This is the fifteenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.
San Juan Bautista was the first mission I ever visited, more than two years ago now. It’s the one that inspired me to see all 21 of them, and even though I now have plenty to compare it to, it’s still one of my very favorites.
San Juan Bautista is one of the more famous missions, thanks to its role as a film location for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And judging by the changes it’s undergone, and the hidden details it holds, it might have the most stories to share. But it’s certainly not the oldest mission by any stretch—in fact, it was the fifteenth founded in Alta California, built well after Blessed Junipero Serra’s death.
The last time I visited here, it was far too early in the morning for the buildings to be open. So this time, I was eager to get inside the place. I could go on about how lovely the interior was, though with the exception of the triple-wide nave, it wasn’t so different than any of the other mission churches. The part that really slayed me, though, were the tiny animal paw prints in the tile floor! I almost missed them entirely—I dropped my pen, and when I bent to pick it up, I saw one. Apparently the tiles had been outside curing in the sun when some small dog or other had run across them. Rather than throwing out the “ruined” tiles, they just used them anyway. Such an enchanting little detail.
The other real treat was seeing the interior courtyard garden. The plants and layout were similar to any other mission, but I loved that all the doors and windows were painted turquoise. It felt like stepping through a California doorway and emerging into a hidden pocket of Santa Fe.
Over the course of two visits, I’ve racked up a sizeable pile of sketches of San Juan Bautista. Yet somehow, it still doesn’t feel like I’m finished exploring. I have a feeling I’ll be back, and that you haven’t seen the last of this place here.