The Alamo is San Antonio’s most popular tourist attraction and visitors new to the area are often surprised to discover that the building known as “The Alamo” once was a church. Originally built in 1724 as the Mission of San Antonio de Valerio, this mission was one of five missions established in San Antonio between 1718 – 1731 as an attempt to step up colonization of the area.
The Alamo and four remaining missions still survive, and are definitely worth seeing for those visitors to San Antonio, Texas who enjoy learning about the region’s early history.
Planning your trip
Except for the Alamo which is operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the remaining four missions are National Historic Parks which are managed by the National Parks Service.
Even though the four missions within the San Antonio Missions National Park are historic sites, they also continue to be active Catholic parishes with regular services. The church buildings are open for tours to the public, plus visitors are free to explore the grounds which offer the visitor an excellent insight of how missions functioned as important community centers during the period of Spanish settlement.
First time visitors to the San Antonio Missions will find the US National Park Service web site at NPS.gove/saan/index.htm is a helpful resource filled with great information, including maps and a planning guide. The guide contains a driving route plus a comprehensive history of these early missions. The NPS does not have information about the Alamo, however that information can be accessed through this link.
The park department recommends at least four hours for the Mission Parks tour, with most visitors starting their tour of the mission with the Mission San Jose located at 6701 San Jose Drive. It is here where you will find the Visitor’s Center.
For visitors to the area who don’t have access to a car, there are several different options available.
The San Antonio Visitor Center web site at visitsantonio.com has a great list of tour groups which offer up a half day bus tour of the missions. These “Mission Tours” are approximately $55 and run for 3 1/2 hours.
A less expensive, yet wildly popular option is the Mission Walking tour. Maps can be picked up at the Mission San Jose Visitor’s Center or by visiting this park map of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Parks. The walk covers about 7.1 miles and takes the visitor along portions of the old San Antonio river, the original mission aqueduct system, and riparian areas. Visitors can reach the Mission San Jose via city bus. For city bus route planning, visit Viainfo.net, the home page of San Antonio’s Via Metropolitan Transit System.
Visiting the San Antonio Missions National Park is free of charge. The park is open 9-5 seven days a week, and is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.