and cozy cabins and lodges. It’s about three and a half hours from Sonoma.