Wander the (San Antonio) River’s winding Path and Experience the Spirit of San Antonio

The colorful charm and lively style of Texas’ most storied city

For over 300 years, the San Antonio River has nurtured this city with headwaters just north of town flowing through it all the way down to join the Guadalupe River just shy of the Gulf of Mexico. Long before Texans took hold of the land, Spaniards erected San Antonio’s five historic missions near the river. Before that, Native Americans relied on this waterway for sustenance and safety. When the Rough Riders barreled through town on their horses over a hundred years ago, they ducked into a dark bar that still stands steps away from the banks. The river was here before all of it and holds everything you need to know about San Antonio.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are big cities out there with little character and even less history but San Antonio is not one of them. Don’t let the colorful umbrellas and shiny tourist bric-à-brac distract you. Just keep following the River Walk and pay attention.

The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meet the Neighborhood

Blessed with a prime spot in the Texas Hill Country, San Antonio has more adjacent natural beauty than most urban landscapes. Outdoor wonders like popular swim spot Hamilton Pool Preserve are at your fingertips while one neighboring small town, Fredericksburg features the country’s largest wildflower farm (Wildseed Farms) and gorgeous wineries. The city itself, however, has much to offer beyond its famous puffy tacos and annual celebration, Fiesta San Antonio—though, neither of those should be missed.

San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The key is the River Walk which seems as if it has been organized specifically for the visitor’s enjoyment. On the northernmost end, enjoy spring at family-friendly sites such as the San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. Slightly south, you’ll find a livelier jam at the Pearl District with plenty of art installations and riverside amenities to keep you entertained on the trek there. Folks are drawn to this part of town by the varied restaurants and shops surrounding an open green space that sees plenty of guests. The Pearl’s Bottling Department, San Antonio’s first food hall has dining options that run the full gamut.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This multiuse district is located on the site of the old Pearl Brewery founded back in 1883. Hotel Emma built inside the old brewhouse is a five-star-service ode to the Pearl’s history and also to Emma Koehler who took over in 1914 after her husband died. She weathered Prohibition without having to lay off any workers—an impressive feat for anybody anytime but especially for a woman in the 1920s.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parades and Pan Dulce

Historic Market Square and The Alamo are the heart of River Walk tourism and for good reason. Fiesta, the city’s annual springtime festival is typically centered here every April. The extravaganza lasts over a week and is—at its core—a celebration of the city’s culture. The historic Battle of Flowers Parade, the main event, was established back in 1891 by a group of women (now a formal association) to honor the heroes who fought for Texas independence at The Alamo. The parade will commemorate its upcoming 130th anniversary in 2021. San Antonio plans to have an abridged Fiesta celebration this year after canceling due to pandemic concerns in 2020.

Pan Dulce tray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each year, floats covered in a rainbow of lush paper blooms make their procession in front of The Alamo amid colorful flying confetti from cracked cascarones (hand-decorated, hollowed-out eggshells filled with confetti).

No visitor can leave San Antonio without tasting the town dessert—and what a glorious task! For that, the river leads you to Mi Tierra Café y Panadería, an 80-year-old family bakery and Tex-Mex restaurant that’s known for offering over a dozen different kinds of pan dulce, a traditional Mexican sweet bread. Waitresses dressed in brightly colored garb serve up treats of all flavors and sizes, while the restaurant’s famous floor-to-ceiling American Dream mural depicts inspirational people from the local community and beyond.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll just a few blocks away to the La Villita neighborhood where you’ll find charming bridges that cozy up to a historic arts village (the former barracks for Mission San Antonio de Valero, or The Alamo). Located on the southern bank of the River Walk, La Villita now occupies one artsy square block in the heart of downtown San Antonio. The Artisan village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places featuring architectural styles that range from adobe structures to early Victorian and Texas vernacular limestone buildings. Today, La Villita is a treasured Artisan and Entrepreneur district with over 25 shops and galleries that showcase local handmade goods and home to over 200 events a year.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Star Arts Complex

Once all the mandatory tourist stops have been made, balance out your trip in Alamo City at the trendy Blue Star Arts Complex. Located in the eclectic Southtown neighborhood, this pioneering mixed-use development is the heart of the city’s vibrant arts scene. The anchor of the complex is Blue Star Contemporary, a nonprofit institute for some of the area’s emerging artists but smaller galleries and studios are sprinkled throughout.

San Antonio River, River Barge, and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then pedal around the adjacent King William neighborhood and embark on the about-7-mile Mission Reach trail that connects four of San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial missions. The area serves as your starting point for this popular path.

Along the San Antonio River and River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The perfect way to end a day spent wandering down the river’s winding path is with an iced-down tequila soda—add splashes of orange and grapefruit to make it a proper sunset—and good times with your new Texas buds. You know the river will always show you the way home.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

One Park. Four Missions.

As one of the largest cities in Texas, San Antonio carries with it a lot of history and beauty. The city is known for the Alamo and the beautiful San Antonio River running through downtown. No matter the time of year, San Antonio is a stunning destination for an RV road trip—and it brings with it a naturally warm climate year-round.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the early 1800s, the city grew around the missions along the San Antonio River. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is located just 10 minutes south of downtown San Antonio. San Antonio is a diverse and culturally rich city best known for the time honored battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” Most visitors are surprised to discover that the Alamo is one of five missions established by Spanish priests in the eighteenth century and the other four missions are well worth experiencing. The missions are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be explored via bicycle on a winding trail by the river. You might find you won’t just be remembering the Alamo after a day on mission trail.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the missions—walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived—represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. All four of the mission sites at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park still contain active Catholic parishes. The churches hold regular services in these historic buildings. They are open to park visitors during park hours except for during special services such as weddings and funerals.

Plan Your Visit

Explore the Missions along the River Walk’s Mission Reach, an eight-mile stretch with recreational trails, pedestrian bridges, pavilions, and portals to four Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San José

Established in 1720, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo is the largest mission in San Antonio. Spanish designers built the mission using Texas limestone and brightly colored stucco. At its height, it provided sanctuary and a social and cultural community for about 350 Indians sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock. Spanish missions were not churches but communities with the church the focus. Mission San José captures a transitional moment in history, frozen in time.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center. It became known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Its imposing complex of stone walls, bastions, granary, and magnificent church was completed by 1782.

In 2011, it underwent a $2.2 million renovation to refinish interior domes, walls, and the altar backdrop. When visiting the church, be sure to look for flying buttresses, carvings, quatrefoil patterns, polychromatic plaster, and the famed “Rose Window,” a superb example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation.

Mission Concepción © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Concepción

Dedicated in 1755, the church at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña appears very much as it did over two centuries ago. It stands proudly as the oldest unrestored stone church in America. In its heyday, colorful geometric designs covered its surface, but the patterns have long since faded or been worn away. However, there are several rooms in which to see remaining frescos with all their detail and creativity.

Mission Concepción © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Originally founded in 1716 in what is now eastern Texas, the mission was one of six authorized by the Spanish government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French incursion into Spanish territory from Louisiana. Developed by Franciscans and after a tenuous existence and several moves, the mission was transferred to its present site in 1731.

This handsome stone church took about 15 years to build and was dedicated in 1755. Due to the fact that it was built directly on bedrock, it never lost its roof or its integrity. It remains the least restored of the colonial structures within the Park.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Juan

Originally founded in 1716 in eastern Texas, Mission San Juan was transferred in 1731 to its present location. In 1756, the stone church, a friary, and a granary were completed. A larger church was begun but was abandoned when half complete, the result of population decline.

San Juan was a self-sustaining community. Within the compound, Indian artisans produced iron tools, cloth, and prepared hides. Orchards and gardens outside the walls provided melons, pumpkins, grapes, and peppers. Beyond the mission complex Indian farmers cultivated maize (corn), beans, squash, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane in irrigated fields.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 20 miles southeast of Mission San Juan was Rancho de Pataguilla, which, in 1762, reported 3,500 sheep and nearly as many cattle. These products helped support not only the San Antonio missions but also the local settlements and presidial garrisons in the area. By the mid 1700s, San Juan, with its rich farm and pasture lands was a regional supplier of agricultural produce. With its surplus, San Juan established a trade network stretching east to Louisiana and south to Coahuila, Mexico. This thriving economy helped the mission to survive epidemics and Indian attacks in its final years.

Today, the chapel and bell tower are still in use. When visiting, don’t miss the typical Romanesque archway at the entrance gate. For outdoor fun, take a self-guided tour on the nature trail that begins at this Mission and leads to the river.

Mission Espada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Espada

This was the first mission in Texas, founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas near present-day Weches, Texas. In 1731, the mission was transferred to the San Antonio River area and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. A friary was built in 1745 and the church was completed in 1756.

Following government policy, Franciscan missionaries sought to make life within mission communities closely resemble that of Spanish villages and Spanish culture. In order to become Spanish citizens and productive inhabitants, Native Americans learned vocational skills. As plows, farm implements, and gear for horses, oxen, and mules fell into disrepair, blacksmithing skills soon became indispensable. Weaving skills were needed to help clothe the inhabitants. As buildings became more elaborate, mission occupants learned masonry and carpentry skills under the direction of craftsmen contracted by the missionaries. After secularization, these vocational skills proved beneficial to post-colonial growth of San Antonio. The legacy of these Native American artisans is still evident throughout the city of San Antonio today.

Mission Espada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southernmost mission in the park, Mission Espada boasts the best-preserved segment of the area’s original irrigation system that was used to bring water to the fields. In 1826, a fire destroyed most of the mission buildings at Espada with only the chapel, granary, and two of the compound walls remaining. Today, part of the original irrigation system still operates the Espada aqueduct and dam. Self-guided walking tours are available during park hours. Don’t miss the newest installation near Espada, the massive Arbol de Vida or Tree of Life that displays the personal stories and tales of San Antonio locals.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo)

The Alamo, founded in 1718, was the first mission in San Antonio serving as a way station between east Texas and Mexico. In 1836, decades after the mission had closed the Alamo became an inspiration and a motivation for liberty during the Texas Revolution. The Alamo houses exhibits on the Texas Revolution and Texas History. Visitors are invited to experience interactive history lessons, guided tours, and stroll through the beautiful Alamo Gardens. Just a short distance from the River Walk, the Alamo is a “must-see” for all who visit the Alamo City. And, once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

Remember the Alamo?

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. I don’t care when you read this, but just know: RVing with Rex is perfect for any time of day. Whether you’re all hopped up on cold brew, making travel plans to some far-flung destinations (in your RV, of course!), sending multi-paragraph emails to a customer service representative at XYZ RV Repair Shop, staring at your phone while nodding off during a mid-afternoon slump, or staying up late into the bewitching hour to put some final touches on your watercolor portrait of The Alamo, it’s never a bad time to pick up what RVing with Rex is putting down. And what a day to do so!

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s post is all about the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto, led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort; they had tried, without success, to hold off Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna in late February and early March of that year. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell, and its defenders became American legends. The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 180 years, and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

We were able to recall the power of the phase on a visit to the Alamo. The Alamo is not located in a vast field like Gettysburg or the Little Big Horn. Rather, it is located just off what now is the Alamo Plaza. Here’s a place where you can lose yourself in a world of brave deeds.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To understand the Alamo and its impact on the Texas Revolution, one needs to understand its times. From the historical perspective, you would be well served to first visit one of San Antonio’s other missions, for they provide insight into the way the Alamo once functioned. With the exception of the Alamo, the missions are all run by the National Parks Service and the grounds have been preserved, unlike those of the Alamo which are now engulfed by the city.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero, later to be known as the Alamo. Other missions along the San Antonio River include Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Missions were constructed in an effort to help Spain with its desire to create a Spanish America. Essentially, that meant Christianizing the Indians.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1833, Santa Anna had just become President of Mexico, assuming a dual role. Colonists, he decreed, could buy property in these barren Texas lands, but shortly thereafter, he revised his thinking and told the colonists to go back home, which most refused to do.

This uneasy truce between Mexico and the colonists lasted until October 2, 1835, when citizens at Gonzales, under the leadership of William Travis, held fast to their convictions—and to their cannon. When Mexican soldiers approached within cannon range, the defenders of Gonzales fired. Travis and his men then retreated 60 miles to the Alamo—where several months later, they achieved immortality.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, remembering the Alamo is nothing new. More recently, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas began sponsoring a Living History reenactment, and as fate would have it, we were there for the annual March event. While it was not our first visit to the Alamo, historically it was the most significant!

On this Sunday morning we joined an exceptionally large crown of thousands to “Remember the Alamo,” and the battle there on a similar morning many years earlier.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texans recalled the 189 known defenders who died and the 400 to 600 Mexican troops killed or wounded.

The place was packed, full of tourists. They came from all over, to participate in the battle reenactment and other activities. Grabbing their muskets, straightening their hats, and pulling on jackets ranging from ratty leather to officer uniforms, they readied themselves for the various activities.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dressed in period clothing they demonstrated how both the Mexicans and the Texans lived—how they prepared food, played music, made cloth and clothing, and played out the story of the battle.

The amazing scenes began as the actors assembled, established the setting at the Alamo, and ended with the fateful swarming of the mission. Smoke bellowed into the plaza from the cannons and from the cap-and-ball pistols used at the time, and spectators brushed shoulders with Mexican soldiers—and with the heroic figures of William Travis, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, the story continued. Just six weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Sam Houston’s army caught up with the soldiers of Santa Anna, literally asleep along the banks of the San Jacinto River. There, just nine Texans lost their life as Houston defeated Santa Anna. Houston spared the general’s life, and with the Mexican capitulation, Texas won its independence, becoming a republic.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett