Located on a hillside in the small town of Santa Ysabel, this 19th century church, museum and cemetery along Highway 79 reveals a more native side to California Mission history.

I first came upon Mission Santa Ysabel back in 2014 while heading over to Warner Springs for some aerobatic glider flying.

Since then, I always make an effort to stop by when traveling along Highway 79 in Northern San Diego County.

The Santa Ysabel Asistencia was founded on September 20, 1818 at Cañada de Santa Ysabel in the mountains east of San Diego (near the village of Elcuanan), as a “sub-mission” to Mission San Diego de Alcalá, and to serve as a rest stop for those travelling between San Diego and Sonora. The native population of approximately 450 neophytes consisted of both Luiseño and Diegueño peoples. Based on historical records, Santa Ysabel enjoyed a higher-than-average conversion rate when compared to the other California missions. Given its remote location, the facility was visited infrequently by the padres after secularization of the missions in the 1830s.  – Wikipedia

The mission site has held Mass since 1818, with current services at 4pm on Saturday’s and 8:30am and 11:45am on Sunday’s.

Father Edmond Lapointe oversaw the building of the current Spanish-style chapel after the roof of the original collapsed.

It was christened as St. John the Baptiste Catholic Church in 1924.

Sitting across from the chapel is the small, mostly Native American Santa Ysabel Cemetery.

This was the first time I was able to visit the cemetery during one of my visits. Out of respect for the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, I’ve always refrained from entering the cemetery grounds when family members or friends were present. I suggest you do the same.

No one was present during my most recent visit on an early Thursday morning this past December.

The majority of those buried here are from the surrounding Santa Ysabel Reservation.

It’s a beautiful little cemetery.

You gotta have Faith.

The Grotto of Our Lady is located next to the chapel.

Father Edmond LaPointe was a Canadian Missionary who worked at Santa Ysabel in 1903 and eventually erected the new church that stands today. After he died in 1932, his wish to be buried in the shadow of the chapel was granted. His grave lies next to the museum sidewalk.

The museum is full of old artifacts and pictures, including historic photos of some of the local Indians, old padres and the Mission itself.

Display cases hold Indian sandals, baskets, tools and bowls.

There’s also a piece of the floor tile from the original chapel.

Keep those evil serpents out and shut the door behind you!

Bells were vitally important to daily life at any mission. The bells were rung at mealtimes, to call the Mission residents to work and to religious services, during births and funerals, to signal the approach of a ship or returning missionary, and at other times; novices were instructed in the intricate rituals associated with the ringing of the mission bells. In 1846, two bells, the oldest in Alta California, were purchased from Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Conchó (Our Lady of Loreto) in Loreto, Baja California Sur, Mexico in exchange for six burro loads of barley and wheat. The bells were inscribed: “N.S. De Loreto 1723” and “San Pedro 1767.” On a summer night, in 1926, the bells disappeared, apparently stolen. The day after they disappeared, a local named Jose Maria Osuna found the clappers (bell ringers) and took them home for safekeeping. After Osuna’s death, the clappers were passed down to others, until they were eventually returned to the Mission in 1959. In 1966, a remnant of one of the bells was discovered; details regarding where and how it was found have never been revealed. In 1993, a local molder named Ed Schwaesdall and his son John struck a new bell (made mostly of brass and copper) and donated it to the Mission in honor of the installation’s 175th anniversary. In 2012, a piece of one of the mission’s original two bells was recovered after the unearthing of an anonymous account of them in an oral history transcription. In remembrance of the bells, Steven Berardi made a carving called “Angel of the Lost Bells.” – Wikipedia

A small gift shop sells various religious and Native American items near the parking lot but it is often closed during the weekends.


Near the front of the property, stands an oasis of trees with a well and windmill. In 1963, The University of California discovered the site of the original buildings, then only “faintly visible under the pasture grass.” The original Mission’s tile floor, where 500 Indians received baptism in 1818, extends more than 300 feet from this site.

This display of “Flying Jesus on the Cross” can also be found in the same area.

A re-creation of a Mission vineyard is located near the entrance.

23013 state Route 79, Santa Ysabel. 32.5 miles East of I15 via S4, California 67, and California 78 (or East on 78 from Escondido or North on 79 from I8 or, if coming from the Pala Asistencia, just stay on 76). The chapel is approximately 5.5 miles South of the 76/79 intersection and 1.4 miles North of the town of Santa Ysabel.


Mission Santa Ysabel

23013 CA-79, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070