Walking the river, missions and rain in San Antonio

Pamela O’Meara photos/Review • The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, was founded 300 years ago by Franciscan monks from Spain to increase the power of priests and the Spanish Empire.

Pamela O’Meara photos/Review • Colorful banners hang down over the sidewalk in the Mexican Market Square, said to be the largest Mexican market in the U.S.

Pamela O’Meara photos/Review • Tuba players lined a bridge with other band members entertaining visitors with Christmas tunes.

Pamela O’Meara photos/Review • The River Walk, lined with restaurants and other attractions, meanders through San Antonio on the San Antonio River.

Pamela O’Meara photos/Review • Mission San Jose is the largest and most elaborate mission on the San Antonio River. It was built two years after the Alamo and was considered the “Queen of the Missions” due to its size.

Late last year, my daughter had a three-day weekend so we pondered where to go. It had to be someplace new, warm, historic and fun, and serviced by a nonstop flight — San Antonio, Texas, fit the bill.

The flight time was three hours, no rental car was needed, the weather was predicted to be comfortable and the city features the historic Alamo, the largest Mexican market in the country and more.

“Be sure to check out the River Walk,” friends advised whenever I brought up the trip.

The River Walk is 15 miles long and follows the flow of the San Antonio River through the city’s downtown, past old hotels, gardens, shops and restaurants.

Upon arrival and ready for an adventure, we checked into our hotel, dropped off our bags and headed straight to the walk where we meandered along the river and up and down lots of stairs, crisscrossing the water on pedestrian bridges shaded by old cypress and magnolia trees.

We enjoyed a delicious Mexican lunch at La Paloma, where tables at the edge of the river featured colorful umbrellas. Our server prepared fresh, delicious guacamole at the table and we ate enchiladas with layers with black beans and cheese. It was so good I could have licked the bowl.

We hopped on one of the tourist boats cruising up and down the river for a narrated ride. We learned that some hotels on the waterway date back to the 1920s or 30s. 


Many missions

The following morning, we took the city bus to the famous sand-colored Alamo, more formally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero. The mission was started 300 years ago by Franciscan monks from Spain, which was the world power at the time, but still wanting to extend its domination into the New World. 

The Alamo was the first Spanish mission in Texas, established in May 1718 on the San Antonio River. The early mission buildings were built of sod and wood, which was later replaced with stone. The current structure was built in 1744 at a river bend.

A few miles down the road, there’s Mission San Jose, which was founded two years after the Alamo. It was known as the “Queen of the Missions” because of its size, that of a small village. It was less crowded the day we visited because there were no groups of schoolchildren. Mission San Jose is a still-operating Catholic parish with regular services. Towards the altar, people knelt and whispered prayers as candles flickered. 

The missions were established to spread Christianity to Native Americans, and there are three other missions on the river — Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada, as well.

Returning from the mission, we went again to the River Walk for a drink right on the water at the Iron Cactus. We decided to stay there for a seafood dinner of shrimp and scallops since we were comfy watching Christmas lights twinkle as colorful umbrellas dotted the way and boats glided down the river. 


Rain, rain, go away

Despite an earlier favorable weather report, the next day was mostly rain, forcing us to modify our schedule. 

After an early breakfast in the hotel before the rain began, we walked to Market Square, the largest Mexican market in the U.S., a three-block plaza lined with shops and restaurants. What was once an open-air market is now partially enclosed and air-conditioned. 

We browsed through colorful embroidered shirts, toys and other items before having coffee. By then it was raining.

Back on the River Walk for a late lunch, we listened to a high school band play Christmas carols with tuba players lining one of the arched bridges. 

Soon it was pouring rain, so we stopped at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, right on the walk. The museum celebrates the art and history of the West, and it turned out to be very interesting. One gallery featured an old chuck wagon, something very important at a time when cowboys might choose the ranch they wanted to work on based on the reputation of the cook. In another room, a diorama of the 1836 Battle at the Alamo was noteworthy.

Eventually it was time to leave, but the rain kept pouring, nearly filling the street. We got wet — pants soaked above the knees, with water-logged socks and shoes. I had a raincoat and my daughter had bought an umbrella in the museum gift shop, but neither helped much and we were quite chilled by the time we got back to the hotel.

We wanted to go out for one last dinner before heading home the next morning, but not in the rain. Then, as if reading our thoughts, the rain pretty much stopped, and we went to Rio Gelato, a mom and pop Italian restaurant a block from our hotel. The owner, from Tuscony, Italy, was very chatty and we had fun. The next morning we ate leftover pizza and chocolate cake for breakfast before heading to the airport.

Due to our very brief trip, there are a number of things we didn’t have time to see — the San Antonio Zoo, San Antonio Aquarium, the Natural Bridge Caverns — but we’re keeping them in mind for another time.

Traveling with my daughter is so fun because she is curious about everything around her, friendly to all, and good at researching attractions and how get there. Now it’s time to decide where we’ll go next.


– Pamela O’Meara can be reached at pomeara@lillienews.com or 651-748-7818

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