The Carmel Mission (3080 Rio Rd., 831/624-1271, www.carmelmission.org , Mon.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m., adults $5, children $1), formally called the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, was Father Junipero Serra’s personal favorite among his California mission churches.
He lived, worked, and eventually died here, and visitors today can see a replica of his cell. A working Catholic parish remains part of the complex, so please be respectful when taking the self-guided tour.
The rambling buildings and courtyard gardens show some wear, but enough restoration work has gone into the church and living quarters to make them attractive and eminently visitable.
The Carmel Mission has a small memorial museum in a building off the second courtyard, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this small and outdated space is the only historical display. In fact, the “museum” runs through many of the buildings, showing a small slice of the lives of the 18th- and 19th-century friars.
The highlight of the complex is the church with its gilded altar front, its shrine to the Virgin Mary, the grave of Father Serra, and ancillary chapel dedicated to the memory of Father Serra.
Round out your visit by walking out into the gardens to admire the flowers and fountains and to read the grave markers in the small cemetery.