The following is a California Catholic Daily exclusive by Christian Clifford.

As amazing as they are, one does not have to go to Mexico City, Spain, Rome or Jerusalem to have a meaningful pilgrimage experience. California, home to over 11 million Catholics, has some pilgrimage routes that connect to the state’s Spanish colonial heritage.

The twenty-one California missions, founded by Saint Junípero Serra, OFM (1713-1784), dot the state for 800-miles. The first, Mission San Diego de Alcalá, was consecrated in 1769. The last, Mission San Francisco Solano, popularly known as Mission Sonoma, was founded in 1823. Below are five pilgrimage routes in California worth looking into.

  1. Camino Serra is an 85-mile route that is done over eight days, starting on June 23. The pilgrimage connects Mission Santa Clara de Asís (1777) and Mission Santa Cruz (1791). Pilgrims continue to Mission San Carlos Borroméo (1771), where Mass is celebrated at the Shrine of Saint Junípero Serra on the Apostle of California’s feast day, July 1. Camino Serra is a ministry of the Legionary Community at Our Lady of Santa Clara.

  2. Saint Junipero Serra Walking Pilgrimage is a two day (July 23-24) walk of a 35-mile stretch that joins Mission Santa Bárbara (1786) and San Buenaventura Mission Basilica (1782). Organizers share that the walk “is considered one of the most beautiful and pleasant mission-to-mission treks”. This California mission walker concurs.

  3. The California Missions Walkers help people walk between the twenty-one California missions (including yours truly a couple of years ago). Founded in 2013, according to the CMW website, people do the walk for a myriad of reasons. “The reasons we walk along the California Mission Trail are as varied as our members. Some walk for a religious or spiritual pilgrimage, some walk for a love of our historic missions, some walk for greater appreciation of California’s beauty and history, some walk to honor the memories of loved ones, some walk to think about life’s challenges, some walk for the challenge and adventure of a ‘California Camino’, and some walk to prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago.”

  4. Camino de Sonoma is a 75-mile trail that connects the California State Parks of Mission Sonoma and the colonial Russian outpost Fort Ross. The mission of organizers, who lead guided walks, is “to provide, protect, and promote exceptional space for pilgrims, seekers, and all people who long for a transformative experience, through the power of walking with intention.”

  5. Since 1981, descendants of the families, known as Los Pobladores, and friends have walked the nine-mile route from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel (1771) and El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles during the Labor Day weekend. Recently, some 2,000 Catholics walked the same route to celebrate the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Jubilee Year (they tacked on two more miles, though, ending at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels).

Author Richard Rodriguez wrote in a 1987 Los Angeles Times piece of the missions impact, “To live here [California] is to submit to the names, to the ruins of a Spanish adventure, to live among Spanish.” Come and find out if his words still ring true.

Christian Clifford is the author of four books about Catholic Church history in Spanish-Mexican California. His latest is Pilgrimage: In Search of the REAL California Missions, the story of his 800-mile walk on the California Missions Trail. He can be reached at