California Department of Transportation


Q What are those mission bells I see on the 101 Freeway?

The bells have been in place since the early part of the century to mark the original route of "El Camino Real" from San Diego to Sonoma. The 700-mile-long El Camino Real linked California's 21 missions, which were founded by Father Junipero Serra and spaced one day's journey apart by horse. Over the years the El Caminio Real gave way to modern highways, primarily Routes 101 and 82. The bells were first paid for and erected by the El Camino Real Association in the early 1900s. Originally there were about 450 bells along El Camino Real, but because of theft and vandalism the number dwindled to about 75. In response, the Legislature appointed Caltrans as guardian of the bells in 1974, responsible for repairing or replacing them. Replacements are made of concrete, rather than cast iron, to discourage theft. The bells are located in the following counties: Los Angeles, Ventura, San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Mateo and Santa Clara. A mission bell exhibit is a permanent part of the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, complete with original cast-iron bells donated by Caltrans.