Located just 150 miles from the Mexico border, San Antonio Texas is rich in Spanish culture and history. It’s the second most populated city in Texas and is located just 80 miles southwest from the capital of Texas, Austin. If you are looking to experience a different culture without leaving the US, San Antonio is a great place to visit.
San Antonio was founded in 1718 and at that time and in an effort to colonize and spread Christianity thru the area, the Spanish established five missions along the San Antonio River.
The Alamo: The first and most well known of these five missions is Mission San Antonio de Valero which was used from 1718 to the late 1700s. In the early 1800s, Spanish military troops were stationed in the abandoned mission. They named the fort “El Alamo” (The Alamo) after the cottonwood trees around the building.
To this day, the building is well known to many from their history books as The Alamo due to it’s involvement in the Texas Revolution. In December of 1835, a group of Texan’s overtook the Spanish military at the Alamo, taking control of San Antonio. On February 23rd 1836, the Mexican Army sieged the building and began the 13 day Battle of the Alamo. On the morning of March 6th, they broke into the building and a battle erupted. Although the Mexican army won the battle, the Battle of the Alamo became a symbol of heroic restistance in Texas’s fight for independence.
The Alamo is open daily and is definitely a must do when visiting San Antonio. Admission is free and you can either tour the Alamo on your own or pay for a guided tour.
Missions National Historic Park: The other four missions are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, these include the following:
- Mission San Jose – Established in 1720, it’s the largest of the missions in San Antonio. The visitors center for the Missions National Historic Park is located here. Make sure to check out the famous “Rose Window”, one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in North America.
- Mission Concepcion – Established in 1755 it’s the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States.
- Mission San Juan Capistrano – Established in 1731, the chapel and bell tower are still in use today.
- Mission Espada – Established in 1731, the majority of the buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1836, but to this day part of the original irrigation system is still in use.
The missions are open daily and admission is free. They are a must visit for anyone that wants to experience the history of the area. There is free parking available at the missions. Or if you are up for a more active day, there is a hike and bike trail along the San Antonio River that connects all five of the missions. The trail is about 7 miles one way and there is an option of taking a bus back if you aren’t up for the round trip.
San Fernando Cathedral : Founded in 1731, the San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest church in the state of Texas and one of the oldest in the United States. It’s located in the Main Plaza of San Antonio, the center of the city.
The church is a beautiful building to photograph. Like a lot of older buildings, the church is thought to be haunted and is a stop on ghost tours in San Antonio.
On Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, check out the free lightshow on the outside of the cathedral. This lightshow called The Saga is a beautiful way to experience the history of the city of San Antonio.
San Antonio Riverwalk: The Riverwalk known for it’s restaurants, bars and shopping may not be the first place you think of when it comes to historic sites, but this famous area in downtown San Antonio has it’s part in history. This river was used to supply water to the missions, particularly The Alamo which is located nearby.
It’s main part in history isn’t necessarily a happy history. As with a lot of rivers, there were many floods. The worst of which was in September of 1921 which killed over fifty people and caused millions of dollars in damage. It took years for the city to revitalize the area and for it to grow to the popularity of today.
A great way to learn about the history of the riverwalk and downtown San Antonio is to take a sightseeing crusie along the river. Its a beautiful tour down the river and you will learn interesting facts about the city and see some interesting things like a tree growing out of one of the buildings along the river.
History aside, this a great area to have a meal or a drink or two by the river, especially if you are like me and visit in the winter as an escape from the cold and snow.
Who wants to now have dinner at that table under the tree? That’s definitely a unique table to dine at!
Tower of the Americas: Built in 1968 for the Hemisfair’s Worlds Fair, this 750 foot tour is the tallest observation tower in Texas and was the tallest in the United States until 1996 when the Stratosphere opened in Las Vegas, Nevada. For people that love seeing the city from above, I highly recommend visiting the Tower of the Americas for that perfect view and photo of the city. I tried to go up at sunset, but unfortunately there were too many clouds, but seeing the city light up as it got dark definitely made it worth going up at that time of day.
The Tower of the Americas is open 4pm-10pm Monday thru Thursday, noon-11pm Friday and Saturday and noon-10pm on Sundays. Tickets are $14.50 for Adults, $12.50 for Seniors & Military, $11.50 for children ages 4-12 and free for children ages 3 and under.
The Pearl: Located about two miles north of downtown San Antonio, The Pearl is a mixed-use district with shopping, dining, office space, a hotel, apartments, a farmers market, green space and even a campus of the Culinary Institute of America. The Pearl is a former site of the Pearl Brewery which operated here from 1883-2001. The buildings at the Pearl were renovated with sustainability in mind while keeping thier historic charm.
It’s definitely an interesting area with a noticable historic past to go for a meal. I had brunch at the Boiler House and it was beyond delicous, I’m drooling just looking back at the photo of that day’s brunch!
Hotel Gibbs: If you are looking for a historic hotel in San Antonio, there are many to chose from, but from experience I can say that Hotel Gibbs is a great choice. Hotel Gibbs is located diagonally across the street from the Alamo and if you are lucky, you may just get a room with a view of the Alamo.
The hotel is built on ground where part of the Alamo once stood and where the final assault of the battle began. Because of this the hotel is thought to be haunted by the spirits of soldiers killed during the battle.
It’s history doesn’t just come from the Battle of the Alamo. Before this building was a hotel, it was the first skyscraper in San Antonio, The Gibbs Building, built in 1909. The office building closed and reopened as a hotel in 2006. They preserved many aspects of the office building. The hallways on each guest floor are just as they were in the office building, complete with water fountains in the wall. It was definitely a fun hotel to explore, definitely different than the typical hotel. While the common areas were reminiscent of the old office building, the rooms had a very modern hotel vibe. Great combination of old and modern.
San Antonio is definitely a great city to experience history and culture in the state of Texas. I visited for just two days but easily could have stayed another day or two.
I hope you get to visit this beautiful city some day!