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Mission San Xavier del Bac

1950 W San Xavier Road, Tucson, Arizona

With its snow-white adobe bell towers and ornate facade rising out of the cacti-studded Sonoran Desert, Mission San Xavier del Bac embodies its nickname—the “White Dove of the Desert.” Founded by Jesuit missionaries in 1626, it’s among the oldest Catholic sites in the US, renowned for its unique architecture and rich iconography.

After admiring the mission’s facade, which dates back to the late 18th century, head inside to view the elaborate statuary, frescoes, and sculptures. Daily guided docent tours provide insight into the mission’s long history, religious heritage—it’s one of the few Arizona missions still led by Franciscans—and eclectic architecture, a mix of Spanish, Mexican, Baroque, and Native American elements. Be sure to visit the mission museum, where multimedia exhibitions focus on the mission’s history and restoration. Before you leave, take the time to light a prayer candle.

Sightseeing tours of Tucson typically include a visit to Mission San Xavier del Bac, while day trips from Phoenix often combine a tour of the mission with the historic town of Tombstone, Arizona.

  • Mission San Xavier del Bac is an important Catholic pilgrimage site, but it’s also a must-visit attraction for history buffs and architecture lovers, as it’s largely considered the country’s best example of Spanish Colonial architecture.
  • Entrance to the mission, the museum, and guided tours are free, but donations are welcomed.
  • The mission is a place of worship, so dress appropriately. If you're attending a summer service, bring a hand-held fan and water, as there’s no air conditioning inside.
  • There is an on-site gift shop and restrooms, and the church is accessible to both wheelchairs and strollers.

Mission San Xavier del Bac is located on the Tohono O'odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation, 10 miles (15 kilometers) south of Tucson. It’s about a 15-minute drive from downtown. There’s no public transport, so if you don’t have a vehicle, consider taking a taxi or joining a tour.

The mission is open daily to the public outside of service hours; there is a daily morning mass and several Sunday services. The church can fill up quickly, especially in the summer months, so arrive early if you want a seat.

Take a desert hike through the Saguaro National Park, venture underground to discover the natural wonders of the Kartchner Caverns, or ride a scenic tram through Sabino Canyon. For history enthusiasts: Add on a trip to the Spanish desert town of Tubac, visit the 17th-century mission of Tumacacori, or get a feel of the Wild West in Tombstone, a living museum based around an old gold-mining town.


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