Celebrate Holy Week by taking in California’s religious roots

An image of Jesus is formed by light behind the altar of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.
An image of Jesus is formed by light behind the altar of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. NYT

Need to get away? Here are weekly tips on places to visit outside the Sacramento area.

For the more than 10 million Catholic adults in California, as well as for millions of other Christians, Holy Week, which starts this Sunday, is one of the busiest times of the year. In the works for many are all manner of Masses, services and other celebrations as well as kids’ vacations and Easter brunches. In Latin America, whole cities shut down during the week, and the beaches fill up with vacationing families.

California’s history is intertwined with that of the Roman Catholic Church, in particular, dating back to the founding of Spanish missions all along the Pacific Coast, from Misión San José del Cabo at the southern tip of Baja California up to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma.

The state’s Catholic numbers have grown in recent decades along with the state’s burgeoning Latino population, and that’s sparked the construction of stunning, new cathedrals and other Catholic buildings in Los Angeles, Oakland and other cities.

One of the most breathtaking newer cathedrals in the world is Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles (555 W. Temple St., 213-680-5200). Opened in 2002, this tan, modernist monument overlooks the 101 freeway and reveals its echoing marble-clad grandeur inside the main cathedral. The fine details are everywhere, from the towering bronze doors sculpted with 40 pre-Christian images to the long, swooping chandeliers hanging from the ceilings.

Another blockbuster take on the centuries-old form is Cathedral of Christ the Light in downtown Oakland (2121 Harrison St., 510-832-5057), which employs expanses of glass instead of concrete and marble to awe. The cathedral near Lake Merritt looks like a big, glass-wrapped boat or maybe a pope’s mitre from the outside. Inside, a latticework of rich dark wood envelops the worshipper.

Of course, the state is dotted with colonial-era churches, monasteries and missions, with many of them going on to sprout what became our most important cities.

Mission Dolores in San Francisco (3321 16th St., 415-621-8203) is still a stunner 240 years after it was dedicated. Its chapel’s adobe walls guide the worshipper down the length of the building, under painted ceiling beams, toward the glittering altar piece. Right next door is the towering basilica looking out on Dolores Park and Noe Valley.

St. Anne’s Church (Church Street) in the Sierra foothills town of Columbia harkens from the Gold Rush days, built by miners on the top of Kennebec Hill overlooking the town. Known as the first brick church in California, St. Anne’s is open for docent-led tours 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

Come Easter morning, one of the most sublime traditions in Northern California takes place on the top of Mt. Davidson, the highest spot of land in San Francisco, where a nondenominational Sunrise Service gets under way at 6:30 a.m. at the cross. The tradition started in 1923 and still draws crowds of worshippers and city officials.

Concerts by the Bay

What: “Soak up the Sun” with singer Sheryl Crow, and catch shows by Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers and comedian Dana Carvey and others through October during Humprey’s Concerts by the Bay.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, continuing through Sunday, Oct. 29

Where: Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay, 2241 Shelter Island Dr., San Diego

Cost: General admission ticket prices vary.


Easter parade

What: From pony rides to costume contests, the streets of San Francisco will be filled with Easter fun.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, April 16

Where: Union Street from Gough to Fillmore streets, San Francisco

Cost: Free


Air race

What: The Red Bull Air Race features light-weight planes speeding at low altitudes over the San Diego Bay.

When: 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, April 15-16

Where: Near 32nd Street and Harbor Drive, San Diego

Cost: From $20 to $375


Jessica Hice