AAA Travel Tips / Off the Beaten Path in San Antonio: The Mission Trail

Off the Beaten Path in San Antonio: The Mission Trail

AAA/Laurie Sterbens
By AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
July 08, 2019
Though it's tempting to while away your entire San Antonio vacation strolling, cruising and dining along the renowned River Walk, this destination has a fascinating history that includes the sites of five missions established along the San Antonio River in the early 1700s. Start your tour downtown with the Alamo, then pack a picnic lunch and venture out to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park for a scenic trip back in time to the area’s Spanish Colonial period.
The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas
AAA/Laurie Sterbens
The Alamo
300 Alamo Plaza
(210) 225-1391
Mission San Antonio de Valero, more commonly known as the Alamo, was established in 1718 and was the first mission on the San Antonio River. Originally built by the Spanish to educated Native Americans who had been converted to Christianity, it later became a fortress and the site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. Today visitors can relive the historic battle through regularly scheduled talks and guided tours. Along with the mission-era church and barracks, the complex includes a gift shop, museum, gardens, the Calvary Courtyard, a living-history encampment and a film.
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Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna (Mission Concepcion) in San Antonio Missions National Historic Park
AAA/Laurie Sterbens
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña
807 Mission Rd.
(210) 932-1001
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, or Mission Concepción, was the site of the Battle of Concepción, the first major battle of the Texas Revolution. A National Historic Landmark, it's reputedly the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States. The building originally featured beautiful, brightly painted frescoes, and you can still see traces of them on the exterior. Restored artwork can be viewed inside the church.
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Mission San Francisco de la Espada (Mission Espada) in San Antonio Missions National Historic Park
AAA/Laurie Sterbens
Mission San Francisco de la Espada
10040 Espada Rd.
(210) 932-1001
Mission San Francisco de la Espada, or Mission Espada, was the second mission established in Texas, founded in East Texas in 1690 and moved to its current site in 1731, where a friary was added in 1745 and the church completed in 1756. Visitors can view a working loom in the Contact Station, and on Tuesdays see a live demonstration of how the mission's Native American residents wove wool to make clothing. Just north of the mission is the Espada Aqueduct, built in 1745 to bring water to Mission Espada and the surrounding area.
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Mission San Jose y San Miguel di Aguayo in San Antonio Missions National Historic Park
AAA/Laurie Sterbens
Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo
6701 San Jose Dr.
(210) 932-1001
Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, or Mission San Jose, is said to be the largest of San Antonio's missions. The complex was almost fully restored to its original design in the 1930s, and stepping inside its walls, visitors can easily imagine what life was like for its residents. The complex includes the church, a convent, granary and housing for Native Americans, along with a restored Spanish Colonial gristmill. Don't miss the Rose Window on the south side of the church, which features stone carving that is a stunning example of the skill of the Spanish artisans.
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Mission San Juan Capistrano
9101 Graf Rd.
(210) 932-1001
Mission San Juan Capistrano, or Mission San Juan, features picturesque grounds and a chapel that was brought to the site in 1731 and restored in 1909, along with the ruins of a larger church that was never completed. San Juan was surrounded by rich farmlands and orchards that supplied food for not only the mission but also other settlements in the area. The site also includes the Yanaguana Trail, a paved path leading to a scenic stretch of the San Antonio River where you may catch a glimpse of turtles, owls and other wildlife.
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Interior view of Mission San Francisco de la Espada at San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio, Texas.
AAA/Inspector 511
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
6701 San Jose Dr.
(210) 932-1001
San Antonio Missions National Historic Park includes four of the five missions along the San Antonio River. A visitor center is next to Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo and offers an orientation film and exhibits on the history of the missions. You can drive to each of the missions—signs throughout the park point the way—or park the car and walk or bike along the River Walk Trail that connects the historic sites.
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