Mission San Luis Obispo

Bishops, bullfights and bear baiting

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Set in the heart of charming San Luis Obispo, Mission San Luis Obispo del Tolosa was founded on Sept. 1, 1772 — the fifth in the California mission chain. Named for Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, France, the mission was built by Father Jose Cavalier (the mission’s first pastor) — along with five soldiers and native Chumash Indians.

Today, the mission is home to several historic pieces of art, including Peruvian oil paintings and Spanish chandeliers in the chapel. There is a nice museum, located in the padre’s living quarters.

The five mission bells each have their own names (Carlos, Diego, Antonio, Gabriel and Luis), in honor of the patron saints of Alta California’s first five missions. The bronze bells are still rung today, in honor of the first bell rung by Father Serra on Sept. 1, 1772.

Outside, a quiet creek and bridge runs alongside the Mission, where you’ll find the Walter Murray Adobe home (747 Monterey Street), established in 1853. Tucked between bustling streets and quiet neighborhoods, the historic Mission Plaza has served as a gathering place since the early Mission days, when it was the site of bullfights and bear baiting. Today, it hosts several concerts and events throughout the year.

A statue outside the Mission pays tribute to the bears who once lived in the area. The Mission was home to so many bears that Fr. Serra called the area “La Canada de Los Osos,” which means “Valley of the Bears.” Bear meat was a valuable source of protein in those days, and the mission often shared its bounty with other mission communities.

Tip: The Mission still offers regular masses in the church. The Mission Gift Shop and Museum is open 9 to 4 daily, and can also be viewed online. The store sells books, rosary beads, crosses, and other religious items.

At A Glance

751 Palm St
San Luis Obispo CA 93401
(805) 543-6850
Free, but a $2 donation suggested
Daily 9–4


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