My personal favorite of San Antonio's attractions are its old Spanish Missions. It starts with the Alamo and then follows the San Antonio river south. All the missions are still active churches. Mission Concepion is the next mission south and was established in 1716.
In 1718 Franciscans and Spanish representatives established the first Spanish colonial mission in the San Antonio area. Within 13 years, there were five missions located along the San Antonio River, meant to teach the natives of the area about Christianity and to make them Spanish citizens. Descendants of these settlers and the natives still live in the area and it is interesting to wander through the ruins/remains of these missions and the associated communities and imagine the past. You can pick up a map of the Mission Trail driving route from the City Information Center in San Antonio or (preferably) at the park Visitors Center at the Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo. The four missions that constitute the national historic park are: Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, which was founded in 1720; Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Cocepcion; Mission San Francisco de la Espada; and Mission San Juan Capistrano (all founded in 1731). The fifth mission was the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as "The Alamo".Hours are 9 AM to 5 PM daily (the Visitors Center opens at 8:45). Admission is free. Photos Coming Soon!
For more info and photos see my San Antonio Missions National Historic Park Page (work in progress).
I decided to tour the missions because of the article in 1000 Things to See Before You Die: USA Edition. There are four churches that make up the mission trail: Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission San Jose, and Mission Espada. The journey took almost an entire day but was well worth it. The history of the Spanish missions are quite interesting a true testament to the spirit of Texas. Each mission has a different past and interesting story with it. The churches are all functional and have congregations that attend.
The buildings that are still erect are very well restored and it doesn’t take too much of a stretch of the imagination to have a blast to the past. These missions were set up to convert the Native American tribes to Christianity. Such work was done throughout the area and much is left of the Spanish’s huge effort.
Because it is a National Historical Park there are park rangers at each stop, though I never did find one at Mission San Juan where I could not find anyone available. (A bit spooky, as the ground was once sacred burial grounds for the Native American tribes.) You can pick up a passport-type document for kids and kids at heart. The rangers have individual stamps at each park to stamp at. It’s fun to see your pamphlet get stamped as you continue on your journey.
I definitely do not recommend walking this path, as it’s very long and can be extremely hot in the summer. However, for experienced bikers this could be quite the adventure with stops at each mission to rest.
There are guided tours available through the Visitors Centers given by National Park rangers: These tours last 45-60 minutes. Meet at the visitor center or information center of the mission you want to tour.
10:00 am Mission San José
11:00 am Mission San José
1:30 pm Mission San Juan (staff permitting)
2:00 pm Mission San José
Mission Espada (staff permitting)
3:00 pm Mission San José
Mission San Juan (staff permitting)
3:30 pm Mission Espada (staff permitting)
All missions are open 9am-5pm Daily except for Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Years Day.
Lived in San Antonio for many years and have visited all 5 missions in the area. Also have taken groups of Boy Scouts and tourists to the missions. The Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero) is more than a mission, it is the Shrine of Texas Liberty. Some tourists are disappointed that it does not look as it appears in the movies. That is because the movies used a set in Brackettville, Texas, which used to be an attraction in its own right. The truth is that the Alamo today looks nothing now like it did in the battle as the iconic roof was a later addition, while walls and buildings were pulled down and altered. The mission was never quite finished before it was secularized. In fact, the mission was relocated several times (the original site being west of San Pedro Springs) so it was always a bit dysfunctional. Worth a visit, but to really see a more accurate picture of the missions you have to go to Conception, San Jose, San Juan and Espada. The Alamo is in a heavily urban area, while Conception is more in a neighborhood, and the remaining three missions have a progressively more rural setting with larger intact grounds. The people of San Antonio have worked hard to try to make for better connections between the missions (spread out in a line of about 10 miles on the San Antonio River) by extending The Riverwalk south. If in San Antonio, see the Alamo, but plan to visit more of the missions. If visiting during Fiesta, there is a MissionFest held at San Jose. The missions are a living heritage site in that there are still descendants of the Canary Island settlers and original native population in San Antonio as well as family of those killed at The Alamo.