There are 21 historic missions, built between 1769 and 1833, along the coast of California, on modern-day Highway 101. The missions were part of the first European attempt to colonize the Pacific Coast of North America, and their original purpose was to convert the existing Native American population and to teach them the Spanish language so that they could become taxpaying Spanish citizens.
The missions were begun during the expedition of Gaspar de Portola and a group of Franciscans led by Father Junipero Serra.
The first of the missions was San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769 and still serves as a Catholic church. The second mission was built a year later in Carmel. The 21 missions are placed about 30 miles away from each other, which was estimated to be about a day's journey at the time they were built.
In the 1830s the missions were secularized. The missions' land holdings were divided into land grants, and many became the California Ranchos.
Most are still active Catholic parishes, provide cultural activities, are popular tourist attractions in California, and are the oldest buildings in the state. The missions were built from whatever native building materials were at-hand, and most have been restored to their original appearance.