There's a heck of a lot to see and do in San Antonio, Texas. There's the gorgeous Riverwalk, the incredible Tex-Mex cuisine, the microbreweries, nearby amusement parks, and lots and lots of history.
If you want to really immerse yourself in that history, you could spend a day touring the Missions of San Antonio. The Missions of San Antonio are not only a National Historic Park, they're also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And at four of the missions, you could actually attend church services. All of that makes the Missions of San Antonio pretty unique. All of the missions are in or around the city of San Antonio, which is huge--did you know San Antonio is the second-largest city in Texas, and the seventh-largest in the US. Well, now you know that. And you're welcome!
There are actually five separate missions that make up the Missions of San Antonio, and each is unique. Let's check them all out!
The Alamo is actually part of the Missions of San Antonio. Most people know the story of the Battle of the Alamo, when Mexico laid siege to the Alamo in an effort to stop Texas from seeking independence. Well, you might not know that before the Alamo was a fortified bunker, it was a mission. The Alamo is worthy of a post in-and-of-itself, so I'll come back to that later, but just "remember" that before it was the Alamo, it was the Misión San Antonio de Valero.
Mission San José is kind of the centerpiece of the National Historic Park. There's a visitor center, and the grounds are much more expansive than the other missions. You can guide yourself through the site, but be aware that, like some of the other missions--this is an actual working church. So, don't be surprised if you see people genuflecting as they take a seat. When I was there, there weren't any worship services happening, but a dear friend of mine, Barb, actually went to mass at one of the missions, years ago, and she said it was one of the most beautiful experiences she's ever had.
Mission Concepción, or for those of you who are sticklers for details, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña (you killed my father, prepare to die!), is probably the best-preserved of all of the missions. It's kind of funny to me that seems just sort of plopped down in the middle of this residential neighborhood, even though the houses in the neighborhood were obviously built hundreds of years later. It's beautiful, though.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is probably the least successful of the missions. Apparently, they started off trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, but then there'd be a famine or an outbreak of some horrible disease, and the locals would decide they were better off just going it alone. Also, the church barely has any windows. I have to say, given the choice between sitting in a windowless church learning Spanish and catching smallpox, and going outside the walls of the mission to hunt and forage for food, I think the choice is kind of obvious.
Mission Espada is the teeniest, tiny church of all the missions, but there are some interesting ruins on the grounds to explore. You don't have to spend much time in the church since it's so small, but it's worth it to wander around the grounds a bit. This mission was pretty successful at turning Native Americans into servants of God and loyal, productive citizens of New Spain, until the 1820s when the Comanches decided to raid the mission for corn and livestock. But, you know, life was hard back in 1826. Be glad that you live in 2017, when hunger, poverty, violence and religious conflicts don't exist any longer...oh, wait. Never mind.