While it’s possible to find a slice of California’s mission history throughout much of the state, the one place that captures all 21 of these sites is in Sonoma County.
It’s appropriate that the California Missions Museum is tucked into a back corner of the Cline Family Cellars property. This is because on July 4, 1823, Father Jose Altimira founded Mission San Francisco Solano by erecting a cross on what is now the Cline property. The actual mission was eventually built five miles away near the town square of Sonoma.
The replicas of each mission were commissioned for the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco. When they went to auction several years ago Nancy Cline bought the collection for more than $20,000. The museum opened in 2006.
Pre-pandemic the museum, located on the back of the winery property, was open every day the winery was open.
When I was there in early February the museum was being used as the wine club members’ tasting room. No one stopped us from meandering around. And in a follow-up call to the winery an employee said people could visit the museum for free Friday-Sunday.
The unfortunate part of how it’s set up now is that it doesn’t feel very welcoming. In some ways it’s like you are crashing a private party with the wine tasting that you can’t partake in.
Plus, with how close some of the tables are to the displays, it was hard to see everything. In addition, while more things were obviously on display upstairs in a balcony area, the stairs themselves were cordoned off.
While I realize businesses are still adjusting to life post-pandemic, it’s shameful Cline isn’t doing all it can to make the museum more accessible and to welcome those who are visiting it. Not a single person at the winery acknowledged our presence.
Even with the off-putting reception, the museum was still an interesting place to visit. A replica of each of the missions (and these only represent the ones in present day California, not all of the ones that are in Baja) is enclosed in acrylic cases. Many look similar, but all are unique in their own right.
At one end of the wood building is a large stained glass window that came from Mission Dolores in San Francisco.
A book meant to look like it was written centuries ago in calligraphy is at each mission display telling a bit about that particular site. For instance, about Santa Cruz, the 12th mission, it says, “In 1840 an earthquake wrecked the church building and a tidal wave completed the ruin.”
Regarding the Santa Barbara mission, museum-goers learn that today it is being used as a college for Franciscan priests.
As for Mission Solano, the one in Sonoma, “The site was purchased in 1903 by Mr. William Randolph Hearst, the publisher, and he deeded it to the state of California as an historic landmark. Since then it has had the best of care.”
Address: Cline Family Cellars, 24737 Arnold Drive/Highway 121, Sonoma
Hours: Friday-Sunday when the winery is open