In 1769, El Camino Real was just a roughly hewn path begun by Franciscan priests and Spanish soldiers. Once landed and assembled at San Diego Bay, soldiers under command of Gaspar de Portola ande Pedro Fages escorted the padres on a doubl endeavor: to find the Bay of Monterey and build a presidio and a mission there. The trek took them six hundred miles and they traveled for seven months unsuccessfully. But they had forged what would become known as el camino real and the mission trail. Returning to at last discover his objective on a second expedition, the trail became more familiar and practiced. Later historians have declared little traffic on el camino real in its founding, but soldier couriers and escorts, esquadras of soldados de cuera on patrol, and eventually ox-drawn carretas bring pobladores to the pueblos. Most supplies and contraband arrived seldom along the coast. With the founding of Nuestra Signora de Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego de Acala, more and more traffic traveled the king's road. Each Mission was situated in areas where large populations of indians lived in villages called rancherias. The padres were not knowledgeable about where the soil was fertile enough to sustain a settlement. Great famines and diseases swept up and down el camino real along with flaming political rumors. As time progressed and more missions were built, the crude trail became packed down with horse, cattle, and cart traffic. It was not, however, until the last Mission in Sonoma was completed in 1823, that el camino real was a stabilized route. El Camino Real connected the twenty one Franciscan Missions, the Pueblos and Presidios in the early days of California. Many of the Missions have been restored and the Kings Highway now is a magnificent modern road leading from San Diego, via Rose Canon, to Oceanside, then inland to Mission San Luis Rey and Pall from Oceanside to Mission San Juan Capistrano, Myford-Irving, Tustin, Santa Ana, Orange, Anaheim, Fullerton, LA Habra, Whittier, Mission San Gabriel to El Monte, Puente, Pomona, Claremont, San Bernardino, Redlands, Colton and Riverside. From Los Angeles El Camino Real leads to Hollywood, through Cahuenga Pass to Sherman Way thence to Mission San Fernando from Sherman Way to Calabasas, Camarillo, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Gaviota, Mission Santa Ines, Mission La Purisima, Los Olivos, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, San Miguel, Jolon, Mission San Antonio, Soledad, Salinas to Monterey and Mission Carmel, or from Salinas to Mission San Juan Bautista, San Jose, Mission San Jose, Hayward, San Leandro, to Oakland from San Jose to Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Redwood City, San
Mateo, Colombo, Ocean View, to Mission de los Dolores and San Francisco. Across the bay, El Camino Real leads from San Rafael to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. The greater portion of El Camino Real was used to lay out California Highway 101, a part of the historic system of California highways, marked by the unique and picturesque Mission Bell Guideposts which originally gave distances between the principal towns and directions to the Missions. The bells are placed along the road not merely as landmarks and guides to travelers but as testimonials to the work of the Franciscan padres who were the pioneers that settled California beginning in 1769. The miniature bells sold in mission gift shops since 1914, are replicas of the hundreds of Mission Bell Guidepost Markers found along the El Camino Real. Some of the old inventory made from 1914 to 1955 is still available from California Bell. The idea of placing a marker along the highway and in front of each Mission did not come about until August 15, 1906 when a cast iron 85 pound bell and piping designed by Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes was placed into the ground at the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles, also know as the Plaza Church near Union Depot in Los Angeles. The bells were inscribed, "El Camino Real 1769-1906." The dates reflect the founding of the first Mission in 1769 and the dedication of the first bell in Los Angeles on August 1906. The plan had been to place one bell along each mile of the El Camino Real Highway, in front of each Mission, and also selected historical landmarks. By 1913, a goal of 450 bells was reached. One bell was placed in front of each Mission and the balances were placed along the El Camino Real Highway. Since then many bells were lost to road reconstruction and theft. After feeble attempts over the past 50 years, John Kolstad, now owner of Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes' original California Bell Company, and Keith Robinson, Principal Landscape Architect of Caltrans, have teamed together and installed 555 original El Camino Real Bells along Highway 101. These bells have been installed on Caltrans property from Los Angeles to San Francisco. California Bell is now working with cities to reinstall the original bells in the remaining areas of the original route. From Sonoma to San Francisco, and Los Angeles to San Diego, new bells will be appearing along El Camino Real. El Camino Real was the historic 600-mile California Mission Trail, connecting the former Alta California's 21 missions, 4 presidios, and several pueblos, stretching from Mission San Diego de Alcal谩 in San Diego in the south to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma in the north. In fact, any road under the direct jurisdiction of the Spanish crown and its viceroys was a camino real. Examples of such roads ran between principal settlements throughout Spain and its colonies such as New Spain. Most caminos reales had names apart from the appended camino real. Once Mexico won its independence from Spain, no road in Mexico, including California, was a camino real. The name was rarely used after that and was only revived in the American period in connection with the boosterism associated with the Mission Revival movement of the early 20th century. The route originated in Baja California Sur, Mexico, at the site of Misi贸n San Bruno in San Bruno (the first mission established in Las Californias), though it was only maintained as far south as Loreto. Today, many streets throughout California that either follow or run parallel to this historic route still bear the "El Camino Real".
Between 1683 and 1834, Spanish missionaries established a series of religious outposts throughout the present-day California and the present-day Baja California and Baja California Sur. To facilitate overland travel, mission settlements were approximately 30 miles apart, so that they were separated by one long day's ride on horseback along the 600-mile long El Camino Real. Heavy freight movement was practical only via water. Tradition has it that the padres sprinkled mustard seeds along the trail in order to mark it with bright yellow flowers. In 1912, California began paving a section of the historic route in San Mateo County. Construction of a two-lane concrete highway began in front of the historic Uncle Tom's Cabin, an inn in San Bruno that was built in 1849 and demolished exactly 100 years later. There was little traffic initially and children used the pavement for roller skating until traffic increased. By the late 1920s, California began the first of numerous widening projects of what later became part of ROUTE 101. Today the route through San Mateo and Santa Clara counties is designated as State Route 82. An unpaved portion of the original Spanish road has been preserved just east of Mission San Juan Bautista in San Juan Bautista, California. Today, several modern highways cover parts of the historic route, though large sections are on city streets Some older local roads that parallel these routes also have the name. Many streets throughout California today bear the name of this famous road, often with little factual relation to the original; but Mission Street in San Francisco and its counterpart in Santa Cruz do correspond to the historical route. A surviving, unpaved stretch of the road has been preserved next to the old Spanish mission in San Juan Bautista; this road actually follows part of the San Andreas Fault. In 1892, Anna Pitcher of initiated an effort to preserve the as-yet uncommemorated route of Alta Californiaâ€™s Camino Real, an effort adopted by the California Federation of Women's Clubs in 1902. Modern El Camino Real was one of the first state highways in California. Given the lack of standardized road signs at the time, it was decided to place distinctive bells along the route, hung on supports in the form of an 11-foot high shepherd's crook, also described as "a Franciscan walking stick." The first of 450 bells were unveiled on August 15, 1906 at the Plaza Church in the Pueblo near Olvera Street in Los Angeles. The original organization which installed the bells fragmented, and the Automobile Club of Southern California and associated groups cared for the bells from the mid-1920s through 1931. The State took over bell maintenance in 1933. Most of the bells eventually disappeared due to vandalism, theft or simple loss due to the relocation or rerouting of highways and roads. After a reduction in the number of bells to around 80, the State began replacing them, at first with concrete, and later with iron. A design first produced in 1960 by Justin Kramer of Los Angeles was the standard until the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) began a restoration effort in 1996. Keith Robinson, Principal Landscape Architect at Caltrans developed an El Camino Real restoration program which resulted in the installation of 555 El Camino Real Bell Markers in 2005. The Bell Marker consists of a 460mm diameter cast metal bell set atop a 75mm diameter Schedule 40 pipe column that is attached to a concrete foundation using anchor rods. The original 1906 bell molds were used to fabricate the replacement bells. The replacement and original bells were produced by the California Bell Company, are dated 1769 to 1906, and include
a designer's copyright notice. El Camino Real is designated as California Historical Landmark #784. There are two state historical markers honoring the road: one located near Mission San Diego de AlcalĂĄ in San Diego and the other one near Mission San Francisco de AsĂs in San Francisco.