“El Camino Real”- It means “The Royal Road” or “The King’s Highway” in Spanish. And it’s a 600-mile stretch in California which serves to connect 21 missions, all the way from San Diego to San Francisco.

In this post, you can learn more about it and which path to take on your visit.


The missions were first established between 1683 and 1834 and were accessed through three different routes. The first bell marker was hung in 1906, to distinguish the route and preserve its history. It was put on a staff shaped as a Franciscan walking stick and placed along El Camino Real.

During 1912, part of the main route began to be paved and was transformed into the road as it exists today. In the coming years, paving continued and hundreds of bells were installed, but many were stolen, vandalized, or simply deteriorated as time went on. As a result, in 2005, there was a massive undertaking to restore the bells to their former glory, and 555 were installed in all. These new bells are marked with the years 1769 and 1906, to recognize the years the missions began and the year the bells began, respectively.

21 Missions 

El Camino Real makes it easy to visit all 21 missions.

Where to Begin

El Camino Real cast iron bell in garden of the Mission at San Juan Capistrano, California

Beginning in San Diego, El Camino Real takes you past Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Continuing onto Oceanside, you’ll find Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. Next up is San Juan Capistrano, in the town of the same name. Further north is three more missions: San Gabriel Arcangel, San Fernando Rey de Espana, and San Buenaventura.


Old mission Santa Barbara located in Central California was the 10th of 21 missions on the trail

When you hit Santa Barbara, there’s the eponymous mission, and in the charming village of Solvang is Mission Santa Ines. The town of Lompoc is home to La Purisima Concepcion.


Continuing on, you can make stops at San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Miguel Arcangel, and San Antonio de Padua. Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, and San Juan Bautista follow.


As you head into northern California, pay visits to Mission Santa Cruz, Santa Clara de Asis, and Mission San Jose. Round out the trip with the last three missions on the route: San Francisco de Asis, San Rafael Arcangel, and San Francisco Solano.

San Francisco 

Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Are you in San Francisco now? If you’re from out of town, check some of the other stops in the area. And get help with affordable hotel deals here, on our sister site, HotelCoupons.com.