Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo

Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo was the second mission founded of the Alta California Missions. In that, it became a critical building for the success of the missions and ultimately the headquarters for the expansion of the ministry under Father Serra. The mission was founded in 1770 and became a National Historical Landmark in 1966. If you are traveling the coast, then you really should carve out some time to visit this mission, here are all the details.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-7


  • Cost: $6.50
  • Location: 3080 Rio Rd, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Getting There

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-17

Mission San Carlos Borroméo del río Carmelo is located in the Southern part of Carmel-By-The-Sea only a few minutes off Highway 1 on Rio Road. There is a large parking area for the mission.

The Mission

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-3

After paying the fee, you will walk into the small courtyard and see the Basilica, which is one of the most beautiful of all the missions.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-2

This area is also home to a fountain and a lovely garden that you can walk through.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-6

There is a small museum room with a video on Father Serra here as well and a few artifacts from the area.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-4

Of course, there is the statue of Father Serra that you have come to expect at each of the California missions in the gardens to see. This mission is of particular importance when talking about Father Serra as it is his final resting place as well.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-1

After continuing around to the right of the chapel, you will reach the cemetery.

The Cemetery

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-13

The cemetery is along the entire side of the mission and has a lot of unique gravestones with some ornate ones and some that are just small crosses.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-14

The Chapel

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-10

The chapel is one of the most beautiful you will see on the missions trail.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-12

The ceiling is rounded, which is unique to this mission. The chapel itself is vast and could fit a lot of people.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-8

The chapel features a summer solstice window in the shape of a star. During the summer solstice, the light dances across the alter as it comes in through the star. Unfortunately, it is often foggy in Carmel so actually seeing this only happens every five years or so.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-24

The chapel is also the final resting place of Father Serra who was responsible for founding the first 9 California missions and who is honored with a statue at every mission. His grave is under the main altar.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-25

They even have wood from the original coffin he was buried in that was dug up to verify it was him over 60 years ago.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-11

Off to the left of the chapel, there is an area dedicated to Mary, which houses a statue that Father Serra brought over when he came to California on his first trip. It was lost for a long time before eventually being rediscovered, after which this altarpiece was created to hold it.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-9

After exiting the chapel, you will proceed into the museum which is one of the better ones I saw at the California Missions.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-18

The first room has a massive stone sculpture and coffin that was designed to be where Father Serra was buried. When it couldn’t fit into the chapel, it was decided that it should just be on display here.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-20

There is also a large glassed-in exhibit that features many of Father Serra’s items and church relics.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-21

The museum continues with more artifacts and relics in the next room, as well as a viewing portal for the Grand Sala.

The Grand Sala

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-22

This room has been meticulously recreated to show what it would have looked like during the time the mission was being used. It was created to be the reception room of the mission.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-23

Continuing on, near the end of the museum, you will see Father Serra’s room furnished to look like it would have when he was there. I found it interesting to see so much about how he lived here.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-19

After exiting the museum, you will be back out in the gift shop and can proceed out from there. I think you can usually visit the courtyards as well, but they were off limits when I went.

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo-27

I do have to note that when I visited there was a painter there working on a painting of the mission. I talked to her for a while and thought it made a great photo to show her painting with the mission behind it. Her name was Julie Khyler, and you can read more about her at http://www.juliekhyler.com/

All in all, this is one of the best of the California Missions, it is incredibly beautiful and has a lot of wonderful history. Be sure to visit it if you are in the are and you can read all about my time at the missions here.