Mission San Rafael Arcangel

This mission in San Rafael, which still offers services, is an interesting destination to learn more about California’s religious history. 

San Rafael Arcángel peacefully presides over the city of San Rafael from its hilltop setting. Whether you are there to worship, learn or simply find a quiet place to explore, visit this historic mission.

The structure was originally established as an “asistencia” (sub-mission) where sick members of Mission San Francisco de Asís went to recover. Built in 1817, San Rafael Arcángel was the 20th of San Francisco’s 21 Missions founded by Spanish priests to bring Catholicism to the area.

Between government upheaval and development of San Rafael, all that remained of the original mission at the beginning of the 20th century was a single pear tree from its orchard. In 1948, Monsignor Thomas Kennedy helmed a massive rebuilding project to restore the mission to its former glory.

The inside of the mission is airy and simple. Examine the Stations of the Cross, which are presented in the form of 3-D carvings.

Step outside and visit the larger parish church, which is an iconic landmark in San Rafael. The statue of the mission’s namesake angel appears to bless the entire city from his vantage point. Inside, the church features beautiful stained-glass windows.

If you want to bring home a religious artifact or a souvenir relating to the California Missions, head into the Mission Gift Shop. The Mission Museum, which is connected, is a great place to learn more about San Rafael Arcángel and the other California Missions. Browse through paintings, informative exhibits and other artifacts. Be sure to see the three surviving bells from the original mission.

The mission is open to the public every day of the week, while the parish church is open only on weekends and for special events. Visit the Mission Museum and Gift Shop during its limited hours on Wednesday through Sunday.

Metered on-street parking is available very close to the mission. Alternatively, use nearby city parking lots.

San Rafael Arcángel is located about 18 miles (29 kilometers) north of central San Francisco. In about 30 minutes, you can make the drive from the mission to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.