5 Beautiful Catholic Churches on the Beach

Next time you’re in the state, take the time to visit one of these beautiful Catholic churches

ABOVE: Interior of the San Carlos de Carmel Mission
ABOVE: Interior of the San Carlos de Carmel Mission (photo: All photos by Jim Graves)

Many people come to California to enjoy our beaches and the Pacific Ocean. Next time you’re in the state and are headed to the beach, take the time to enjoy one of our beautiful Catholic churches located on—or near—California’s beaches. Here are a few you might like to check out:


San Carlos de Carmelo Mission (Carmel Mission), Carmel-by-the-Sea, California (https://carmelmission.org/)

Carmel is a wealthy, quaint community on the beach with many art galleries, shops and restaurants. Carmel has many famous residents; actor Clint Eastwood, for example, served a term as mayor in the 1980s. It is also home to Carmel Mission, the second of California’s 21 missions.

Carmel was founded by St. Junípero Serra in 1770 and relocated to its current site in 1771. Construction of its buildings began in 1771; most of the principal buildings were completed by 1793. It has been restored to look much like it did in 1793. It has the unique distinction of being the burial site for Fr. Serra; he died in 1784 and was interred beneath the church floor. Also interred there are Fr. Serra’s close friends and fellow Spanish Franciscans, Fathers Juan Crespi and Fermin Lasuen.

Pope John XXIII designated the mission a minor basilica in 1961. It is also a National Historic Landmark. It is a parish of the Diocese of Monterey with daily Masses and Saturday confessions. Take a self-guided tour of the mission grounds, or, for groups of 15+ during the week, take a docent-guided tour. There is a gift shop, and the mission is a quick walk to the beach.

The mission is a popular site for weddings, so you might run into wedding groups on the weekends. The mission also welcomes rotating art exhibits, generally mission-themed traditional art. As with all the missions, restoration is ongoing. Much work has been recently completed restoring the mission’s paintings and statues. One of the mission’s museum rooms tells the story of such restoration work.


Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, California (http://princeofpeaceabbey.org/)

Prince of Peace Abbey is a Benedictine Monastery founded in 1958. It is located on a hill in the city of Oceanside, and has great city and valley views, as well as of the Pacific Ocean. Its members follow a daily schedule and are typically involved in the domestic duties of running a monastery rather than outside apostolates. Individuals and groups can use the Abbey for Days of Recollection and Retreats. There is also a gift shop inside the Visitor Center which offers a variety of religious items. There are private areas reserved only for the monks, but the gift shop, library, prayer walk with outdoor Stations of the Cross and cemetery are open to the public. Although not far from the city, the Abbey has a country-like, back-to-nature atmosphere, with many walking trails.

The Abbey has daily Mass open to the public, as well as prayers throughout the day offered by the monks. The church is more contemporary than traditional, but “faithful traditional” which is arguably well done with much artwork. An adoration chapel is separate from the church, for those who wish to spend some quiet time with Our Lord.


Shrine of St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer, Santa Cruz, California (https://www.shrinestjoseph.com/)

The Shrine of St. Joseph is operated by the Oblates of St. Joseph and is open to the public daily for Mass at 11 a.m. and confession 30 minutes before Mass. It overlooks Monterey Bay and is right along the beach in Santa Cruz. The Oblates are a smaller community founded by St. Joseph Marello (1844-95) in Italy in the 19th century. St. Joseph Marello encouraged his community to imitate the virtues and qualities of St. Joseph as they began their work, which included serving the elderly, disabled and orphaned.

In 1931, the Oblates came to California to serve its Italian immigrants. The community wanted to establish a California seminary, and, in 1949, was given a unique opportunity after praying a novena to St. Joseph. A wealthy family deeded the Oblates a prime seven-acre site along the beach in Santa Cruz, a resort area about an hour’s drive southwest from San Jose. The family’s only stipulation was that the site be used for religious purposes. Construction of a chapel and seminary began, and, in 1952, the first Mass was offered in the chapel. The Bishop of Monterey-Fresno, Joseph Willinger (1886-1973), granted permission for pilgrimages to the shrine. A lack of funding prevented completion of the shrine until 1993, when it was officially designated the “Shrine of St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer.” The former Bishop of Monterey, Sylvester Ryan, used the occasion to encase a relic of St. Joseph Marello in the chapel’s altar. A prominent statue of Marello also greets visitors as they approach the chapel. Today, the Shrine Chapel is a place of devotion for the Oblate community and visitors. It features many fine pieces of religious art, the highlight of which is a six-by-eight-foot carving of St. Joseph with Mary and the boy Jesus. There is also an art exhibit dedicated to St. Joseph, featuring scenes from his life, and a bookstore featuring a variety of religious literature. The bookstore is open 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.; the chapel is open 7 a.m. to sunset. The facilities can be rented by religious groups, so there might be retreat or conference going on when you’re there. The grounds are well maintained.

The Oblates pride themselves on their availability to the public. Knock on the door and ask for a priest for confession or spiritual advice, they’ll drop what they’re doing and see you. There are a variety of feasts and devotions celebrated at the shrine. 


San Buenaventura Mission, Ventura, California (http://www.sanbuenaventuramission.org/)

Mission San Buenaventura is the ninth of the 21 California missions founded by Spanish Franciscan missionaries, and the last to be founded by St. Junípero Serra himself in 1782. It was named for 13th-century Franciscan Saint Bonaventure, a Doctor of the Church.

Work on the historic church began in 1792 and was completed in 1809. The main church seats about 365; there is also a small Serra Chapel within the church. The chapel is attractive and well-suited for prayer and the sacraments. Some of its artwork and lighting fixtures have undergone renovations. The grounds are beautiful.

The mission has a colorful history. In 1812, the padres and Indian neophytes had to flee the mission temporarily because of a series of earthquakes and an accompanying tidal wave; the Mexican government seized control of the Mission in 1834 and eventually sold it to private parties. The Catholic Church regained control of the property in 1862, after President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation declaring the Mexican government’s actions unjust and illegal. The historic church has undergone some alterations and restorations over the years, including replacement of its roof in 1976.

The Old Mission is open to visitors daily, and there are daily Masses and weekend confessions. It is located in downtown Ventura, just a few blocks from the beach.


San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, California (http://www.sancarloscathedral.org/)

San Carlos is one of California’s historic churches. It was founded as a mission by Fr. Junípero Serra in 1770. The mission was moved a year later to Carmel, but the church remained as a chapel for soldiers of the Monterey presidio. The current sandstone church was completed in 1794. It is the oldest continuously functioning church in California as well as the state’s first stone church.

It is a beautiful church, built in the Spanish colonial style. It was elevated to the status of a cathedral in 1849. It was dedicated as a national landmark in 1961. Herbert Hoover, who would later become President of the United States, was married there in 1899. (Hoover was Protestant, but since there was no minister available at the time, the parish priest was given a special dispensation to perform a civil ceremony.) There is a Heritage Center on-site which is staffed by docents. The docents can take you on a tour, showing you the historic buildings, beautiful grounds, artifacts and old photos.

It has daily Mass and weekend confessions. The beach is just a few blocks away, so take a stroll over and enjoy the ocean afterward.


BELOW: (1) Exterior of the Carmel Mission; (2) Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, statue of Jesus and Mary; (3) Prince of Peace Abbey, chapel exterior; (4) Prince of Peace Abbey, chapel interior; (5) San Buenaventura Mission exterior; (6) San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, exterior; (7) San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, interior; (8) Shrine of St. Joseph, exterior; (9) St. Joseph Marello, Shrine of St. Joseph.

This post was updated Feb. 28.