From Dirt Path to Icon: Museum Reveals El Camino Real’s Evolution

By October 17, 2023October 19th, 2023Press Releases

LOS ALTOS, CA (Oct 17, 2023) Once a humble dirt footpath, the historical transformation of the renowned El Camino Real that connects the 21 California Missions is a fascinating journey. Discover the story of this iconic road at Los Altos History Museum’s newest exhibition, “El Camino Real: Changing California,” on display November 9, 2023 to February 25, 2024.


The exhibition offers an exploration of the sometimes controversial history surrounding El Camino Real, shedding light on its profound impact on indigenous communities as the Spanish Missions were constructed. These Missions, strategically positioned a day’s horse ride apart, altered the course of history. Visitors can also learn about the women who played a pivotal role in immortalizing El Camino Real, adorning its path with symbolic bronze bells.


Exhibits Specialist Jordan Grealish emphasized the significance of this landmark, saying, “It’s an integral part of California’s heritage, and local residents have witnessed its evolution over the years.” Visitors will have the opportunity to see this evolution through artworks portraying the Missions, and photographs documenting the businesses and institutions that flourished along the route, including Sears, Lozano Brushless Car Wash, Chef Chu’s, L’Omelette, Marie Callender’s, and Stanford Shopping Center. Among the noteworthy artifacts, a refurbished bell marker will be on display, accompanied by its design schematics. The exhibition also explores how cruising the El Camino became a dominant part of the car culture of the 1950s and 1960s.

“As someone who hails from outside California, I find it fascinating to delve into the history of a road that holds such prominence in the state where I now reside,” said Grealish. “With this exhibition, our aim is to foster a deeper appreciation for the landscapes that surround us, especially for those who encounter El Camino Real in their daily lives.”

The Museum welcomes visitors Thursday – Sunday, noon – 4pm, with admission completely free. For more information about the exhibition, visit

Los Altos History Museum began in 1977 with the opening of the J. Gilbert Smith House historic farmhouse, built in 1905. In 2001, the Los Altos History Museum opened its modern building next door, which houses the Museum’s collections, permanent and changing exhibitsstore and administrative offices. The Museum and its grounds are available for rent during evenings and weekends. Its collections are owned by the City of Los Altos and are managed by an independent nonprofit organization, whose staff and volunteers are responsible for all programs and operations.

The Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, from noon-4pm. Admission is free. Tours of the J. Gilbert Smith House are available during open hours. The outdoor agricultural exhibit, gardens and picnic area are accessible beyond Museum hours. For more information, visit:, email, or phone 650.948.9427 x14.

Media Contact:
Los Altos History Museum: Elisabeth I. Ward, 650.948.9427 x10,