Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, the five frontier mission complexes in San Antonio—including the Alamo—afford an unmatched look at the Spanish Colonial influence in North America. You can see strings of missions in California and Arizona, but none are as easily visited together as San Antonio’s set of missions, established by the Franciscans along the San Antonio River to Christianize the native population. The National Park Service now runs the other four missions besides the Alamo, all still active parishes, run in cooperation with the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The Park Service has assigned each mission an interpretive theme to educate visitors about the roles they played in early San Antonio society. The 8-mile-long Mission Reach section of the River Walk, which opened in 2012, has added recreational trails, picnic areas, pedestrian bridges, and portals to the missions; an ongoing effort has been restoring the riparian woodland ecosystem and reintroducing native plants. In 2018, the $13.7-million Confluence Park—so named because it’s at the intersection of the San Antonio River and the San Pedro Creek—was dedicated as a gateway to the trail, which begins near the Blue Star Arts complex and ends near Mission Espada; see www.sariverfound.org/confluence-park for more information on this architecturally stunning space.
The missions are about 3 miles apart from each other; Via VIVA bus line Mission route No. 40 stops at all of them, but it’s easier to bike here or drive. Each mission has an information office with free maps and can give you driving instructions to the next mission. The main information office is at Mission San José.
The first of the missions you’ll come to heading south is Concepción, 807 Mission Rd., at Felisa Street. Built in 1731, it’s the oldest unrestored Texas mission, looking much as it did 200 years ago. We tend to think of these old missions as somber and austere places, but traces of color on the facade and restored wall paintings inside show how vibrant this one originally was.