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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

San Antonio Week—Biking to the Missions

I recently read that San Antonio’s River Walk was the 14th most visited site in America, more popular than the Grand Canyon or Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. That doesn’t surprise me. Take the steps down to this soothing river, shaded by tall cypress, oaks, and willows and you feel transported to a tropical setting just below the busy downtown streets. In fact the River Walk has been such a smashing success that the city has been on a decade-long expansion to create a 13-mile linear park both north and south of downtown. With the 2009 opening of the Museum Reach, the River Walk doubled in length as it expanded north to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the emerging Pearl neighborhood (an upcoming blog). Even more exciting is the 10.2-mile long Mission Reach, south of the city, expected to be complete by November 2013. Yet, don’t wait another year to try this beauty strip. Phase I and II of the Mission Reach are already done, so you can rent a bike downtown and ride to one of my favorite sites in the city, the early 18th century missions, now a national historic park.
Last night I had Abel’s Bicycle Shop deliver a bike, helmet, lock, and detailed bike map to my downtown hotel, the Home 2 Suites by Hilton on Navarro Street. For the cost of $30 a day, Abel’s will also pick the bike up at your hotel when your riding day is done. This morning, I woke up early and veered onto South Alamo Street, where a bike lane led me to the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. Next to this huge former warehouse, now hosting galleries and artists work space, is an entrance to the Mission Reach bike trail. It was a gorgeous morning as I headed south, peering at the numerous green herons, egrets, and families of ducks. When it warmed up, the turtles arrived to sunbathe on upturned logs on the river. Workers were busy restoring some of the 400 acres of river and six pedestrian bridges that will be added when the Mission Reach is finished. This being April, sunflowers and purple wildflowers were in bloom. 
At Mission Road, I turned right and visited the first of two Spanish colonial missions, Concepción, built in 1731.  The crumbling lime stone exterior, which leads to a still operable church, is incredibly photogenic, especially with the early morning sunshine pouring down. I continued on Mission Road another 3 miles to reach the largest mission, San José, known for its popular Mariachi Mass each Sunday. At its height, the missions would hold close to 300 people, working as a church, farm, and ranch. Franciscan friars gathered the native population, converted them to Catholicism, and taught them to live like Spaniards. At Mission San José, you can still see the small living quarters that surround the square layout. Inside the stone walls, overlooking the green and the church, the setting is serene.  When I had my fill, I simply retraced my steps back to the paved bike trail and took my time returning to downtown. 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 04/24/12 at 12:00 PM
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photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk. is an Austin-Lehman Adventure's Top 125 Best Travel Blog Semi-Finalist

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