We made a stop in San Antonio on our RV as we made our way out west. Initially we only intended on staying one night, but after our arrival to the city, decided to extend our stay so we could eat and see more of this wonderful place. There is a ton of history in San Antonio (so much more than just the Alamo). We spent a few days doing free activities and just taking in the colors, smells, and sounds of of Texas. While you can easily spend a ton of money here, our goal was to spend the least amount possible yet still get a feel for the vibe of the city. We think we accomplished that goal! One of the best free activities to do in the city is visit the San Antonio Missions (clue if you’re like us and didn’t know…the Alamo is one of the Missions)! A part of the National Parks Service as a National Monument system, you can visit all five missions for free. Mission San Jose is known as the “flagship” mission and has been well reserved allowing it’s visitors to get a good feel for mission life. It’s also where the visitor center is located and one of the larger Missions of the five.
A side note to visiting the Mission…While they are incredibly beautiful and an important part of America’s history, it has a dark side as much of our US history does. In the early 1700’s Spanish Franciscans established five missions, Alamo included, along the San Antonio River. The missions were more than mere churches. Each was a fortified village, with its own church, farm, and ranch. The missions provided Natives a safe haven from drought and disease which was rampant at the time. It offered an escape from northern Apache attacks, refuge disease from European explorers, and Mexican attacks from the south. The natives were openly welcomed to the mission, finding safety behind it’s walls as long as they converted to Catholicism, left behind their traditions, practices, and beliefs, and learned to live as a Spaniard. It’s a significant piece of Texas’s history, and as sad as it is that the native’s were forced to choose their safety over their culture and beliefs, it was the choice they were forced to make at the time. Many of the descendants of the native people still practice their religion in the Mission’s Church’s. We visited Mission San Jose on Good Friday and there was a huge procession and catholic service happening outside with fifty plus people in attendance.
We love Spanish architecture and enjoyed the details of the Mission’s architecture. While I know it has a dark past, we enjoyed learning about it’s history and walking amongst the stone arches.
One of the most well known “accomplishments” of the Missions was the aqueduct that was built to help them irrigate their crops and supply water to all five of the Missions.
The next free activity we did could easily cost money if you wanted it to. We went to the famous “Historic Market Square” that is known for being the largest open air Mexican market in the United States. We wish could give this market praise and suggest going, but it was just too touristy for us. The goods for sale were nearly identical and overly “Southwestern”. Think cowboy hats, Mexican style embroidered shirts, dresses, and shoes, woven Mexican rugs, “hand painted” bowls and ceramic dishes, and lots of small tchotchke items (trinkets, magnets, dream catchers). All of it screamed “you’re a tourist and you want to spend money on something that looks Mexican but is a cheap version of the authentic one, so just buy me!” It was definitely not our favorite stop but we gave it a go! Let us know if you liked it more than our experience – we love to hear what our reader’s think!
When you think of Texas, it’s likely you think of barbecue, cowboys, oil, and the Alamo. I know, I know, super steriotypical and after visit Texas I think way overrated and a poor representation of the state as a whole, but it’s often how the state is perceived. We felt we couldn’t be in San Antonio and not go to the Alamo, so we did. It was our third mission and is the historic area of San Antonio near downtown San Antonio. Out of the missions we did visit, the Alamo was by far our least favorite. It’s over crowded and isn’t as well reserved as San Jose was. The battle of the Alamo made it what we know today, but unless you’re really into Texas history I think your time would be better spent elsewhere. We walked around for a bit, read some of the displays, and booked it. We know lots of people love this and would put it as a must on their San Antonio “to do list” but it just wasn’t our cup of tea. Also as a side note, the Alamo was much much bigger when the battle happened. When you’re standing outside of the front of the Church you’re actually in the middle of the original stone walls!
Other than the Alamo, San Antonio is most widely known for it’s river walk. Brightly colored umbrellas cover a historic stone path that winds throughout the city along the river. Restaurants, bars, and shops are scattered throughout. It’s a must do when you’re in town. If you’re interested in the history of the Riverwalk, you can take one of the boat tours. We opted for walking along the path, mindlessly exploring and admiring the beauty of the city from down below.
A market we did visit, and LOVED, was The Pearl. The Pearl is an entire community with apartments, restaurants, food court, outdoor area, walking path along the river, shops, and more. It was incredible! We went on Saturday specifically for the farmer’s market. Not having done much research on the Pearl as a whole, we were blown away by it’s size and diversity. The market itself didn’t have the the largest selection of produce, but there were a lot of vendors and had a range of fresh produce, meat, cheeses, prepared food, and local brews (yum). After grocery shopping, we spent the rest of the day walking around the shops, restaurants, and brewery. Again, since our goal was spending as little as possible we really held back on the food and drink department. We could have easily spent a fortune here trying all the different food vendors and enjoying a cocktail or two in the beautiful patio amongst the warm sunshine, outdoor yoga class, and succulent plants. If you’re going to San Antonio and want to eat great food, enjoy cool shops, and have some delicious drinks this is the place to do it!
If you’re into art, the McNay Modern Art Museum is well worth a visit. Bonus…on the first Sunday of every month the entrance fee is FREE (can you guess why we went)? Dennis, a previous art major and avid photographer, drawer, and art admirer, was excited for the special exhibit they had at the time that had one of Kehinde Wiley’s paintings. This exhibit was a collection of 30 Americans from the Rubell Family Personal Collection that features many African American artists that have contributed greatly to American Art and culture in the past few decades. We had to pay to see the special exhibit but felt it was well worth the price since we were interested in the specific artists that were being featured. The museum is actually a mansion that was inhabited by one of the wealthiest people (a woman to boot) of Texas’s history. As an artist herself, she passed her home on to the city to become a museum. It was a Sunday well spent!