I’m not going to get into that whole hoohah about whether Texans stole Texas or won it fair and square. That’s for historians and politicians to argue over. And I’m not going to get into the hoohah about whether the men who fought and died at the Alamo were heroes or fools, either. That’s a whole lot of air about nothing as far as I’m concerned. And I can say that, because I was born and reared in San Antonio.
The fact is that they did fight there, and since then the place has become pretty important to a whole lot of people. A lot of money has been spent since then, too, restoring the place so it probably looks better now than it ever did in its youth, and it’s gotten a little tacky what with all the souvenirs and such all around– but you still have to visit it when you come to San Antonio. They do call it the birthplace of Texas, after all. And maybe it is.
I recommend that you do that first thing, and get it out of the way. It’s free, and there are artifacts, history plaques, a library and gift shop. But it’s so surrounded by the modern city of San Antonio that you can’t get a real feel for what it was like back then anyhow, so take your tour and get your pictures and then go see the other things that make the city such a special place.
The Alamo might be the most famous thing in the Texas, but you might be surprised to learn it isn’t the number one tourist attraction any more. That honor now goes to the River Walk, also in San Antonio, not far from the Alamo and smack dab in the heart of downtown. They say more tourists visit River Walk than visit all of the Hawaiian islands put together, and I don’t doubt it as it can get pretty crowded there.
Called Paseo del Rio in Spanish, it was begun in the 1930’s. Lots of the work was done by civilian workers during the Great Depression in return for social assistance, and they and everyone since has done a bang up job of it. Laid out along more than two miles of river, it’s crowded with shops, hotels, a timeshare or two, restaurants and cafes, and a really nice theater. You could easily spend a whole day here and not get bored; I know, because me and the family have done it more than once.
Especially during festivals and at Christmas time, this area gets dressed up really fancy. You’ve probably seen pictures of it in magazines and ads, and the pictures don’t exagerate. If there’s a better place to be during the holidays I’d like to know about it!
One of the best things to do here is take a ride on one of the river barges (do it early in the day before it gets too crowded), and it’ll show you the whole shebang from a wonderful point of view. Bring a pad and pencil along with your camera to make a note of places you want to come back to. Especially the restaurants lined up along the banks; you could easily eat your way through your vacation without leaving River Walk and without eating at the same place twice! Tickets can be purchased at 3 sites along the Riverwalk. Tours last about 40 minutes, and it’s not expensive.
But there’s a few other places you ought to visit too, and some things to see and do that you might not find in the usual tourist traps. Here are a few of them.
- Lone Star Trolley- if you take this tour you’ll get a good narrated taste of downtown, Market Square, Southtown, and the King William Historic District. It circles through the city and you can get on and off the trolley all day long whenever you want to investigate something. Wheelchair accessible. Located at 301 Alamo Plaza.
- La Villita National Historic District- this means the Little Village in Spanish. It’s an area designed to look like a Hispanic village, and dates back to the 1700’s. Here you will find plenty of of good restaurants, craft shops, boutiques and lots of old timey flavor. Free admission. Located between Presta and S. Alamo Streets on Nueva. http://lavillita.com/
- King William Historic District- This area was named by German merchants after Kaiser Wilhelm. You’ll find amazing displays of wealth from its heyday in the 1700’s in the architecture here. There are walking tours and such, and if you’re interested in this kind of thing the Steves Homestead is open for tours. You can find more information at their website: http://kingwilliamassociation.org
- San Antonio Missions National Historic Park- San Antonio derives its name from a mission which was operated in the 1700’s by Franciscan monks. There are four missions which still function today: Concepcion (1731), San Jose (1720), San Juan Capistrano (1731), and San Francisco (1730’s) are open to the public daily, donations accepted. 2202 Roosevelt Ave. http://www.nps.gov/saan/index.htm
- Mexican Cultural Institute- This is a wonderful place just full of things of Mexican interest including artifacts, film, art, conferences, performances and workshops. It’s part of HemisFair Park (below). Free admission. 600 HemisFair Plaza Way
- HemisFair Park- This park commemorates the 250th year celebration of the founding of San Antonio. It has playgrounds, water gardens, the Mexican cultural institute I mentioned above, the institute of Texan Cultures and the Tower of the Americas for a 750 ft. view of the city with a revolving restaurant and cocktail lounge. There’s rollercoasters, a lot of food, Ferris wheels, a water park and much more. 200 acres of entertainment. Admission is free, but with everything else inside it can be expensive for a family (plan to spend at least $100). The City of San Antonio is getting ready to “revitalize” its downtown, including HemisFair Park (which has gotten a little dog-eared over the years), so come see it now in all its slightly seedy glory! 17000 1-10 at loop 1604.
- Especially if you’ve got kids with you, you’ve got to visit the Zoo. Just five minutes away from the River Walk and the Alamo, near the headwaters of the San Antonio River, this “internationally renowned facility was born out of a unique environment that lends itself well to exhibiting exotic animals – an abandoned rock quarry, previously owned by the San Antonio Portland Cement Company” (to quote the zoo itself, which says it better than me!)
The zoo has been open since 1914, first with just a few deer, elk, buffalo and small carnivores. Since then management of the zoo has been turned over to the nonprofit San Antonio Zoological Society, and “it has become one of the top 10 zoos in the United States, with about 3,400 exotic mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish of 700 species. Along the riverbank, near-tropical conditions prevail while, nearby, hills and outcroppings of weathered limestone dominate a desert-like landscape. In these settings resembling their natural habitats, animals are displayed in family groups, co-existing with other species as they do in the wild.” http://www.sazoo-aq.org/
And that all ought to be enough to keep you busy for the whole of your vacation.
Where to eat? Anywhere! It’s ALL good in San Antonio!
Editor’s Note: There are several timeshare resorts available within the city itself and in the surrounding Hill Country, with exchange possibilities via both RCI and Interval International. To explore your options, visit the resort directories in RCI and Interval International.
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