The adobe Serra Chapel is the oldest building in the state and contains a gold covered altar originally from Barcelona in Spain which is thought to be over 300 years old.
The mission has one large enclosed central courtyard and other associated gardens, all with flourishing trees, wildflowers, cacti and succulents, fountains and statues, and several hours could be spent exploring all the different areas.
In front is a small, well established garden containing flowers and blossoming bushes - a photogenic scene, and the mission is a popular place to visit.
A small walled garden adjoins the side of the church filled with more bushes, trees and cacti, while nearby is a small museum with the obligatory gift shop and several other buildings of more historic interest.
All the complex is peaceful and evocative, despite the busy main road nearby, and the modern surroundings.
The remaining 17 missions are found at intervals of 40 miles or so northwards, mostly well inland but a few are almost beside the coast.
Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is another rural mission, in farmland south of Soledad, and consists only of a restored chapel, courtyard, garden, and the adobe ruins of several other structures.
On the south edge of Carmel, Mission San Carlos Borromeode Carmelo has an attractive and authentic appearance, lined with palm trees and floral plants, and looking out over wooded hills beside the coast.
The church is part of a group of buildings that also includes a refuge, school, museum, cafe with cactus garden and a new Catholic church, next to which is the historic Mission Cemetery, containing around 6,000 graves.
San Juan Bautista is the largest of the 21 missions, situated on the east side of the small town of the same name, between Salinas and Hollister.
Nearby Mission Santa Cruz is built along highway 1 in Santa Cruz city center, 2 miles from Monterey Bay.
The next four missions are located in cities, around San Francisco Bay: Santa Clara de Asís, San Jose (in Fremont), San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) and San Rafael Arcángel, all part of urban neighborhoods.
The furthest north of the 21 Spanish missions is San Francisco Solano, the main attraction of Sonoma State Historic Park in the suburbs of Sonoma.21 Spanish missions built in the 18th century, close to the California coast from San Diego northwards to Sonoma.