California missions spotlight: San Rafael was a military stronghold during Mexican-American war

The mission is located in San Rafael, in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The mission is located in San Rafael, in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

San Rafael Arcángel

20th mission



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San Rafael, designed to be a hospital, was among the last missions built and the first to close. The idea was to serve ailing neophytes (as the padres called baptized converts and laborers) from San Francisco. It began with four Franciscans and about 250 Coast Miwok Indians and quadrupled in population, adding farm and ranch operations before secularization in 1834. In 1846, as the Mexican-American War heated up, Gen. John C. Frémont seized it as a headquarters for U.S. military forces. By the 1880s, the site was in ruins. In 1919, a new church was built on the site of the old chapel. In 1949, a facsimile of the old chapel went up next to the new church.

Nearby: China Camp State Park (, which includes beach, trails and a little pier at the edge of San Pablo Bay, was home in the 1880s to a village of Chinese immigrants, many of them shrimp fishermen. Their story is told in a museum in the park’s China Camp Village. Five miles south along the Redwood Highway (U.S. 101), you’ll find the tiny town of Corte Madera (Town Center farmers market on Wednesday afternoons). Go five more miles and you’ll find yourself in the waterfront hamlet of Sausalito. Just south of that, across the bay, San Francisco awaits.

Info: 1104 5th Ave., San Rafael; (415) 454-8141, Driving distance from Los Angeles City Hall: 391 miles northwest.

From the archives:

In 1958, The Times wrote about Father Juan Amoros’ work at Mission San Rafael Arcángel a mission often used as a sanitarium.

In 2001, The Times reported on a Benedictine monk who made paintings throughout the mission system, including a stop at San Rafael.

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