El Camino Real Mission Bell Project

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Photo of Mission Bell on Highway 101
El Camino Real Mission Bell Project


Caltrans Landscape Architecture Program began in 1996 to fulfill its vision to restore the historic El Camino Real Mission Bell Marker system from San Diego to Sonoma. The portion of the system from San Diego to Los Angeles was not addressed by the restoration project because those bells are mostly located on local streets outside of the State’s jurisdiction. The first phase of the restoration project, between Los Angeles to San Francisco, was completed by three separate construction contracts in early 2005. The second and final phase of the restoration project was completed between San Francisco and Sonoma by a single construction contract in late 2012. The Mission Bell Marker system as originally envisioned in the earlier part of the last century has finally been realized. Two federal Transportation Enhancement grants totaling nearly $2M were received by Caltrans in 2000 and 2010 to fund the restoration of the Mission Bell Marker system on the legislatively designated El Camino Real from Orange County to Sonoma. Funding was received for the fabrication and installation of approximately 585 Mission Bell Markers, placed approximately one to two miles apart along the roadside in the northbound and southbound directions on State Routes 101, 82, 37, 121, and 12. This includes the Bay Area -District 4 (Oakland), the Central Coast - District 5 (San Luis Obispo), and the Southland - District 7 (Los Angeles).


The Mission Bell Marker system has existed on the historic route of the El Camino Real since 1906. The original marker system intended installation of bells one mile apart along the entire length of the El Camino Real from San Diego to Sonoma. By 1913 over 450 markers were placed on this historic route. Over the years, the bells were removed from the roadside for various reasons including damage, vandalism, and theft. In 1959 the Division of Highways was legislatively mandated to maintain the marker system. Legislation in 1974 reiterated that responsibility. Beginning in 1974 Caltrans tried to comply with this mandate however, constraints in maintenance resources have limited the success Caltrans has had in the maintenance of the system. Prior to this restoration project, less than 100 of the original Mission Bell Markers remained. The Landscape Architecture Program in Caltrans Headquarters developed the statewide restoration project and produced the contract documents with support work for Environmental Determination, Right of Way Certification, and Construction administration provided by the Caltrans Districts where the installation work was performed. The Mission Bell Marker consists of an 18 inch diameter cast metal bell set atop a 3 inch diameter Schedule 40 pipe column that is attached to a reinforced concrete foundation using anchor rods.

Photo of Raising a Mission Bell
Original El Camino Real Mission Bell Installation

The bells are exact copies of the original 1906 bells; in fact the original bell molds were used to fabricate the bells. Mission Bell Marker locations were chosen based on safety, constructability, visibility and scenic quality of the site. Spacing between marker locations varied based on existing site conditions and limitations. An average spacing of 1 to 2 miles was sought when identifying the locations. Mission Bell Markers located within the roadside of a state route are maintained by Caltrans. Public comments concerning the maintenance of the markers should be directed to the local Caltrans Maintenance department. Use this link http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/maint/msrsubmit/ to submit a question or comment. The maintenance of Mission Bell Markers located on local streets that are not a part of the State Highway System is the responsibility of the local entity.

Mission Bell Map

Photo of Mission Bell Map
Origianl El Camino Real Mission Bell Installation

A map highlighting the location of the Mission Bells can be found by clicking on this link.

Project Personnel

Photo of Original Mission Bell Installation
Original El Camino Real Mission Bell Installation

Project Initiation
Elbert Cox,, Principal Landscape Architect - (916) 654-6200

Project Manager, HQ
James Williamson, Landscape Architecture Program - (916) 654-5636