Jan 15 2011
As I look out over the fields of snow on this wintry day, I’m reminded of times spent in warmer places. A year ago, we were just returning from a vacation in Texas, and one of the highlights of that trip was visiting the San Antonio Missions.
The Alamo may be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting San Antonio, but our kids weren’t impressed with it. We walked through the crowded museum areas, circled it on foot, and took the requisite photo in front of it, but other than saying, “We’ve been to the Alamo,” it doesn’t stick in our minds much.
The Missions, however, offer a less-crowded peek at San Antonio’s history. The four missions (Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, Mission Concepcion, Mission Espada) that are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are scattered south of the downtown area and can easily be visited one after the other for a half-day (or longer) adventure. You can visit just one or two, but seeing all four will provide insight into both their similarities and differences.
The National Park Service visitor’s center is located at Mission San Jose, and this is a good place to start. A small museum gives background and rangers are available to answer questions. Our kids enjoyed the short film that is shown routinely in the visitor center. Children can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet here and complete activities as you visit the missions; they’ll earn a badge upon completion. The Junior Ranger program is an excellent way to pique kids’ interest in the places they visit.
From the visitor center, walk to Mission San Jose, where you can wander through the courtyard and learn about the functions and activities that took place here. The church itself is an important part of each mission, but the missions were also complete communities with all of the necessities of daily life taking place.
After seeing Mission San Jose, choose another mission to visit. Some are more complete while others are more ruinous, but each has a unique feel to it. Active Catholic congregations still use the Mission churches, so they are both historical and current.
After visiting each of the Missions, we enjoyed good conversation. Which was your favorite, and why? What would it have been like to live at the Mission? What was the most unique thing you saw?
If you take your kids to San Antonio, by all means see the Alamo. But don’t discount the San Antonio Missions as another important stop in your itinerary while you’re in Texas.
Have you been to the San Antonio Missions? What were your impressions? Are there missions in other parts of the United States that you’d recommend visiting with kids?
Read more about San Antonio Missions National Historical Park at Uptake.