San Antonio has the friendly atmosphere of a small town despite being the seventh largest city in the United States. Attractions such the Alamo, where Davy Crockett famously took his last stand, and the restaurant-lined Riverwalk ensure that San Antonio is one of the most popular destinations in the country, drawing millions of visitors per year. The city has a unique combination of Spanish colonial plazas, downtown German architecture, and vibrant Tex-Mex culture. Its music scene combines Mexican and Texan country and western strands, and its cuisine reflects tortillas and T-bones in interesting combinations. San Antonio's Fiesta week in late April ranks as one of the biggest community events in the US. The city is easily navigable on foot, particularly the Riverwalk, which winds its way along the San Antonio River, past cafes, restaurants, shaded groves and preserved colonial buildings. The Riverwalk is the heart of this city, linking its key attractions together and providing sanctuary from the heat of summer.
The Alamo has assumed mythological significance in American culture. The Alamo was originally built as a mission by Spanish priest in 1724, and was named Mision San antonio de Valera. In 1794, the Spanish missionaries secularized the land and gave it to the converts living there in order to continue their farming.
However, in the early 1800's the Spanish military stationed a cavalry at the old mission station, and it's then that the place's history began to change. The cavalry men began calling the mission the Alamo, a reference to their hometown in Spain, and during the following wars over Texas, the Alamo played a very important role. Davy Crocket and his small party held out for 13 days against a 2,500-strong Mexican army before finally being overrun and executed.
The Alamo is now described as the cradle of Texan liberty and for years after the siege Texans would cry "Remember the Alamo" during battle. The actual Alamo building is smaller than most visitors expect, and its gravitas slightly undermined by tacky amusement park rides and souvenir shops. That doesn't daunt millions of annual visitors who make a pilgrimage here, often without really knowing why.
The centre of San Antonio's shopping and dining district, the Riverwalk winds its way for five miles (8km) along the banks of the San Antonio River. Visitors can explore the Rivercenter Mall along the way and take a stroll around La Villita Historic District.
An equally good way to enjoy the landscape and scenic variety of the Riverwalk is take a narrated cruise or dinner cruise with one of the many river boats. Over 20 events take place every year along the Riverwalk, such as Downtown Residents Thirsty Thursdays, Fiesta Noche del Rio, the Memorial Day Arts and Crafts Show, the Ford Canoe Challenge, Riverwalk Lucky Duck Race, Light Coffins on Parade, Caroling Nights with Santa, Fiesta de las Luminarias, and many more.
The cobbled walkways are a full level below the city's streets lending the Riverwalk a secluded, peaceful atmosphere. The Riverwalk is a good place to go for a night out on the town when in San Antonia, as there are plenty of restaurants and bars all along the path. Some famous attraction found along the Riverwalk are the Pearl Brewery, the Alamo, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Arneson River Theatre, and the La Vilita.
The city's biggest theme park and one of the best-known in the United States, the place keeps raising the bar with the recently added water rides to enhance its theme park rides, roller coasters and musical shows. Avoid eating a large meal before embarking on the Superman Krypton Roller Coaster, looping Boomerang coaster, or the Scream, which entails 20-story free fall. The rides all come with a rating, from mild to moderate to max.
The park has won Amusement Today's award for The Best Theme Park Shows in the Country for 10 years in a row. Xcelleration, a BMW-themed skills show is guaranteed to impress the teenagers, while cartoon-character themed shows are hosted throughout the year and musical concerts , particularly contry music, are also a regular occurence. Plenty of snack shops, ice cream parlours, barbecue restaurants and other fast food joints are available to fuel visitors on a long day out, and for those who tire of all the excitement, there are many shops available for more relaxed browsing. The park is happy to organise and coordinate group outings including picnics.
In the true spirit of the Wild West, the Buckhorn saloon contains over 8,000 wildlife exhibits, wax effigies, horns, and other western memorabilia. The saloon was opened in 1881 by a young Albert Friedrich, who discovered that many travellers in the Wild West had little cash on them to pay for drinks and food. However, what they did have were interesting artefacts collected on their travels. Friedrich accepted the horns and skulls of various animals as payment, and so the great collection began. Mrs. Friedrich herself preferred to collect rattlesnake rattles in lieu of payment that she then used to create unusual artwork still on display at the saloon.
Attached to the saloon is the Ranger Museum, filled with revolvers, handguns, shotguns, ranger badges, and more. The main Ranger Museum attraction, however, is a reproduction of San Antonio at the turn of the century that visitors can walk through to get a feel of the old town. There is also a shooting gallery, an arcade and a wonderfully eclectic shop, dubbed the "World's Oddest Store".
Apart from the museum, there is also an actual working saloon where visitors can choose from a selection of local craft beers and get the feel of an old-time saloon, decked out with the original marble and cherry-wood bar counter. The Buckhorn has been open for over 129 years and has rich and ribald history populated by cowboys, baddies, card sharks, and plenty of cattle. The original brass foot rail still lines the bar.
Described by National Graphic as the most beautiful building in San Antonio, the diminutive palace once served as the headquarters for the Spanish rulers of this region. The ten-room building is built in the Spanish Colonial style, and although the exact date isn't know, it could have been erected as early as 1722. The lovely building is filled with treasures and historical relics from the 18th century and the patio flows onto a relaxing garden that is perfect for contemplating the glory of times past. The palace is an easy walk from the San Antonio Riverwalk and it tis worth taking some time out of exploring the Riverwalk to take a look at the palace. On the last Sunday of every month a living history group visits in period costume and shares information and reenactments with visitors.
San Antonio has a humid subtropical climate characterised by fairly mild winters and hot summers. The weather varies between dry and humid, depending on prevailing winds. Autumn and spring are warm with a fair amount of rainfall. In San Antonio, July and August are the hottest months of summer, and travellers planning on visiting should brace themselves for temperatures that frequently reach 95°F (35°C). January is the coldest month of winter, with temperatures dropping as low as 39°F (4°C).
Welcome to the birthplace of Tex-Mex cuisine. This city has created a wonderful fusion of spicy Latino influences, hearty Lone Star beef, and German influences. There are plenty of other cuisines available across hundreds of different restaurants, but it would be a shame to miss out on the world's finest Tex Mex during a visit to San Antonio. Explore Central Market and look out for the food trucks. For breakfast, don't miss the amazing breakfast tacos made with fresh tortillas, plus an egg, cheese, fried potato and chorizo filling. The Riverwalk is a great place to go for a range of dinner options and buzzing nightlife.
Situated in La Mansión del Río in the downtown area, this highly regarded Tex-Mex restaurant offers both fabulous food and a wonderful setting on a riverside veranda shaded by palm trees. Tapas are available for each meal of the day; main courses are anchored on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Check out the $12 lunchtime 'Two Courses in 40 Minutes' special.
Start off slow at the super-modern first-floor bar before heading upstairs to the restaurant for some of San Antonio's best dining experience. Enjoy the elegant cuisine with the restaurant's celebrated chicken-fried oysters or blue-crab spring rolls. If you're on a budget but your appetite isn't, get here before 6.30pm for the 3-course dinner at only $30.
Fine dining in a beautiful 19th century house with gorgeous views of the river. The dishes are European fusion, with plenty of fresh fish and modern reinterpretations of classic dishes such as beef Wellington. The desserts are sensational and the wine list quite possibly the best in town.
Held every year in late April, Fiesta is a massive, mariachi-fuelled celebration that spans 10 days, hundreds of performers, and thousands of spectators from across San Antonio's multicultural spectrum. With over 100 events, it is one of the biggest parties in Texas and makes it a great time to visit the city.
Fiesta originated in 1891 and has today grown into a community benefit event that generates millions for charity. The Battle of Flowers Parade is the only parade in the country that is planned and directed by women alone.
Some of the events included in the week-long extravaganza are a 10k walk, 10th Street River Festival, Battle of Flowers Band Festival, Champagne and Diamonds Brunch, Fiesta Arts Fair, Fiesta Bird Mart, Fiesta Flower Show, Fiesta Lacrosse Tournament, Fiesta Pooch Parade, Incognite: Fiesta's Masked Ball, Patriotic and Historical Ball, Texas Corvette Association Car Show, and many, many more. Children are well looked after with several child-focused fiestas taking place dring the ten days of celebration.
The organizers of this event, modeled on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival of 1968, promise that 'you'll come for the food, you'll stay for the entertainment, and you'll leave with a new sense of friendship, family and community.' The Folklife Festival provides a platform for over 40 cultures to show their music, cuisine, costumes, and dance. The event is held at the wonderful Institute of Texan Cultures in downtown San Antonio's HemisFair Park. Six stages are erected for the duration of the fair and they play host to a wide variety of international musical and dance performances. There are also roving performers moving through the crowds, ready to break out ins ong and dance at any moment. One of the main attractions of the fair is the wide variety of food that is both delicious and unusual. Coupons sold at the entrance gates can be used to buy both food and drinks.
A visit to San Antonio in February wouldn't be complete without a visit to this rodeo and agricultural extravaganza. Aside from rodeo shows, there is also a livestock show and a horse show. There is also plenty of great shopping, eating, a carnival, and rock n' roll and Latin music in equal measure. The show focuses on making clear to visitors the impact of agriculture on our daily lives, through the means of various exhibitions such as Animal Adventures. Further entertainment is available in the form of a petting zoo, pony rides, a Ford Truck Corral, a gold tournament, a ball, a casino night, and a carnival. Seven venues are available with live music that runs throughout the duration of the show, one of them being the Songwriters Front Porch that gives a little bit of limelight to songwriters. The horse and livestock auctions may not be part of the entertainment, but they are well worth a visit and can become very exciting and fast-paced.
A great feature of visiting San Antonio is that the best of the city can be navigated on foot for free, although in summer months temperatures can get dangerously hot for pedestrians. Driving is not recommended as there are numerous one-way streets, congestion is common, and there is insufficient public parking. Visitors can also get around downtown in the charming streetcars, which are authentic reproductions of the same models that travelled these streets 50 years ago. There are three streetcar routes stopping at major tourist attractions, shopping districts and the Convention Center downtown. A single fare costs around $1.30, and a day pass costs $4. The VIA Metropolitan Transit operates the streetcars and also services the city with extensive bus routes, including a free sightseeing bus for tourists which covers most of the main attractions downtown, running from 6am to midnight, Tuesday to Thursday. Metered taxis are also available in the city.
Considered the heart of Texas cowboy country, San Antonio offers a wealth of attractions and activities for visitors to the city.
San Antonio has a rich 'wild west' history, which visitors can get a feel for by visiting places like Casa Navarro State Historic Site, the Spanish Governor's Palace, San Antonio Missions National Park, the King William Historic District, and of course the iconic Alamo Mission.
There are plenty of museums, ranging from the fun and eclectic Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, to the statelier Museo Alameda. Other great museums include the Institute of Texan Cultures, the San Antonio Children's Museum, and the Witte Museum.
Spending time outdoors is a great way to take advantage of the San Antonio sunshine, and families will want to visit theme parks like SeaWorld, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch.
There are also many different ways to tour San Antonio: local operators offer tours by helicopter, Segway, bus, and on foot. For a different view of the city, try the night-time Ghost Hunts of San Antonio Tour.
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