Explore the immaculate gardens of the Queen of the Missions.
The noble Old Mission Santa Barbara —the 10th to be established of the 21 eventually built in California—comprises nearly as much history as this country itself. The original mission dates back to the 1700s when Spanish padres came north from Mexico. While the buildings that make up this elegant and carefully restored “Queen of the Missions” are certainly worth visiting, it’s the mission’s gardens that often make an equally lasting impression. Here you can stroll among 10 acres of landscaped gardens, including groves of citrus and olive trees. Gentle fountains create inviting retreats, while views take in a wide sweep of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands to the west, and the Santa Ynez Range to the east. Self-guided tours are available, but if you find a docent, see if you can get a peek at the glazed terra-cotta sculpture of St. Barbara watching over Mary and Jesus. The 1522 masterpiece was discovered in a storage room that was being cleaned out. It is now installed in an alcove in the garden’s private portico.