San Antonio has the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions anywhere in the North America. Why not Southern California, you say? Well, according to the Park Rangers, it’s because of the San Antonio River, the very same small river that winds through downtown.
You can even bike to all five missions (including the Alamo), as they’re pretty much in a straight line. Don’t have a bike? No problem. We saw bicycle docks nearby at both missions we visited on our second day.
We visited Mission San Juan first, after much debate. Fortunately, Mission San Juan is not only the midpoint for the missions, but also the home to the park rangers, so we got a good one hour tour from the ranger. She did a good job of explaining the history of the missions, which started as a way to turn Native Americans into Spanish citizens, bringing money to the crown. Each mission, while on small properties now, once each owned farms to help supply food for their denizens.
It didn’t work out too well for Spain, and the missions were eventually closed.
Mission San Juan is the most complete mission, set up to look like it would’ve in the days it operated in, thanks to the Works Progress Administration and FDR. So, while most complete, it’s not exactly as it was, historically speaking.
We then traveled to Mission Concepcion, because I thought it had the most intriguing facade, with a triangle right above the door to the sanctuary. I was told Conception looks almost as it did more than two centuries ago, when it was first construction. The colorful design on the facade has faded, but you can see what appears to be original artwork in the rooms just off of the nave.
By the way, the acoustics in the sanctuary are impressive. One small, light drop of a purse at the back of the sanctuary sounded like a clang of a symbol near the altar.
We weren’t able to attend any services, but I imagine they would be inspiring. Outside in the garden stood a ‘holy’ stone altar, which at first quick glance I thought it was made of skulls and bone!
We chose to only visit two sites due to the traveling and walking required, but I think it was enough to sample how much influence the Catholic Church had in South Texas, and continues to have today.
Fun fact: when the missions were left in control of the locals, they used the stone from the churches to build their homes nearby.
After visiting Concepcion, we decided to eat the best Tex Mex in San Antonio, which the tour guide at the Alamo told us was located in one place: The Mercado, or Market Square.
The uber driver thought the address I picked for the Mercado was strange, so he inquired and suggested two places to eat: we chose family-owned La Margarita (the family owns several different Tex-Mex restaurants around the city). It was delicious, and surprisingly quite busy for a Wednesday at 1p!
On the walk in, we also saw a taping of SA Live!, where the Jersey Boys were on, cooking with the hosts. We stayed for a few seconds after being invited in, despite not knowing what kind of show it was, other than it was widely know (which bodes well for KSAT…I looked it up at home).
After we filled our bellies with delicious food, we stopped to look in at some of the Mexican/Latin-American inspired shops in the square adjacent to the restaurant.
Another place I saw in our guidebook I wanted to visit was the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. In a bit of confusion by both us and our uber driver, we got dropped off at the wrong spot, but fortunately, only a short walk away. It was a little bit of a shock to me of the cost to enter, but seeing as they’re in the middle of an eight-acre expansion, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
The layout was a little more awkward that I would’ve liked, especially the conservatory. While the architecture initially drew me to the place, the layout of the rooms was lacking. One has to go in and out of doors in order to view small displays. However, the conservatory’s outdoor plaza holds not just a pond, but the rarest of plants during the holiday season: the ornament tree. Ornaments only bloom for one month or so a year and appear quite magically on trees such as lemon, orange, grapefruit and the like.
There’s an outlook spot to get sweeping views of the city and just a few steps away near their outdoor theater, giant, colorful Adirondack chairs with a great view of a giant chess set!
Above the grass theater space sits a picnic table for giants, perhaps ones amused by humans playing with oversized chess pieces below.
On our drive back home, we waved ‘hello’ to the new Pearl District, home to Hotel Emma, new restaurants and bars. Wish we could’ve stopped by to look, but it was time to call it a night.
And so, with nothing left on our checklist, we headed back home.