One of the best places to experience San Antonio’s past is Casa Navarro State Historic Site. The THC property is the original 1850s home of José Antonio Navarro, a leading advocate for Tejano rights and one of only two native-born Texans to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. Visitors get a sense of mid-19th century Texas as they walk among the site’s charming whitewashed adobe structures topped by roofs with rugged wood shingles. The site was named a National Historic Landmark in 2017.
Everyone remembers the Alamo, but don’t forget about the other four historic structures of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The missions were named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2015. One of the best ways to visit them is on a bike along the Mission Trail. Highlights include Mission Espada—the oldest of the original missions, founded in 1690 and moved to the San Antonio River in 1731—and Mission San José, known as the “Queen of the Missions” due to its enviable size, ornate architectural details, and thriving mission complex.
Another one of the city’s most prominent buildings is the remarkable San Fernando Cathedral, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Gothic Revival structure—officially consecrated in 1873—features lofty arches, a gilded 24-foot-tall altar, and enormous stained-glass windows.
For those strolling around the picturesque plaza, be sure to admire the magnificent Bexar County Courthouse, a Romanesque Revival structure designed by J. Riely Gordon in the 1890s and restored through the THC’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.
Nearby, the circa-1749 Spanish Governor’s Palace served as the headquarters of the ranking representative of the king of Spain. Particularly striking are the palace’s three-foot-thick stone walls, eclectic mix of historic artifacts, and lush courtyard.
Another one of the city’s premier heritage areas is the King William Historic District, just south of downtown. Greek Revival, Victorian, and Italianate homes stand on pleasant tree-lined streets in this 25-square-block area, one of the first Texas districts to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the homes are privately owned, but two are open to the public for tours. The 1859 Guenther House contains a museum of milling history and features elaborate woodwork from a 1915 restoration. Steves Homestead, a stunning three-story mansion constructed in 1876, boasts the city’s first indoor swimming pool.
The downtown La Villita Historic District reflects the Spanish, European, and American influences that shaped San Antonio’s history. Once the site of a Coahuiltecan Indian village, La Villita later thrived as a residential area in the 1700s and 1800s with Mexican-inspired homes of stucco-covered caliche block and German-style vernacular structures. It now houses shops and restaurants.