Visiting San Antonio (Texas)…
Every since someone I used to work with moved to San Antonio, I’ve wanted to go and visit this unique town. Whether on business or for pleasure, everyone I know who has ever visited San Antonio thoroughly enjoyed it.
From the historical Alamo, to the famed Riverwalk, from its many nearby golf courses to the shops and restaurants, there is something for everyone to do while in the area. In fact, you’ll find you didn’t have enough time to see it all and do it all. So, you’ll just have to go back again.
First, some American history and the Alamo which is the Spanish word for cottonwood. It was originally named the Mision San Antonio de Valero and was home to missionaries and their converts for about 70 years. Building began at its current site in 1724, and, in 1793, Spanish officials distributed land from five missions and gave them to the remaining Indians. These residents continued to work in the fields which were now their own and became part of the San Antonio community. In the 1800’s the Spaniards stationed a cavalry unit at the former mission. It was called Alamo by the soldiers there- after their hometown Alamo de Parras, Coahuila.
The Alamo was home to the Royalists and the Revolutionaries during Mexico’s long struggle for its independence. The military, first Spanish, Rebel and finally Mexican continued to occupy it until the Texas Revolution.
San Antonio and the Alamo were crucial to the Texas Revolution. In December of 1835, both the Texian and Tejano volunteers fought against Mexican troops stationed in the city. After several days of intense house-to-house fighting, General Marin Perfecto de C’s and his soldiers surrendered. Victorious, the volunteers then occupied the Alamo -and strengthened its defenses beyond what had been done during the recent battle.
In February of the following year the arrival of General Santa Anna’s army almost caught those at the Alamo by surprise. But the volunteers quickly prepared to defend the Alamo. They were able to hold out for 13 days against Santa Anna’s army. On the eighth day of the siege, 32 volunteers arrived which brought the number of defenders to almost 200. Legend says with the possibility of more help fading, the Alamo commander made a line in the ground and asked each volunteer willing to continue fighting to step over it; all did with one exception. The volunteers, save one, were ready to pay with their lives if necessary instead of surrendering to General Santa Anna. Two members of the defenders were Davy Crockett, the famed frontiersman, and, the reknown knife fighter, James Bowie. The final assault began minutes before to sunrise on March 6, 1836. The columns of Mexican soldiers came out of the dark, heading for the Alamo’s walls. The volunteers, with small arms fire and cannon, beat back attack after attack. However, the Mexican army climbed over the walls and rushed the compound, turning a captured cannon on the Long Barrack and the church, blasting open the barricaded doors. The defenders were then overwhelmed, and, by full sunrise, the battle was over and General Santa Anna himself entered the Alamo, enjoying his victory.
The exact facts about the siege of the Alamo is not completely known, but the battle has come to symbolize a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds – a site where man made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Thus, the Alamo is hallowed ground and is the Shrine of Texas Liberty. (For more information and visiting hours, go to thealamo.org.)
The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum is a lot of fun and it’s only about 50 feet from the Alamo. You’ll see exhibits showcasing 100+ years of Texas history. Play in the arcade and shoot in the shooting gallery. Check out the only Wax Museum of Texas History. Be sure to stop in their gift shop for some unique Texas souvenirs. (For more information, visit them at buckhornmuseum.com.
The Casa Navarro State Historical Park is very interesting. It showcases the furnished house, the home, and the store of Jose Antonio Navarro, a state legislator, who served under Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and, finally, the United States. He lived from 1795-1871. It depicts Texas’ rich Mexican heritage. The exhibits are only open to the public a few days a week so check before you go. (Contact them at tpwd.tx.us/park/jose.)
If children are traveling with you, the Fiesta Farm is fun. It has a petting zoo, hay rides, pony rides and a large sand box. It has plenty of shade and a big barn that’s warm on those chilly Texas days. However, it’s only open to the public a couple of days a week, so check it out before you go. (Their website is fiestafarmLC.com.)
Aztec on the River is the Riverwalk’s newest attraction. It’s a movie house circa 1926, completely restored and with a Mighty Wurlitzer Organ as one of its main features. Every 90 minutes there is a complimentary million-dollar special effects show, a giant screen with surround sound and interesting shops and dining areas. (Visit aztecontheriver.com for more details.)
And, now! San Antonio’s world famous, Riverwalk. This is the # 1 tourist destination in all of Texas! It’s here where you’ll want to spend quite a bit of time. You might even choose to stay at a hotel in the area. Although it’s rich heritage started in the mid 1500’s, the Riverwalk as we know it today, probably began in 1936 when a local businessmen’s association held, “A Venetian Night,” on the river, making it the first of many more parades to come to be held on the river. A few years later, local residents started pushing for development of the river area. But, it wasn’t until 1941 before another significant event was held; on March 14 a night parade and river carnival took place. Finally, in 1945, funding was approved for extending the Riverwalk from the northern end of the loop all the way to the future Tropicano Hotel location. The following year floodwaters deluged downtown San Antonio but damage was minimized by the dam and bypass channel. In 1946 that the first dining spot in the river bend opened, the Casa Rio Restaurant. In the early 1950’s the river was “straightened out” and more development began – the botanical garden was added in 1956. Park ranger service was added a year later and more people began to visit the area. The first hotel was in 1962, El Tropicano. At this time the area became known as Paseo del Rio and more shops and restaurants joined the original hotel.
Today, there are literally dozens of hotels, hundreds of eateries, bars, and spas, and boutique shops galore. There is a library, the convention center and the Civic Center Plaza. There are lots of special events and festivals held every year. In the next few months, there will be a “Ford Canoe Challenge” (90+ canoe teams compete in timed heats), an arts and craft show over Labor Day Week-end with another one, and the annual fall show, coming in October. The DOS EQUIS Pachanga del Rio occurs in mid September where visitors purchase tickets to sample culinary delights from over 20 Riverwalk establishments. And, every October brings the “Coffins on Parade,” where Halloween themed boats with coffins will float down the river on a dark and spooky night. (This event is free to the public.) Late November brings the Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony where over 100,000 twinkling lights form a fairylike canopy over the Riverwalk. These are just some of the events held every year.
In addition to special events, you’ll want to take some time to shop and have a meal or two at the local eateries. I’d suggest a boat ride, provided by Rio San Antonio Cruises so you can see the entire Riverwalk and pick the places you’d like to go back to. There are three places on the river to buy tickets and the narrated trip takes about 30 – 35 minutes. There are also river taxi shuttles, and restaurants, which offer boat cruises with a meal included. There is also a special place to get married right on the Riverwalk itself. (For more information on all Riverwalk activities, go to sanantonioriverwalk.com)
The San Antonio Crowne Plaza Hotel is a AAA 4-Diamond hotel located right on the Riverwalk. There is a complete gym, swimming pool, sauna, whirlpool, business center, and a gift shop located on the premises. A pub with all the sports action, and an upscale restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Your small pet (under 30 pounds) is invited to join you during stay. There is a daily parking fee and a valet parking charge. There have plenty of banquet facilities for weddings and other special celebrations and meeting space available for conferences. (See their website at ichotelsgroup.com)
Another hotel on Riverwalk, is the Holiday Inn San Antonio. Its location is perfect for walking to many of the city sights – the Alamo, El Mercado, a large shopping mall, and other attractions. From its three-level restaurant, Windows on the River, you can enjoy a picturesque view of the Riverwalk. A room high up in the tower will offer wonderful views of the area. There is a pool, gym, game room, restaurant, lounge and a business center. Free high-speed internet access is available in all rooms and your furry friends may join you at this hotel. There is also a children’s activity program. There is a daily parking fee here also. (Please ichotelsgroup.com for more information.)
The Yellow Rose is a charming Bed and Breakfast located in the King William District of downtown San Antonio. It’s only two blocks away from the Riverwalk and a trolley stop. Each of their spacious rooms has a private entrances, porch, private bathroom, queen beds with feather toppers, cable TV and the normal hotel amenities. They have packages available with and without breakfast. (Check out their rates and various packages at ayellowrose.com.)
There are many other hotels, motels, and B & B’s in San Antonio. They range from the very expensive to modest motels. There are also nearby campsites including a KOA camp on Gemble Road. This campground is located by a creek amid 40 acres of pecan trees. Only five miles from downtown, city buses will take you into the city itself. There are also city tours leaving right from this location.
If breakfast and/or brunch is your favorite meal, here are a couple of local spots to try out while you’re there. Named the 2006 “Best Breakfast in San Antonio,” is the Magnolia Pancake Haus on West Avenue. Reviewers say “it’s an awesome spot for breakfast or lunch.” Wait time on the weekends can reach up to an hour. El Mirador is in the King William District on S. St. Mary’s Street. One of their favorite dishes with the locals is their fruit tacos which you’ll find served with the Sunday brunch. Their soups are especially good, with Sopa Azteca being the most popular. . (Make reservations at 210-225-9444.)
For steak lovers, of course, there is Morton’s of San Antonio, only a block from the Alamo. It doesn’t get much better than Morton’s. (For reservations, visit mortons.com.) Another very good choice is Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar on Basse Road. If you’re really hungry, this is where you can get a 40-ounce Porterhouse steak. Veal, lamb, pork, fresh seafood and salads are also available. Be sure to check out their wine list – Wine Spectator recently (2006) honored them with 32 “Awards of Excellence.” (Visit their website at flemingssteahouse.com.)
If you enjoy tea, head on over to the Madhatter’s Tea House and Cafe and sample one of their 50+ varieties of tea. This rather quirky cafe serves granola bowls, French pastries, eggs benedict and strawberry topped English muffins. (Check out their hours by calling 210-212-4832.)
I’ve not mentioned all of the other activities in the area – golfing, water sports, hiking, whitewater rafting, visiting the Six Flags Theme Park, etc. You’ll want to return again and again to this wonderful area.
Have a great trip!