Mission San Fernando Rey de España is both a tranquil retreat from modernity and the best place in the SFV to grasp the fascinating, if troubling, legacy of the Spanish missions in California. The grounds hold restored adobe buildings, including a convent with a colonnade of Roman arches, a one-room ranch house, and a chapel heavily adorned with original furnishings and a gilded 16th-century altarpiece.
Tucked behind the church is a graveyard and the Bob Hope Memorial Garden. The comedian is interred here along with his wife, Dolores. An artificial stream flows in switchback channels through the gently sloping garden. On a dissonant note, a sign near the chapel states that more than 2,000 Mission Indians are buried, nameless, in the cemetery as well.
After its founding in 1797, the Mission functioned not only as a means to convert local Tataviam and Tongva Indians to Catholicism, but as a trading hub and ranch (with over 120,000 acres) producing massive amounts of corn, wheat, and livestock, as well as wine, olive oil, and ironwork.
Inside the adobes are reconstructed workshops plus exhibits that will surprise and amuse you in their breadth and eclecticism. You’re met with a wonderful hodge-podge of photos, maps, paintings, and objects both religious and secular in nature—from woven Indian baskets, monastic garb, and devotional statues to a vintage Dr. Pepper sign and a meteorite that fell to earth in Texas. Two display cases of Bob Hope memorabilia are lodged in the blacksmith shop adjacent to the chapel. In the wine cellar, look for the water basin where Indians rinsed off their feet before squashing grapes with bare soles.
The gift shop sells all manner of tchotchkes, while a large bookcase at back is packed with used history books covering the Spanish missions, Junipero Serra, and old California—a bona fide treasure and jumping-off point for those interested in delving deeper.
For a lovely post-Mission stroll, head across San Fernando Mission Boulevard to Brand Park. Meander the symmetrical paths crisscrossing a stately rose garden where fountains bubble and citrus trees grow as well.
The Mission is located in the middle of the triangle formed by the 5, 405, and 118 Freeways in the northern San Fernando Valley. From the 5, exit San Fernando Mission Blvd. and head west on that road. After roughly a quarter-mile, you’ll find the entrance to the mission parking lot on the right. The mission is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entry is $5 for adults. No dogs.