I still remember my first visit to the Alamo. I was in middle school, and my dad and brothers and I had driven down from Fort Worth, not specifically to see the state’s most historic site, mind you, but to see the Spurs take on the Lakers. Luckily, with some time to kill before the game, we did have the wherewithal to wander over and pay our respects at the “Shrine of Texas Liberty,” which I promptly mistook for the gift shop. Like so many first-timers, I’d assumed that the chapel—what’s left of the original Mission San Antonio de Valero—was a much larger, grander structure. It had certainly loomed much larger in my seventh-grade mind as I’d fretted through my Texas history exams.

With the Alamo officially scratched off my “things every Texan must do” list, I gave little thought to San Antonio’s other historic places of note, and, I’m embarrassed to admit, scarcely realized how much more there was to see. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally had the wherewithal to wander south of the River Walk’s touristy nucleus to see the Alamo’s four only-slightly-younger sister missions. Sprawling compounds with expansive lawns and intricately designed chapels, they’re what I’d thought the Alamo was going to look like. They’re also some of the most stunning and well-preserved examples of religious colonial architecture in the world. After a nine-year process, UNESCO officially recognized this fact last summer, naming the five missions (and an outlying ranch, in Floresville) a World Heritage Site, the first in Texas.

So, if you haven’t seen Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada (all shoo-ins for the “things every Texan must do” list), now’s the time. All you need is a long afternoon or a long weekend and a quick read of our San Antonio Missions Trip Guide to help you plan your ideal itinerary. Below, a few snapshots of my latest excursion along the Mission Trail to inspire your own wanderings.

 

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Hey y'all, @jordanbreal (aka, "the Wanderer") here. Our March cover story may be about "the new Austin," but my travel column this month is all about old San Antonio, specifically its five historic missions. (Quick: can you name them all?!) The best way to explore these 18th-century beauties is to follow the river by hiking or biking the eight-mile Mission Trail. After visiting the #Alamo downtown, head to the @BlueStarArtsComplex (pictured), where you can set off on foot or rent a two-wheeler from @BlueStarBikeShop or @bcyclesatx. A tip: stock up on snacks and picnic supplies (grab-n-go wraps, cold-pressed juices, homemade spent-grain brewery crackers) at @BlueStarProvisions before heading south to explore Missions Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada. Stay tuned for more tips & tidbits this week! #happytravels!

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#TexasTripGuides | Of San Antonio's five 18th-century missions, Mission Concepción is the only one that has never collapsed. It's also the only one that's named for a woman. (Hmmmm.) Inside, some of its original frescoes, adorned with geometric and floral designs, are still visible. A tip: if you're intrigued by the intersection of architecture and astronomy, visit at 6:30 p.m. on August 15 (the Feast of the Assumption of Mary), when the sun streams through two round windows on the mission's western wall and perfectly spotlights both a painting of Mary behind the altar and a spot on the sanctuary floor that marks the exact center of the cross-shaped building. Those Franciscans sure were clever. [email protected] #Texastravel #SanAntonio #MissionTrail

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#TexasTripGuides | As the most isolated of San Antonio's historic missions, Mission San Juan, with its bright white chapel, gives you the best sense of what life was like for the Franciscan friars and native Coahuiltecans who lived in this self-sustaining community in the 18th century. A tip: You can follow the shaded Yanaguana Trail down to a quiet stretch of the original San Antonio River channel (it's not, in other words, your typical touristy River Walk experience!). ☆☆☆ For our full San Antonio Missions Trip Guide (plus guides to 24 more Texas destinations), go to {texasmonthly.com/travel-home}. Stay tuned for even more #TexasTripGuides and follow my wanderings around this great state of ours over on my personal account. Happy travels, y'all! [email protected] #Texastravel #SanAntonio #MissionTrail

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