Today’s family field guide is sponsored by Robinson’s Fruit Shoot™ – delicious ready to drink juices in fun fruit flavors with no added sugars or artificial colors.
Are you headed on a family adventure? Fruit Shoot™ is Made for Adventures and they want to see yours! Capture a video of your kids in action and share the video on the Fruit Shoot™ Adventures Film Contest website for a chance to win weekly prizes! One lucky winner will also receive a Grand Prize family adventure trip to London, England! Good luck!
We’d love to encourage families to step outside and try something new this summer … that’s actually quite old, and right here in our own backyard
The San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site
About the San Antonio Missions
The San Antonio Missions were labeled a National Park in 1978 and designated as one of the 23 U.S. World Heritage Sites by the United Nations in 2015. The city has gone to great lengths to preserve and restore these historical and archeological treasures for future generations to visit and enjoy.
Unlike most National Parks, the San Antonio Missions are not co-located but are spread out at four different locations – Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada. The main park is located at Mission San Juan, but each park has it’s own visitor center and is worthy of a visit of it’s own.
All of the missions were built in the 18th century and provided safe haven to local nomadic Indian tribes from more aggressive tribes like the Apaches and the Comanches. In exchange for their living arrangements, inhabitants were expected to convert to Christianity, as well as work the fields, tend the livestock, build vast aqueducts along the river and construct large stone churches for worship.
The Spanish Franciscan friars who ran the missions believed they were grooming citizens for new Spain. Their intent was to establish each mission and give the communities their Independence after ten years, sadly life at the missions was far from easy. They were plagued by illness, community members not used to staying in one place would wander off frequently and outside violence kept their populations dwindling. Still many inhabitants blended with Spanish settlers and became an integral part of this unique culture. Their legacies left a lasting impression not just here in San Antonio, but on Texas and American history as a whole. The original tribes were so small, most of their names are no longer known but are now referred to collectively as the Coahuiltecan Indians, one of the larger tribes in the area.
Exploring the San Antonio Missions may not scream family fun at first thought, but we’re here to show you it can be all that and so much more.
Take a trip back through time with us on an adventure fun for the whole family. We know families are as different as they come, so we’ve created several tracks for you to select from. Consider this your choose your own adventure guide to the San Antonio Missions!
Follow the track below that best suits your family’s sightseeing style and activity level or mix and match to create a custom adventure of your own. Got an idea you don’t see here? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll see about adding it to the guide for the next family who visits.
Choose your track, then look for the coordinating icon below each mission for tips on how to make the most of your visit.
Memory Makers – best for families looking to have a relaxing good time, make a few memories and take lots of great pics along the way
Little Explorers – best for families with children under 6, grandparents or large family outings
Adventure Seekers – for thrill seekers, active families and families with older kids and teens
Junior Rangers & History Buffs – for families looking for an educational look back in time
807 Mission Road
San Antonio, Texas 78210
Visitor Center: Open 9am-5pm daily
Church Service: Sundays 10am (English) Noon (Mariachi – Bilingual)
Best for a quick trip or a healthy dose of exercise and education
Mission Concepcion is the oldest, unrestored stone church in America dating back more than two and a half centuries.
Memory Makers: Pack a picnic and combine your visit with a trip to the adjacent park. Concepcion Park is located directly across the street from Mission Concepcion. They have a large shaded basketball court, some fitness equipment, ball fields, a small kids play area and some nice walking paths with a large stone gazebo. There’s even a pool! (more info in the Adventure Trek)
We generally bring simple finger foods like grapes, pretzels, cubed cheese and Robinson Fruit Drinks. The kids love them and it’s so simple to throw together and get us out the door in a hurry.
Little Explorers: If you’re not looking for it, you might miss the large stone prayer garden (picture above, bottom left) located outside of Mission Concepcion tucked under the trees behind a few cactuses. That would be a real shame too, because it’s such a serene area and a real treasure nestled in the trees.
Adventure Seekers: Option 1: Let your kids wear their swimsuits or water clothes when you come. There are two public swimming pools close to Mission Concepcion. One at Concepcion Park adjacent to the mission and a larger one just a few blocks up the road at Roosevelt Park.
CONCEPTION PARK POOL 210.532.3473
ROOSEVELT PARK POOL 532-6091
Pools are free and open to the public from June-August from 1-7pm
Typically closed on Monday’s
Option 2: Ride your bike from Blue Star Arts Complex down to Mission Concepcion and back again for lunch and/or ice cream. We recommend Blue Star Brewing Company or Halcyon (Halycon does a great brunch on the weekends from 8-2). You can rent a bike for a half-day from the Blue Star bike shop or pick one up from one of the two B-Cycle stations located near Blue Star.
This is a great ride for just about any age and there is a nice section along the river near the Mill with stone steps and a few benches so you can take a rest, skip some rocks and play near the water. Look for the multi-color stone bridge to find this spot.
The ride from Blue Star Arts Complex to Mission Concepcion is approx. 2 miles, making your total round trip around 4 miles. This would be a great day date or family outing and the ride is suitable for children of all ages.
History Buffs: The facade of Mission Concepcion was originally decorated with bright colors and geometric patterns. These have long since worn away, but there are still several original frescoes locate inside. See how many you and your family can find and learn about their origins while you’re there.
Mission San Jose
6701 San Jose Drive
San Antonio, TX 78214
Visitor Center: Open 9am-5pm daily
Church Service: Saturday 5:30pm (English)
Sunday 7:30am (Espanol), 9am (English), 10:30am (English), Noon (Mariachi – Bilingual)
She’s called the Queen of the Missions and when you see her you’ll know why. This mission is best for the whole family and large groups. If you only have time to visit one mission during your stay, make it this one.
Memory Makers: Families looking to spend a day exploring the missions will love Mission San Jose. The largest of the 4 missions you could easily spend several hours here. This location also has the main visitor center and biggest gift shop of the bunch. If you need unique gifts to take home, this is a great place to find them.
Once you’re done exploring the park, head over to the Mission Branch Library. Check before you come to see if there will be any Farmer’s Markets or outdoor movies happening while you’re here.
The Mission Marquee 2016 Movie Schedule
June 4 Minions
June 16 Hunger Games: Catching Fire
June 18 Star Wars: The Force Awakens
July 9 The Peanut Movie
July 21 The Hunger Games: Mockingly Pt 1
July 23 The Good Dinosaur
Aug 6 Ant Man
Aug 18 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 2
Aug 20 Epic
Aug 30 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Trip
Sep 15 American Graffiti
Sep 17 Pan
Oct 1 Goosebumps
Oct 15 Hotel Transylvania 2
Just another block from the library is Mission County Park. This park has large pavilion areas you can rent for parties and lots of picnic tables for families. The ampitheater provides much needed shade in the summer and makes a great spot for the kids to ride their scooters. There is a nice playground on site as well.
Little Explorers: Your kids will love the Junior Ranger Program at Mission San Jose. Pick up a packet at the visitor center when you arrive and have the kids fill it out and search for clues as you walk around. There will be park rangers and park volunteers on site that will be more than happy to answer your questions and help you discover things you wouldn’t be able to find on your own.
After you’re done, return to the visitor center where a ranger will officially induct your child into the Junior Park Ranger program and give them a badge and a passport stamp. There are more Junior Ranger programs at various National Parks across the States. You can even pick up a park passport and have them stamped each time you visit one.
Adventure Seekers: There is always something going on at Mission San Jose, from yoga in the park to special events for the whole family. Trolley cars will pick you up downtown and drop you off at this location.
Mission San Jose is a great launching point for families interested in Geocaching or playing Pokemon Go together. Check geocaching.com for more information on how to get started and nearby caches. Mission San Jose is an electric (yellow) Pokemon Gym, there are several pokemon stops located at the mission and I believe Mission Branch Library is also a Pokemon Gym, it’s just a block away.
History Buffs: Mission San Jose had to be moved three times before eventually settling in this location. It’s the most decorative of the missions and it’s compound the most complete. Not to be missed is the Rose Window in the church. One of the most elaborate examples of Spanish architecture that remains in this area today. It greatly influenced San Antonio culture, just count how many times you see it’s unique shape around town while you’re here! You also won’t want to miss the giant model in the grist mill, kids love it! Or the 25 minute movie that will teach you what daily life in the missions would have been like in the visitor center. It plays every half hour so you’ll have no problem catching it if you’re interested.
Mission San Juan
9101 Graf Road
San Antonio, Texas 78214
Visitor Center: Open 10am-5pm daily
Church Service: Saturday 5pm (English)
Sunday 11am (English), 12:30pm (Espanol) 7:15pm (Espanol)
Best for grandparents and young kids
Hidden off the beaten path, pretty remote and always makes for some great photographs. It’s the only mission whose facade has had to be completely rebuilt, now a glowing white tribute to centuries past.
Memory Makers: This is a terrific spot to snap some candid family photos and just generally have a great time spending time together.
Little Explorers: Perhaps my favorite part about Mission San Juan is the Yanaguana (“Refreshing Waters”) Nature Trail located just outside the far end of the right side of the compound. You might miss it if you don’t know it’s there. The trail isn’t too long, perfect for small kids and able bodied grandparents. Portions of this trail are boardwalk style, but do keep your eyes out for snakes. We’ve seen one here before, but we left it alone and it left us alone.
Adventure Seekers: Mission San Juan is a great place to park and bike to Mission Espada. Bring your own bikes or rent one from the large B-Cycle station near the road. Take a short ride over the road bridge to hop onto the Mission Reach section of the San Antonio Riverwalk. Take a left and continue down this path for approximately 2 miles until you bike under the 410 highway and come to a fork in the road leading to Mission Espada. If you are traveling with kids, I’d plan for a 20-30 minute ride. There is a stone foot bridge about 1/2 way there you can stop to take a break (pictured below) and some picnic tables as you go under the overpass for 410.
I’d suggest this ride for children 8 and over, or children you are comfortable enough with riding up and down hills with oncoming bike traffic. The terrain overall isn’t too bad, but there are a couple of sections I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting my 7 year old ride. I could simply walk him down those slopes, but for now I just take my two older kids when we do this ride, ages 9 & 10.
Oh and if your family is into Pokemon Go! there are several pokestops and even a Red (Fire) Pokemon Gym located at Mission San Juan!
Junior Rangers & History Buffs: Be sure not to miss the specimen table located in the Mission San Juan visitor center and grab a pamphlet while you’re there that will tell you how to get started with the free cell phone audio tour.
10040 Espada Road
San Antonio, TX 78214
Visitor Center: Open 10am-5pm daily
Church Service: Saturday 6pm (English)
Sunday 10am (Espanol)
A family favorite San Antonio destination
Memory Makers: Mission Espada is one of my favorite places to take my family. The site is peaceful, serene and simply gorgeous. We’ve gone so many times we have a sixth sense now about when the fresh empanadas will be arriving! Pick up your own fruit-filled hand pie, they typically have pineapple, apple, pumpkin, caramel and fresa con crema (strawberries with cream)
Little Explorers: The kids will have a great time just exploring the ins and outs of what’s left of the stone walls outlining the compound.
When you’re done here, head over to the Espada dam. It looks like a small waterfall and there is typically a raspa truck there where you can purchase raspas, ice cream or fruit cups.
Adventure Seekers: I rode my bike to Mission Espada this morning and discovered there are two Pokemon Gyms at this location! If Pokemon Go isn’t your thing, and your kids are just a bit older. Consider riding a bike from Mission Espada to the Espada dam and spending a day kayaking along the river. We haven’t tried this yet, but I often see families launching out from this area with Mission Kayak. If you get to do it before I do, please come back and let us know about your experience!
History Buffs: Don’t miss the Visitor Center at Mission Espada (look for the white flag with the red X), inside you’ll get tons of information about what life was like in this community and if you happen to visit on a Monday or Tuesday you just might see a volunteer weaving on an old kiln or making thread on the spinning wheel. When you visit the church pay special attention to the statue of Christ. Unlike most statues you’ll find, this one was constructed out of leather. His hands and face made from corn husks. He was built to be pliable so the priests could pose him and dress him for different ceremonies through out the year
Traveling to the San Antonio Missions
The San Antonio Missions begin downtown, in the heart of our city at the Alamo and continue about 8 miles south along the river. Each mission is roughly 2-3 miles from the next, but depending on which method of travel you choose it could be much farther than that.
This guide did not cover the San Antonio de Valero, aka the Alamo since it is owned by the State of Texas and not officially a part of the San Antonio National Historical Park.
By Car: To visit the missions by car, you’ll need to follow the brown historical markers to the dedicated road we call the Mission Trail. You’ll know you’re on it when you see the dark green lamp posts shaped like giant candy canes lining both sides of the road. Follow the lamp posts from one mission to the next.
There is ample parking available at each mission. Parking and visiting missions is always FREE.
By Bus: You can purchase a VIA bus ticket from downtown, look for Route 40. This route will escort you leisurely to all of the missions in one day in a newly remodeled, air conditioned bus. If you come to visit during the warmer months, you’ll soon realize why air condition is a really big deal.
By Bike: You can ride your bike to and from all of the San Antonio Missions thanks to the Mission Reach expansion of the riverwalk. This pedestrian section of the river is ideal for hikers and bikers, but keep in mind the path is not a loop. However far you go, you will have to turn around and come that far back. To ride to ALL of the missions could be as far as 16-20 miles, sp please plan accordingly. You will need water and sunscreen pretty much anytime of year. There are plenty of water fountains along the way to refill your bottle.
Navigating from the Alamo to Mission Concepcion is not a part of the Mission Reach section of the Riverwalk. There is actually some street level riding involved, another reason we won’t be covering the Alamo in this family guide.
As far as the rest of the missions are concerned. You could park and ride from any of them. They all have B-Cycle stations where you can rent a bike with a basket for $12 a day or you can bring your own bike. The path is wide and not too strenuous.
Note: B-Cycle bikes must be checked in to a station every hour. There are plenty along the way, so it’s easy to do. Inside Tip: You can also rent a bike from the BlueStar Arts Complex not too far from Mission Concepcion. Bonus points: When you return, they have ice cream!
Book A Tour: There are plenty of tours available that will take you on an in-depth trip to each of the missions. Trolley cars will bring you from downtown to Mission San Jose.
Special thanks to our sponsor Robinson’s Fruit Shoot™ for making this guide possible. We love that they’ve made it their mission to encourage kids to get outside, being active and adventurous.
Don’t forget to submit a video of your kids in action on the Fruit Shoot™ Adventures Film Contest website for a chance to win one of their weekly prizes! One lucky winner will also receive a Grand Prize family adventure trip to London, England!
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