San Antonio Missions National Park
The city of San Antonio was built around missions, set up in the 1700s by the Spanish to resemble the towns of their homeland. The small, gated communities had farmland, churches, craftsman workshops and living spaces. They closed in the 1800s but four of these walled communities have been preserved and can be visited in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. They’re dotted along the San Antonio River, starting with Mission Concepcion, just south of downtown. Explore by car, on foot or by bike.
The four fortresses — Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada — are easy to find if you’re driving. Another option is the Mission Hike and Bike Trail, eight miles (13 kilometers) of beautiful trails that wind between each site along the river, through old neighborhoods and parkland. This trail is easy enough for even young children as it’s mostly flat, and is a great way to see this area’s natural and historical wonders.
The grand buildings that comprise the mission have awe-inspiring arches, carvings, colorful frescoes and bell towers. The surrounding fertile farmland supplied much of the produce for the blossoming city of San Antonio.
The beautiful church at Mission Concepcion is the best preserved building. It still has remnants of original paintings on the walls and ceilings. San Jose was the most prosperous mission — 300 people once lived here — and the granary and gristmill have been restored. This is where you’ll also find the Visitors’ Center. At Mission San Juan, the chapel and bell tower are still in use. And the acequia (irrigation system) at Mission Espada still partially operates a aqueduct and dam.
Learn more about daily life during the 18th-century Spanish Colonial period and take a free, guided tour through one of the missions. They run daily and last for roughly 45 minutes to an hour. There are movie sessions, a small museum and regularly scheduled church services, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time at this historical park.