Spanish Legacy and Texas History in San Antonio, Texas

After we returned to the US following our round-the-world trip, we had a busy summer visiting family and friends within the country. In the latter part of June, we took a trip down to Texas to visit Eric’s family. We ended up seeing quite a few sights around the state.

One of our favorite days was spent touring the famous Spanish, Mexican and Texan sights in the city of San Antonio. Eric has a cousin who lives in San Antonio and graciously agreed to host us and Eric’s parents while we visited.

Downtown San Antonio

We found a self-guided walking tour online and did a part of it to explore some of the sights of the historic downtown. Based on where we were able to find free parking, we started the tour halfway through and only did the first part (and did it backwards). Some of the highlights included:

  • San Fernando Cathedral – the oldest cathedral in Texas, founded by some of the original settlers of the Spanish colony in San Antonio who were from the Canary Islands (an interesting fact that Eric didn’t know)
  • The River Walk – No visit to San Antonio would be complete without a stroll down the shaded paths by the “river” that runs through town. Though derided by some, it’s still a pleasant magnet for activity in downtown
  • La Villita – We found a nice cafe for a lunch break in this collection of shops and restaurants on the site of a historic village
  • The Menger Hotel – We walked through the lobby of this Victorian building which has seen many famous guests and is still operating today

The Alamo

We ended our walking tour at The Alamo, arguably San Antonio’s and even Texas’s most famous attraction. The site was originally one of the Spanish missions, built as San Antonio de Valero in 1718. By 1793 though, it was abandoned, but then in 1836 it was used by the Texian Army during the Texas Revolution. It was the site of the famous Battle of the Alamo, where all of the Texian defenders were killed when the Mexican Army led by General Santa Ana overtook the fort. The massive losses later served as a rallying cry for the Texians as they won their independence.


As such, this is a hugely important site in Texas history and a very popular site to visit. Also, surprisingly, it is free to visit. We purchased audio guides to better understand what we were seeing.

Not much is left of the compound from the battle of 1836. The image that most people think of when thinking of “The Alamo” is actually just the chapel building of a much larger complex. It is the main building still standing, so the bulk of the visit is focused there. Since many people died inside, it is treated as hallowed ground.


Throughout the courtyards of the complex are more informational signs about the Alamo and Texas history in general. It’s a fascinating story, so we spent quite a while just going through them. There is more information in one of the other still-standing buildings, the Long Barracks, but we skimmed through it because we wanted to have enough time for our final stop of the day.

The Missions

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spain established Catholic missions in the New World in order to try and convert the Native Americans to Christianity. The area that is now San Antonio proved to be fruitful for this type of work, so many missions were built along the San Antonio River (including what we now know as the Alamo).

Today, the ruins of the missions comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park (minus the Alamo, which is run independently). There is a nice hike-and-bike trail connecting them to each other and to downtown, but we were running low on time so we just drove.

We started at one of the largest and most well-preserved: Mission San Jose. We explored the grounds inside the well-built walls and the recently renovated chapel. There were only a few other people here, which was a nice change of pace from the busy Alamo.

The park closed at 5, so we hurried and just drove by a few of the other sights: Mission San Juan, Mission Espada and the Espada Dam and Aqueduct. Just the brief glimpse was interesting, so we hope to get the chance  to return and visit in much more detail.


At the time of our visit, the missions and the Alamo were not UNESCO World Heritage sites (something that some of us, namely Eric, obsess over seeing), but we read that they were considered strong contenders to be named as such soon. And just a week later, they were! So now we can add the San Antonio Missions to our list of sites visited.

Pearl Brewery

To cap off our day of sightseeing, Eric’s extended family took us to the up-and-coming development near the former Pearl Brewery. We had a nice dinner of Mexican “street foods” at La Gloria, then walked down and back up a newer, less-developed stretch of the RiverWalk. Both the kids and adults in the group were fascinated to watch sightseeing boats go up and down a set of locks along the way.

Final Thoughts

One day is clearly not enough to see all there is to see in San Antonio, especially if you are interested in all of the Spanish and Texan historical sites to be found. Thanks again to Eric’s cousin and her family for hosting us on our all too brief visit!

Flashback Friday: Tubing the Guadalupe River

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our memories – from either from our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances!

Recently, we spent some time in Vang Vieng, Laos which is a world famous tubing locale. While we didn’t exactly get in on the tubing rowdiness, it did bring back some memories of when, senior year, we tubed down the Guadalupe River in TX with our friend Charles. It was a quiet and calm trip, but we enjoyed every minute!

Tubing 04

After tubing, we enjoyed a catfish dinner in Clear Springs!

Gruene catfish place


Home for the Holidays in Texas

The first part of the time we spent on break in the United States was spent with Eric’s family in Texas. During our two weeks in town, we were able to do quite a bit…

We took a trip to Galveston,

decorated for Christmas,

Trimming the tree

Trimming the tree

perused neighborhood Christmas decorations,

met a new family member,

celebrated Christmas with family,

Christmas Eve carols

Christmas Eve carols

ate lots of Mexican food,

watched the Cowboys beat the Eagles and the Colts to secure their playoff spot,

reconnected with our cat,

and drank some good Texas beers.

Lakewood Growler with Eric's cousin

Lakewood Growler with Eric’s cousin

Thanks to all of our family and friends in Dallas for making our visit a fun one!

Awesome sunset

Awesome sunset

Visiting Galveston, Texas as Tourists

During our time spent on our break with Eric’s family in Texas, we took a small three-night trip down with the family to the seaside city of Galveston. The two of us had made quick trips to Galveston multiple times while students at Rice University in nearby Houston, but on this visit we decided to approach it more like we were visiting a new place on our RTW trip. We even consulted Lonely Planet’s Texas guidebook!

Where We Stayed

We aren’t the only ones that know how to use “points” to travel cheaply! Eric’s family has a timeshare that gives them bonus points, and came up with the idea of using some of these points for a free stay at a property in Galveston. Our room at the Silverleaf Seaside Resort was quite spacious, with two bedrooms each with its own full bathroom, a living room with a sleeper couch and a full kitchen. There was decent access to the beach by crossing the street as well. The one downside of the resort is that it is located pretty far outside of town, so trips to see the sights and eat at restaurants had to be well-planned.

What We Did

During the late 19th century, Galveston was the main port for Texas and one of the largest in the United States, and the city prospered. But, in 1900 a large hurricane hit and destroyed half the city. The town’s influence faded, but a lot of the structures from this period remain. Many of our activities involved visiting these locations.

Many of the historic structures are located on Broadway, the large boulevard through the center of town

Many of the historic structures are located on Broadway, the large boulevard through the center of town

The first location we visited was the Bishop’s Palace, a Victorian-style mansion built in 1893. You tour the two stories of the house open to the public using a self-guided audio tour. They have only left a little bit of furniture, but the interior is still quite magnificent. We especially enjoyed the Christmas decorations that were on display.

We also toured the Moody Mansion, another large house built in the early 1890s. The interior (which you can’t take pictures of for some reason) is still furnished with many of the items from the Moody family estate. The only way to visit the interior is on a guided tour.

The exterior of the Moody Mansion

The exterior of the Moody Mansion

During the heyday of Galveston, the main commercial district called The Strand was the hub of commercial activity. In modern times, this is still the center of tourist activity in town. We took a stroll through the district and admired the older buildings, but were a little disappointed to discover that many of the businesses seemed to be running on reduced hours in the winter low season. While in the area, we saw two films at the Pier 21 TheaterGalveston: Gateway to the Gulf, which described how Galveston had been a major immigration center in the late 19th century, and The Great Storm, which told the story of the hurricane of 1900 with some pretty chilling eyewitness testimony.

Galveston has also been hit by a few hurricanes in modern years. In 2008, Hurricane Ike hit the island and did a significant amount of damage, including killing over 40,000 trees. The Island came up with a fun way to remove these dead trees: turn them into artwork! We picked up a brochure at the visitor’s center for a Tree Sculpture Tour, which guided us through some of the different sculptures found within an area of a few blocks in the East End Historic District. We had a good time trying to spot the different people and creatures carved out of the trunks of the tree (with a chainsaw!).

The Strand may not have been too alive in December, but there are other activities that are best during the winter months. One evening we took a trip to the Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens. The Moody Gardens complex (named after the same family as the Mansion) set up a mile long path filled with different light displays, accompanied by music and other sound effects. It was a pleasant reminder of our various trips to Zoo Lights back home in Denver.

It was too cold to swim, but we had to make sure to visit the beach while in Galveston. One of the afternoons we walked from the resort across the street to its beach access point.

Then, on the way out of town we had to continue a tradition from college: walking out on the jetties that extend out from the sea wall protecting the main part of the city.

One night the two of us also chose to do our college-era tradition in reverse: we took an evening road trip to visit friends in Houston. The top moment was definitely getting to catch up with our friends in various locales, including two different apartments and grabbing a drink at a Whole Foods (who knew that it had a bar inside?!).

We had a nice sunset when headed up to Houston

We had a nice sunset when headed up to Houston

Where We Ate

Because of the location of the resort out of town, we ended up eating out for lunch and cooking for dinner once we had returned home for the night. Our two big meals while in town we both at seafood places: Shrimp ‘N Stuff and Nick’s. Eric and his parents enjoyed sampling the fried shrimp (and other fried items) at both locations. Della is less of a seafood fan, but she was a good sport and managed to find something good to eat at both places.

Final Thoughts

It was a lot of fun to get to visit Galveston as a tourist and see some of the things that we hadn’t seen on previous visits. It would have been nice if it was a little warmer so that we could have gone swimming, but we were still able to find plenty of fun things to do!

Flashback Friday: Big Bend National Park, Texas

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our favorite memories- from either our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances!

We are taking a slight break from our travels abroad to spend some time with Eric’s family in Texas. This made us flash back to a wonderful trip we took during spring break of 2011. Eric had been singing the praises of Big Bend National Park for a long time and he finally got Della there… Along with both the Hoffman and Jean parents! This photo is taken from Santa Elena Canyon with the Big Bend Basin in distance. The whole area has unreal desert scenery!


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