They represent the largest concentration of Spanish Colonial architecture in N. America, and they’re absolutely free to access. We’re referring to the four southernmost missions in San Antonio’s Missions National Historical Park—all active Catholic parishes with their own unique sense of place and history.
“The Missions are currently nominated for World Heritage status,” says Casandra Matej, executive director of the San Antonio CVB. “So including them in your San Antonio event is a fantastic way to incorporate the destination.”
The artistry of the mission buildings, as evident in dramatic flying buttresses, original frescos, carvings, statues and geometric designs, can be attributed to the Franciscan priests and Native Americans who built, lived and worked within the walled compounds throughout the 1700s. Like the Alamo, the buildings, designed to reflect the glory of the Spanish empire, now symbolize various stages of San Antonio’s history. For instance, all 25 risers leading to the San Jose mission’s choir loft were hand-hewn from a single log and assembled without nails or pegs. A towering Romanesque archway leads to a half-completed church at the San Juan Capistrano mission. And part of the Espada mission’s 270-year-old irrigation system operates the Espada aqueduct and dam. The National Park Service provides free docent-led tours and CSR opportunities such as tree planting and trail cleaning.
Just steps from the Alamo, the River Walk foot/bike trail connects to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, all of the city’s missions and thousands of hotel rooms, shops, restaurants and historic sites. Matej says a 45-minute River Barge cruise will give groups a “lay of the land” before setting them free to explore on their own.
“[San Antonio] meeting planners are organizing fewer group activities. This works well in San Antonio where our hotels and meeting venues are connected by the River Walk and surrounded by museums, theatres and historic sites.” Matej also recommends the 7,000-sf “San Antonio|The Saga,” a captivating video art installation depicting the historical discovery, settlement and development of San Antonio for groups or individuals with only a few hour’s downtime in between meetings and events. Located on the magnificent façade of San Fernando Cathedral, “it gives a lovely overview of our city,” Matej says, “incorporating our culture, art and history.”
Two arts villages are also connected to the River Walk, offering groups a variety of historic and contemporary pursuits. The new Pearl Brewery is being reimagined as an art-filled urban village, which among other things, will include the Culinary Institute of America’s latest campus, restaurants by San Antonio’s top chefs, the largest farmers market in the city and Hotel Emma, a boutique Kimpton property located in the historic Pearl Brewhouse. Pearl Brewery is scheduled for completion in 2015. La Villita, a historic arts village affectionately known as San Antonio’s first neighborhood, offers planners a number of historic homes for meetings and events and an outdoor amphitheatre on the River Walk.
“La Villita provides a tremendous sense of place,” Matej says. “Its charming buildings and brick-laden plaza were built up by German immigrants in the 1800s. It’s rooted in our history, shaped by our culture and home to our current-day artists.”