6 More Beautiful Churches in California

A few more splendid and inspiring churches to see on your next visit to California.

ABOVE: Mission Dolores in San Francisco (photo courtesy Jim Graves). BELOW: Sacred Heart Chapel, Sacred Heart Retreat House, Alhambra (photo courtesy Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart).
ABOVE: Mission Dolores in San Francisco (photo courtesy Jim Graves). BELOW: Sacred Heart Chapel, Sacred Heart Retreat House, Alhambra (photo courtesy Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart). (photo: Multiple)

Continuing my list of great churches to visit in California, here are a few in different parts of the state:


Mission Dolores, San Francisco

This small mission is located in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District. You’ve seen its cemetery in the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo (where actress Kim Novak visits the grave of Carlotta Valdes), or you might remember its chapel as the backdrop for the Henry Fonda-Lucille Ball wedding scene in the 1968 Yours, Mine and Ours. Founded in 1776, five days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Mission Dolores served the Ohlone Indians who were once the sole residents of what became the City of San Francisco. St. Junípero Serra himself said Mass there. On one side is the newer Basilica church and on the other a portion of the original cemetery. Inside you’ll enjoy Spanish religious art, including a retablo with images of saints and statues along the narrow structure’s walls.


Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly Hills

If you want to visit a church frequented over the years by Hollywood stars, visit Good Shepherd in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Founded in 1923, it’s located off busy Santa Monica Boulevard. Behind it are swanky Beverly Hills homes, across and down the street are high rise hotels and businesses. The famous shopping mecca Rodeo Drive is two blocks away. Prominent features include a large crucifix and colorful stained glass windows, twin towers topped by golden crosses and a statue of Jesus holding a lamb. Celebrities married at Good Shepherd include Elizabeth Taylor (her first wedding), Loretta Young, Rod Stewart and Mark Wahlberg. Celebrity funerals held at the church include those of Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra, Danny Thomas, Carmen Miranda, Eva Gabor, William Frawley, Alfred Hitchcock, Don Adams and Merv Griffin. Parishioners of Good Shepherd have included Bing Crosby, Bob Newhart, Jimmy Durante, Gene Kelly, Ricardo Montalban and Rudolph Valentino. If you’ve seen the 1954 Judy Garland movie A Star is Born, you’ll see it in the funeral scene.


St. Teresa of Avila Church, Bodega

St. Teresa is a pretty, historic church southwest of Santa Rosa, and is part of the Diocese of Santa Rosa in Northern California. It is a small, white wooden church with a steeple sitting on a hilltop overlooking the rural community of Bodega. It was built in 1860, and dedicated by the Archbishop of San Francisco, Joseph Alemany, in 1862. It was expanded in 1872 to serve the growing numbers of Italian immigrants who came to the region to engage in dairy farming. It has undergone a series of modifications since, including major restorations 1954-55 and 1967-74. A historic cemetery, Calvary, is nearby. For the past 50 years, St. Teresa has been part of St. Philip the Apostle Church in Occidental (St. Philip is a pretty historic church as well, it’s about eight miles away and worth a visit). In 1953, photographer Ansel Adams helped make St. Teresa famous by making it the subject of his black & white photograph “Church and Road.” Ten years later, in 1963, the school next door was a filming location for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds,” from which terrified children run from attacking crows. According to local residents, Hitchcock attended Mass at the church. The church is a historic landmark of the State of California. Also notable about the building is that unlike most churches, it has no center aisle, but two side aisles.


St. Vincent de Paul Church, Los Angeles

St. Vincent de Paul is a beautiful historic parish in Los Angeles, located just south of downtown off the 110 freeway. Ninety years ago it was a wealthier, desirable community in which to live; today, it is a rougher, inner city community. St. Vincent’s was established as a parish in 1886. Its magnificent church was built 1923-25. Its architect was Albert Martin, well-known in his time, who also designed St. Alphonsus Church in Fresno and St. Monica Church in Santa Monica (Bing Crosby’s church in “Going My Way). St. Vincent’s was built in the Spanish baroque style with a mix of California architecture, and at a 45-degree angle at the intersection of Adams & Figueroa. It has an ornate exterior, including its bell tower, entryway and dome over the altar area. The interior has a stunning traditional altar which is just as ornate, and high ceilings and arches. It has many beautiful statues and stained glass windows. In an effort to preserve its surroundings during a changing time, as well as recognize its historical significance, the City designated a monument in 1971. Its visual beauty has not been missed by Hollywood movie makers; it has been the backdrop for many films. In the 1999 film “End of Days,” for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger used its interior for a riveting special effects battle with the devil. It’s also just a few minutes away from USC and the Los Angeles Coliseum.


St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco

St. Dominic’s is a bustling parish in the City, and is among its most beautiful parishes. The Dominican friars first came to San Francisco in 1850; the first St. Dominic’s church was built in 1873. A larger church was built in the 1880s, but collapsed in the 1906 earthquake. The current church on that site was completed in 1928; nine flying buttresses were added in the 1990s to make the church seismically stable. It is a magnificent Gothic-style church, including a carved marble altar from Italy, carved oak side altars, shrines and confessionals, many impressive statues, paintings, stained glass windows; call the parish about taking a docent tour. St. Dominic’s also houses the Shrine of St. Jude and recently opened a columbarium, where the cremated remains of loved ones can be interred. St. Dominic’s is staffed by the Dominican Fathers of the Western Province; its pastor is Fr. Michael Hurley, a Thomas Aquinas College grad. This parish has been particularly well known in the City over the years for its large young adult community.


Sacred Heart Chapel, Sacred Heart Retreat House, Alhambra

This is the church at the motherhouse of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It is a traditional house of worship with an elevated white marble altar and many statues. (My personal favorite is the Angel Raphael holding a fish, from the Book of Tobit). The grounds are open to the public as it is a retreat facility; visitors can make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament if they stop by the front office for a visitor’s badge. Mass is offered on most Sundays at 11:30 a.m. for those on retreat, but the public is welcome. The sisters always invite solid homilists to lead retreats and preach. Walk through the well-maintained grounds afterward, which feature religious statues and places for outdoor prayer. You may have the opportunity to meet one of the Carmelite sisters while there; they are orthodox, cheerful, welcoming and wear the full habit. Visitors can purchase religious items at the Sacred Heart gift shop. The sisters have other nice facilities in the region; about a 20-minute drive east takes you to their Santa Teresita campus in Duarte on which is located beautiful St. Joseph Chapel.