The Mission San Carlos Borromeo Del Rio Carmelo is the other name of the grounds more commonly known as the Carmel Mission. After visiting, I felt the long name was fitting as the sprawling land is not only home to the mission church, but a complex that also houses an extensive museum, cemetery and garden. I’ve been to other missions before that, while beautiful, solely consist of the old church. You could spend an entire afternoon here learning about the area’s history.

Okay, so you could do this mainly because of California’s mild weather – I visited on a sunny 60 degree day in February, where tourists strolled the upscale, walkable “downtown” area of Carmel consisting mainly of cute shops, art galleries, wine tasting rooms and bed and breakfasts. Approximately one mile down Junipero Avenue brings you to the Carmel Mission, which will be celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2020. Before you step through the small doorway, a sign reminds me that I’m in California: “This is an unreinforced masonry building. You may not be safe inside or near unreinforced masonry buildings during an earthquake.”

A statue of Junipero Serra looms before me as I step onto the garden grounds. The Carmel Mission took on additional significance last year, as Pope Francis declared Serra, the founder of the mission, a saint. It’s a new chapter for the popular pilgrimage site that was also visited by Pope John Paul II in 1987. Originally located in Monterey, Serra moved the mission to nearby Carmel to be closer to something Californians will still appreciate today…water. It became the headquarters for the California mission system, with Serra himself founding nine missions between 1769 and 1782.

The smell of fresh cut flowers and the sounds of Spanish being spoken surround me as I watch my step due to the uneven floor surfaces of the basilica and museum highlighting the daily life of the people who once lived here. Unfortunately my first visit to this national historic landmark was brief but I’m sure I will entertain thoughts of returning as another Minnesota winter rears its ugly head.