You can’t go to San Antonio without visiting the Alamo. Nope. Not possible. I mean, it could be done. Would I suggest skipping the Alamo on a first-visit? Absolutely not. The Alamo is San Antonio’s most famous attraction, a “must-see” with a special, all-caps emphasis on the MUST. Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.
You must have a million questions buzzing through your head right now. What is the Alamo? Why is it so famous? Why should I even care about an old Texan building? Don’t worry, I’ll answer them all…eventually (I have this really wonderful habit of going on side tangents). Think of this post as a mini travel guide to the Alamo. Everything you need to know before your first visit to this iconic museum and shrine is right here.
Know The Real History Of The Alamo Before Visiting
The history of the Alamo begins in February, 1836. Imagine, for a moment, that you are Katniss Everdeen, a kickass heroine who volunteers as tribute for what can only be a losing battle. Most everyone else in this battle is stuck up and tough. The kind of rough-and-tumble people who wouldn’t hesitate before slicing your throat. After all, this is a matter of property. This is a matter of pride. This is a matter of survival. And right now, you know your chances of winning are slim to none, but you go into battle anyways because this is the right thing to do.
The volunteers who fought at the battle of the Alamo were just that – real-life Katniss Everdeens.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t remember the story of the Alamo before visiting. I remembered the name. I didn’t remember the spirit. And yes, this is while hearing the word (or rather seeing the word) “Alamo” twenty times a day. The Alamo is unavoidable in Texas. Go into any tourist shop (even in the middle of the Panhandle) and you find at least one t-shirt sporting a picture of the iconic UNESCO Heritage Site. You’ll find a mug coloured the famous beige hue and a poster parading the glamorized stony statue outside. You’ll hear the name Davy Crockett thrown around by locals answering tourists’ questions. Go down further to San Antonio, the home of the Alamo, and you know this is the pride of Texas.
It’s strange to think about this. The Alamo has a complicated history. Most of the famous defenders were slave owners. The ideologies of some of our so-called heroes are blood-curdling to hear. Yet, I’ll admit, they fought against Mexican oppression and epitomized “strong-will” and “bravery”.
The battle of the Alamo is a multifaceted story, marked by shades of gray, and not a rose-coloured pink. It’s a series of twisted myths that have been blown into a glorified tall-tale. The term “The Alamo” doesn’t clearly refer to a fort or a mission or a battle anymore. The current usage of the word is hazy. But I believe it’s safe to say, that at its core, The Alamo is a series of historic moments that, in time, spawned lessons that lasted centuries.
Know The Address Of The Alamo And Where To Park
The Alamo is located at 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas 78205. Surrounded by a steady block of shops each sporting some kind of arcade or game or souvenir (Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, Tomb Raider 3D, just to name a few attractions near the Alamo), the historic plaza district is a crowded tourist hub. By early morning, the street parking lot behind the Alamo gets filled up quickly. But luckily, there are plenty of other parking options.
Where to park when visiting the Alamo?
- There is meter parking at Travis Park Plaza (roughly $2.00 for 2 hours of parking and keep in mind, it’s a ten minute walk from there to the Alamo)
- St. Mary’s Street Garage is nice and safe but a little bit on the pricier side at $10 (right next to Travis Park Plaza)
- There is a parking garage at the corner of 498 E Houston St and Losoya St (again, $10 on weekends, less well-kept, but slightly closer to the Alamo)
- If you are staying at a nearby hotel, you can keep your car parked there and walk (unless you’ve eaten too much delicious Tex-Mex and can’t take another step like me)
- Some hotels further out also offer shuttle buses to the Alamo (check at the front desk of whichever hotel you are staying at)
Know The Alamo Visiting Hours
The Alamo is open from 9AM to 7PM during peak season and 9AM to 5:30 PM, otherwise. It’s open on most holidays, with the major exception being Christmas Day.
During peak-season, the Alamo is crowded. Imagine your body being pulled through the stink and sweat of herds of people. Gross, right? I know. It’s no secret that I’m all in favor of peace and quiet.
So when is the actual best time to visit the Alamo?
Off-peak season. Traditional off-peak season is between September to May, but visiting between March to April is best. The weather starts to heat up a little (I know, this is Texas. It should be warm year-round. I really wish it was.) and the Alamo courtyard starts to fill up with shades of green.
On a side note, try to visit in the morning, on a weekday, between 9AM and 11AM to avoid school groups during the Fall and Spring.
Know The Alamo Admission Cost
The Alamo is free.
Wait, there is a free attraction in San Antonio?
Cue the party poppers and screams of joy. Is there a catch? No. If you want, you can purchase an audio guide for $7.00. The money from your purchase goes to upkeep of the grounds. Think of the audio tour as an optional donation. There isn’t a whole lot of information printed inside the museum itself, so the audio tour is a really great way to get an emotional and educational perspective (if you can’t tell by now, I loved it and think it is worth every penny).
But if you are on a tight budget, feel free to skip the tour. The Alamo audio tour is a luxury, not a necessity.
Know The Rules Of Visiting The Alamo
The Alamo is a shrine that commands a sense of respect. As a result, there are certain rules that should be followed.
- You can’t take pictures inside the Alamo, so silence and pocket your phone (phone use isn’t allowed either so this is a win-win).
- You can’t wear hats in the Alamo (this includes cowboy hats, fedoras, pretty Instagram hats that I’m far too fond of….)
- You can’t bring food or drinks inside (empty out your water bottle before-hand and fill it up later)
Know These Top 3 Things To Do In The Alamo
There are so many things to do in the Alamo itself. Forget the nearby complex. A trip to the Alamo can take a couple of hours if you savor every moment and inch of the complex and grounds. So that you truly get a sense of what there is to do here, I’m going to take you on a mini-tour.
Oh goodness, what is she doing?
It’s okay, don’t be shy.
Take A Tour Of The Shrine
When visiting the Alamo, we have to see the shrine. No excuses. So let’s step inside, shall we?
Inside, the first thing that grabs our attention are the flags – flags lined against the top of the ceiling, flagpoles lined along the side of the walls. These are the home flags of the volunteers. Many aren’t from Texas. Some aren’t even from the US.
Our feet move slowly over the floor. Fragments of the bodies of some of the unnamed volunteers are buried underneath us. The experience is almost haunting. There is a certain sadness that skirts the once-Spanish mission.
We can tell the battle was bloody. We can tell that it was a cruel defeat. But we know the Texans weren’t dejected. The void in their spirits is filled with revenge.
Stroll Through The Courtyard
Are you okay with the tour so far? Yes. Okay, then. Next up, the courtyard.
As we cross the courtyard and wander into the next piece of the story, we are transported to a tale of victory and vengeance. We learn more about the prickly battles that followed. We learn more about the mission origins.
We learn how Texas truly gained its independence.
Check Out The Gift Shop
And that concludes our tour, ladies and gentlemen. Onto the gift shop. Now, I don’t normally advocate visiting the gift shop at tourist attractions but I have to make an exception for the Alamo.
Our feet pad across the green and eventually, we find ourselves in the Alamo gift shop. At first, this seems like memorabilia madness. Stuffed toys. Playing Cards. Baseball caps. But in the center is a giant diorama of the battle, laid out inexplicable detail with tiny figurines. Every piece of the battle is right there, in front of us.
As we turn to leave, we can hear the tune of our Mockingjay. “Remember the Alamo” it sings.
In Quick Summary:
- Visit the Alamo shrine first
- Stroll through the courtyard
- See the complete diorama at the gift shop
Know That The Alamo is Worth Seeing
There is a common debate about whether the Alamo is truly worth visiting. In my opinion, yes. Absolutely.
To show you, I’m going to take you back outside to the sidewalk.
From our vantage point, a rectangular, grey cenotaph meets our eyes. The base shows Lieutenant Travis and soldiers who were killed in battle. Underneath the concrete mass lie some of the brave defenders. From the side, we can barely make out the outline of a woman with a garland. She is the spirit of Texas.
In the middle, still on the other side of the road, is a small Spanish-style building. It doesn’t look like much. It has a faded, stone exterior. It’s old and unassuming.
This is the Alamo.
“Wait, are you sure this is the Alamo?” you ask.
I nod my head.
You scratch your head and twirl your fingers. The Alamo looks like a doll-size replica of a graceful structure. It’s small. Tiny, in fact. We could walk through the museum and brush through the surface in a few minutes. But the beauty of the Alamo is not in the intricacy of the structure or it’s size but in the stories it carries. And we’re here to learn. And to listen. We’re here to see myths debunked and facts drawn to life. That’s what makes this UNESCO World Heritage Site a giant. And that’s why the Alamo is absolutely worth visiting.
Did you enjoy this post about visiting the Alamo? Let me know in the comments below! I would love to hear from you. P.S. This is my very first blog post so any feedback would be much appreciated.