Off the Beaten Path in San Antonio: The Mission Trail
By AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens | April 19, 2023
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.
300 Alamo Plaza
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.Read More
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña
807 Mission Rd.
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.Read More
Mission San Francisco de la Espada
10040 Espada Rd.
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.Read More
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Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo
6701 San Jose Dr.
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.Read More
Courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano
9101 Graf Rd.
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.Read More
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
6701 San Jose Dr.
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.Read More