Earlier this month, five Spanish missions in San Antonio were collectively designated a new UNESCO World Heritage Site. The great news isn’t altogether surprising; after all, it’s in this Texan city that millions flock to to see the 18th century Alamo. But there are a multitude of ways to experience the city’s heritage, from the other missions to historic hotels.
1. Celebrate a national treasure.
In addition to the Alamo (known as Mission San Antonio de Valero), the UNESCO designated missions include: Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission Espada and Mission San Juan. The missions are all accessible along a trail, starting with the Alamo in the center of the city and extending along a 15-minute drive to Mission Espada, the southernmost mission. Together, they tell a rich and complex story of the efforts of the Spanish to colonize indigenous people by converting them to Catholicism, teaching them a new language and new trades. Admission to each site is free, and, with the exception of the Alamo, guided tours are also free.
2. Watch ‘The Saga’ unfold.
For a truly artistic take on San Antonio’s story, stop over at the Main Plaza for one of the evening viewings of “The Saga,” a 24-minute multimedia art installation by French artist Xavier de Richemont. Vibrant color is projected on the façade of the San Fernando Cathedral, accompanied by surround sound. Don’t forget the camera!
3. Then take a deeper step back in time with more art.
Whether you’re a fan of art or history, museums abound in the Countdown City. Don’t miss the San Antonio Museum of Art, which offers free admission on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon. Exhibits cover an impressive amount of geographical territory and historical terrain, including Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, as well as an extensive Chinese ceramics collection. The McNay, Texas’s first modern art museum, offers free admission on Thursday nights from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the first Sunday of every month from noon to 5 p.m.
Fans of the American West should hitch up their horse at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, which opened in 2013 and offers free admission on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Finally, the Witte Museum, which presents rotating exhibits devoted to local history and heritage, offers free admission on Tuesdays from 3 to 8 p.m.
4. Drink where the Rough Riders drank.
The Menger Hotel is the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi. Don’t mind the haunted rumors — it offers an amazing location right next to the Alamo. More to the historical point, the property has welcomed such prestigious guests as Robert E. Lee, George Patton, Oscar Wilde, Carry Nation, and various former presidents. Have a drink at the Menger Bar and try to picture Teddy Roosevelt recruiting his Rough Riders for the Spanish-American war over handshakes and shots of rye.
5. Take the bull by the horns.
Fans of big game hunting, Texas Rangers (the law enforcement agency, not the baseball team), or just plain unusual stuff will be delighted by the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum. Albert Friedrich, the saloon’s original owner in 1881, accepted horns and antlers as payment for libations. As a result, the thoroughly Texan institution is littered with horns, exotic animal trophies — including the world’s record “78-point buck” and more. Patrons can belly up to the old-fashioned bar, order an ice-cold draft of Lone Star, and carry their drink throughout the museum space. Be sure to tell Texas Bob we said, “Howdy.”