Everybody loves Texas. Big, powerful and marked by unmistakable style, the Lone Star State owns the cowboy look, big oil, big hair and big ranching. Worth fighting for, the battles that raged to win this territory were just as big. Remember the Alamo?

A bastion of independence, the Alamo was originally known as San Antonio de Valero Mission. If you had visited in the 18th century, you would have found a peaceful outpost built by Franciscan fathers that wanted to teach natives how to live a Spanish lifestyle embracing farming, culture and religion. You would have seen that things were going along swimmingly for a while. However as time passed, you would have watched the Spanish soldiers stationed at the mission go native, and witnessed changes in the Mexican government’s attitude that might have made you a little nervous.

Eventually, push came to shove with Mexico making aggressive moves to gain dominion over Texas. After suffering two sieges by the Mexican army, American settlers retreated to safety inside the walls of the Alamo. Among the small group, famous American frontiersmen, David Crockett and James Bowie fought valiantly for 12 days. Ultimately, Mexican soldiers surrounded the compound, broke through the walls and initiated a bloody battle that left few survivors. That egregious assault was avenged soon afterward in a quick, 18-minute Texas army crush led by Sam Houston, as the victorious American soldiers shouted to the defeated Mexicans, “Remember the Alamo!”

To really engage with all the Alamo has to offer on a trip to San Antonio, you can book a private tour for 2-20 people at times that allow for small crowds and comfortable viewing. Additionally, you can emphasize a battlefield tour, a history talk or a self-guided audio tour for your group. Admission to the Alamo is free, keeping in character with the Lone Star State’s passion for freedom and independence. These tours, however, are not prohibitively expensive and will feed your history hunger with an additional dose of patriotic spirit. If you don’t opt for the private tour, look for trained docents walking the grounds as veritable encyclopedias of Alamo history, ready and eager to spout Texas facts with pride and set you straight on a few myths along the way.

Only available September 1 to June 1, excluding the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break, these tours avoid the peak hours from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. and require advance booking. You can also book an evening tour that gives you the run of the grounds after the crowds have departed. The After Hours Tour also requires advance booking with a minimum of 20 guests. Both private and after hours tours give you an in-depth, hour-long tour with personal access to the knowledge of the guides taking you through the church, the Shrine of Texas Liberty and the Long Barrack Museum. Make sure to call well in advance of your arrival to reserve the best tour times.

Whether you guide yourself or choose to go with an expert, the centerpiece of your tour will be the Alamo church, or shrine. It was never fully completed, but still offers evidence of graceful mission style architecture with details you’ll find quite interesting. Make sure to check out the Long Barack Museum, marking the spot of the fiercest defense. Poignant and pensive, it is certainly a place where reverence is expected. To note, adherence to attendance, such as removal of hats and lowered speaking voices, are appreciated. Make sure to read the additional Rules of Reverence on the Alamo website prior to your visit. The Wall of History and the Gift Shop are worthwhile stops, offering you a great timeline perspective and selection of clever mementos from your visit.

As the city grew up around the site, it became essential to maintain definition between the Alamo and urban development. Additional land around the buildings was purchased and planted, creating a serene reflective space between old and new. As you stroll the lush gardens surrounding the property, a sense of pride and relevance sets in, deepening your experience in the quiet shade of the perimeter. July and August can deliver merciless San Antonio heat and sun, illustrating the privilege of modern green space design and the challenges settlers endured without such gracious amenities.

Since it is central to downtown San Antonio, easy access to from the city center makes it a nice walking tour along the pleasant Riverwalk. Shuttles from some hotels also transport you door-to-door, and Metro Transit offers bus service within the city to the Alamo site. Amtrak connects the city to Austin, Ft. Worth, and Dallas, as well as far-flung points like Orlando, Chicago and Los Angeles. Parking can get crowded at peak times during the summer, but is generally available if driving is your preference.

To this day, you can’t help but think freedom, courage and independence at the mention of the Alamo. It reminds us of what our forefathers sacrificed in the pursuit of that all-important end. And that, in itself, is even bigger than Texas.

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