Man on a Mission: Mission San Diego de Alcala


Man on a Mission

Editor’s note: Today, we continue our special series with Kirk Whitney – “Man on a Mission” will take all of us along on Kirk and Debbie Whitney’s pilgrimages to view and pray at the California Missions. I thank Kirk personally for this amazing opportunity to share these treasures with our readers! LMH

Mission San Diego - Campanario

The 40-minute drive from Mission San Luis Rey to Downtown San Diego took us only and hour and 57 minutes. On this late Friday afternoon, Interstate 5 was bumper to bumper from Oceanside to San Diego. As the sun was setting, we finally got off the freeway and made our way to our hotel in San Diego’s Old Town District.

After more than eight hours of driving, I was glad to have found a place to stay where there things to do within walking distance.

As we walked the area that evening, we realized that we could make our Saturday drive-free as well. Immaculate Heart Church was right across the street from our hotel and we noticed that we were just a few blocks from the Trolley (San Diego’s name for their light rail system) station. I pulled out my phone and located the Mission on Google Maps. Their public transportation tool let me know that this particular trolley line had a stop just a few blocks from Mission San Diego.

Mission San Diego de Alcala

The next morning we were able to head across the street for First Saturday Mass before breakfast. By nine-thirty we were at the transit station. In the process of buying our fares, we noticed that we could buy a day pass for their entire transit system for only five dollars. We chose that option, which enabled us to visit not only the Mission, but to also explore other parts of San Diego without having to get back in our car.

Mission San Diego - Church entrance

The ride from Old Town to Mission San Diego de Alcala to only 20 minutes. As advertised, the Mission was a short walk from the station.

What Google didn’t tell us was that the approach to the Mission is not pedestrian friendly. Situated on a busy street without sidewalks, the Mission is about halfway between two intersections about a quarter-mile apart. This forced us to choose between walking on a narrow shoulder on the Mission side of the street, or jaywalking across the street directly in front of the Mission entrance.

We chose to jaywalk. Fortunately,  traffic was light, and Debbie and I are still relatively fleet of foot.

Mission San Diego - garden

The first thing that struck me about Mission San Diego was that it is, for lack of a better word, cute. Somehow I expected the grandaddy of all missions to be a bit more … well, grand. The church’s simple lines, unadorned white walls and jutting buttresses speak more to the humility and tenacity of the Church than its grandeur.

The church is a restoration of the building that was constructed in 1813. The mission itself dates back to 1774 and is located about five miles from the location where the Mission was originally founded in 1769. It is the first Catholic Church to be established in the far west and is an active Catholic parish today.

Mission San Diego - Interior

The parish strikes a good balance with the Mission as a parish church, historical landmark, and tourist destination. The buildings are handsomely restored and the garden in the small courtyard is both beautiful and serene. The main courtyard is where you see a concession to the needs of a modern parish.

The courtyard has a large, fountain surrounded by pepper trees. The rest of the courtyard is asphalt, allowing the quadrangle to serve as a parking lot. Not an ideal setup from my selfish point of view as a tourist, but it doesn’t really mar the experience.

My favorite feature of the Mission was La Capilla, the small chapel. The building was constructed in 1977, but features historically interesting materials. The building was designed around an altar and choir stalls that were recovered from a 14th  century Spanish monastery. The floor tiles are from the original Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City.  It is a simple, yet beautiful worship space.

Mission San Diego - La Capilla

San Diego is a vast, sprawling, modern American city. This quiet hillside in the midst of a vast metropolis is where it all started. The Mission is a worthy tourist destination in itself, but if you are visiting San Diego for any of its many large tourist  attractions, I would encourage you to budget an hour or two of your vacation time to visit Mission San Diego de Alcala as well.

View additional information on this and other California Missions at

Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney


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