What do you do when a long weekend comes around? If you happen to own a motorcycle (or two) the only acceptable answer for Richard and myself is to hit the road seeking adventure.
San Antonio sounded like just the right amount of distance to satisfy Rich’s “road therapy” craving and also provide me with a wonderful destination to get off the bikes and do some exploring.
Pit Stop for Food
Lunch time found us at Natty Flat Smokehouse. This establishment appears as a small dot on the map, but will quickly become a big place in your heart once you’ve sampled their cuisine. Located along Highway 281 near the town of Lipan, TX this barbecue/mercantile store/furniture shop has just about something for everyone – included having the world’s largest cedar rocking chair, which was included into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2003. Boy, did I want to climb up and have a seat!
So here we were, standing in the parking (which is kind of in the middle of nowhere) getting ready to continue our journey to San Antonio when we noticed two motorcycles pulling in. Thinking that it was only polite to wait and say “Howdy” we were immensely surprised when, upon hopping off their bikes, the two strangers promptly exclaimed “You’re Rich and Chris!” That’s Instagram at its finest.
With the invention of social media platforms, we are now only one degree of separation from people we have never met in person (hmmm…I should try this with Tom Cruise). What a treat to meet two people who, prior to that, we had only seen on their Instagram posts! They even postponed their lunch plans and motored down the road with us for a bit.
On The Road Again
The road heading into San Antonio was a bit nerve racking. There was A LOT of construction and we also hit the city at the peak of rush hour. I white-knuckled it most of the way in, but we made it to our hotel, which was to be our home away from home for a couple of days.
Now with our bikes tucked safely away in a parking garage, it was time to do a bit of exploring on foot.
A very popular option is the Alamo - the most visited attraction in all of Texas. It was founded in 1718 as the first mission in San Antonio, but today it’s a museum that proudly proclaims the true grit and determination of a group of men and women who made a stand for their beliefs.
WHAT’S THERE TO SEE?
There’s more to see and experience than just the chapel that’s featured in most photo shots. Visitors may also tour the Long Barrack, which contains a museum featuring artifacts from that era, gardens and a new interactive exhibit that features a wall of messages where you leave your thoughts on the Alamo.
Please note that no photography is allowed, so be prepared to put your phones and cameras away and enjoy the surroundings.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
FREE! There is no cost to visit the Alamo, but donations are most appreciated. There is a one-hour guided experience ($15 per person) which gives a good overview of the Alamo’s history and its heroes.
WHEN’S THE BEST TIME TO GO?
The Alamo is open year-round, however Texas summers can be a bit brutal for an outdoor visit. October through April is the opportune time – unless you don’t care if your shirt sticks to you and sweat pours out of crevices you never knew existed.
DOES IT GET CROWDED?
Yes; crowds are hard to avoid with 2.5 million people visiting every year.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS
Given its history, it’s no surprise that the Alamo is by far the most popular tourist destination in San Antonio. Crowds are very hard to avoid and this can make it rather difficult to enjoy. The throngs of people and school children who flock there are not the only reason the Alamo has lost some of its magic. It’s sad to say, but the surrounding museums add a bit of cheesiness to such a somber monument. I couldn’t quite get my head wrapped around why the area needed the likes of not only a Ripley's Believe it or Not, a Guinness World Records Museum, a knock-off Wax Museum; but also a Haunted House and a Hall of Mirrors.
THE RIVER WALK
In the heart of downtown San Antonio there are 15 miles of the most serene and pleasant walking paths winding alongside the San Antonio River to explore. This network of walkways is tucked quietly below street level, removed from the normal hustle and bustle of an active city. It winds and loops under bridges and is lined with restaurants and shops and meandering Riverboat tours. It also provides a connection to the major tourist draws such as the Alamo.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS
Early mornings is the best time as the walkways are void of foot traffic, lending me the feeling that I had this entire peaceful stretch of walkway all to myself.
THE MISSIONS – Travel Back in Time
If you want to get away from the crowds that flock to the Alamo, but still have that ‘Alamo’ like experience, then head to the San Antonio Mission National Historical Park. Hands down the award for the best of what San Antonio has to offer goes to these missions!
Lined up along the San Antonio River and set on park-like grounds, Missions Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada are roughly three miles from the next and each mission gives you the feeling as though you have stepped back in time.
In the 18th century, Spanish priests established these Catholic missions along the San Antonio River to expand Spanish New World influence. These missions, composing of a walled compound with a church and buildings, were a place where the priests and Native American lived.
You will be in awe of these massive structures and can explore for hours. If you’re an amateur photographer, you will certainly appreciate the opportunity to snap those pictures without a single person cluttering up your frame.
HOW CAN I GET THERE?
There are several options. If you’re traveling in a car, just motor on down the Mission Trail. (Alamo Street to South St Mary’s Street to Mission Road). It's very easy to drive from mission to mission, and parking is available at each mission site. Or you could take the Hop on Hop off bus #40 which makes regular stops at each of the missions. Directly across the street from the Alamo is the Visitor Center, where for around $2.00 you can purchase a bus ticket and then VIVA bus line #40 will transport you out to all four missions. The other option (and one I would have taken advantage of if I’d known about it) is to take an Uber to the farthest mission (Mission Espada) and rent a B-bike at one of the kiosks. From there, you can cycle the Mission Trail and visit each Mission before ending back in the city proper.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS
I loved them! But then I’m a fan of old buildings, in peaceful and serene settings without crowds. So to each their own.
San Antonio is one of those places you’ll never forget and is sure to transport you back to another time. The history, exploration, and authenticity will have you glad you hopped off your motorcycle and went discovering the things that make this city so special!
Till next time. Ride safe!
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