San Antonio's most popular tourist destinations are the Alamo and the Paseo del Rio, or River Walk. The River Walk is a one and a half mile winding waterway of landscaped cobblestone paths and bridges set 20 feet below street level. The result of a downtown urban revitalization project, the River Walk is lined with cafes, shops, galleries, restaurants, and nightclubs. A visitor can sample the flavor of Mexico or relive the birth of Texas by simply enjoying the scenery, day or night. Tree-lined footpaths are lighted at night, creating a romantic ambience. For those who want more than a waterside view, boats cruise the 21 blocks at 10-minute intervals.
Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo, was the first of five missions established in San Antonio and dates back to 1718 and is located downtown near the river. The chapel's facade represents what is left of the site where nearly 200 Texans died in their fight for independence from Mexico. Nearby lies the Long Barracks Museum and Library. In October of 2005, the Museum will unveil a new exhibit that will incorporate recent interpretations of events that occurred at the Alamo, and the Alamo's place in history. The four other missions are all part of the San Antonio Missions National Park, a 10 mile long Mission Trail that begins at the Alamo, located at street level between Commerce and Houston Streets on Alamo Plaza.
A walking tour from the town's center will take in a number of other attractions. Among them are La Villita, the "little town," adjacent to the River Walk on Alamo Street and across from the Convention Center, where former adobe houses along cobblestone walkways now contain shops, galleries, and a museum; Market Square with its Farmers Market and El Mercado area, with its specialty shops and weekend arts demonstrations; HemisFair Park, site of San Antonio's World's Fair in 1968 and now the center of downtown entertainment; and the King William Historic Area, a 25-block area that had been San Antonio's most elegant residential area, near downtown on the river's south banks.
Now a National Historic District, La Villita was the city's earliest settlement, evolving into a slum by the 1930s. After extensive renovation, it is now home to artists and craftspeople. Market Square is billed as the home of chili, and chili stands draw numerous visitors. The square is also host to a number of citywide festivals throughout the year. Each morning in the Farmers Market section of Market Square, fresh produce is sold directly to consumers. And in El Mercado, patterned after a Mexican market, there are 80 specialty shops. Inside the 92-acre HemisFair Plaza stands the Tower of the Americas, where an observation deck provides a panoramic view of the city from 500 feet up. The King William Historic Area serves as a reminder of the city's German heritage, and its stately mansions date to the 1800s. In the King William Historic Area, the Steves Homestead, an 1876 mansion with a slate mansard roof and 13-inch think limestone walls houses Victorian antiques and is open to the public.
The colorful flora and fauna of the Japanese Tea Gardens located at the northwestern edge of 343-acre Brackenridge Park offer a change of pace to visitors. The Sunken Garden Theatre here features Sunday afternoon concerts in the summertime. The main entrance to the park is about two miles from downtown. Inside the park are a bike trail, picnic area,
The military bases of San Antonio are also tourist destinations, but public access can vary. Group tours are welcomed, but advance reservations are advised at all posts except Fort Sam Houston, which is open to the public without restriction. Established in 1876 at its present location, historic Fort Sam Houston was the site of the first military airplane flight. Located here are the Army Medical Department Museum, which traces the history of the U.S. Army medical department with its collection of U.S. Army uniforms, medical equipment, and POW memorabilia; the Fort Sam Houston Museum, which houses a collection of military memorabilia; and the Post Chapel, built in 1917 and dedicated by President Taft. Birds and small animals roam the quadrangle grounds, where the centerpiece is the clock tower. Brooks Air Force Base, now known as Brooks City Base, permits the public to tour the Hangar 9/Edward H. White Museum, the oldest in the Air Force, which contains capsules used by the first space monkeys. A History and Traditions Museum at Lackland Air Force Base contains combat aircraft parts. Randolph Air Force Base features the Taj Mahal offices of the 12th Flying Wing. The rotunda of the white structure displays aviation memorabilia.
The newest San Antonio attractions include Sea World San Antonio, the world's largest marine life showplace and home of The Steel Eel exhibit, the Southwest's only hypercoaster; and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, a $100 million showplace park with live musical productions and world-class rides, including the Rattler, the world's tallest, fastest, and steepest wooden roller coaster. Fiesta Texas added $30 million in new rides and attractions in 1999, including a million-gallon wave pool shaped like the state of Texas. Other sites of note in the San Antonio area include San Fernando Cathedral, where the remains of Alamo heroes are thought to be held in a marble coffin on display; Spanish Governor's Palace, called the "most beautiful building in San Antonio" by the National Geographic Society, a national historic landmark dating from 1749 that once served as offices for the Spanish Province of Texas; San Antonio Botanical Gardens, emphasizing native Texas vegetation and incorporating a biblical garden, a children's garden, and a conservatory featuring tropical and exotic plants; and Jose Antonio Navarro State Historical Park, the former home of the prominent Texan who participated in the convention to ratify Texas as a state.
When actress Sarah Bernhardt performed in San Antonio's Grand Opera House, built in 1886, she called the city "the art center of Texas." While San Antonio attracts well-known performers, it is perhaps better known for opening its cultural doors to the public through colorful festivals that celebrate the blending of its Anglo-Hispanic heritage. The San Antonio Performing Arts Association, founded in 1976, functions as the city's presenter agency.
The Majestic Performing Arts Center, a relic of the days of "movie palaces," has been restored and is home to the San Antonio Symphony, which enjoys a reputation as one of the best in the country. Its repertoire ranges from pops to classical. The Majestic Theater plays host to many of the city's premier events, ranging from traveling Broadway companies to ballet performances to classical music concerts. Not simply a theater or a museum, the Carver Community Cultural Center is a showcase for African American artists while also providing entertainment with broad cultural appeal. Music, literature, art, drama and dance, and a major film festival, all with a Hispanic flavor, are combined at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, where local, national, and international presentations are offered. Grand Opera is performed by the San Antonio Opera Company. The Chamber Arts Ensemble and the Texas Bach Choir, the only one of its kind in the state, round out San Antonio's musical options.
Flamenco dancing is offered at the Arneson River Theatre, a unique venue spanning both sides of the river. The Mexican Cultural Institute showcases folkloric dance as well as theater.
Among the city's museums and galleries is the San Antonio Museum of Art, one of the largest museums in the Southwest and home to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art, featuring a 2,500-piece collection dating as far back as 500 B.C.; notable works include a portrait of a Mayan nobleman from A.D. 700-900. An expansion of the museum's Asian wing is underway and will add 9,000 square feet of new art gallery space for Asian art, as well as renovate the museum's current 6,000 square feet of Asian art space. Witte Museum, located at one of the Brackenridge Park entrances, presents local and natural history exhibits and special children's exhibits. Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum is a former private mansion that now houses modern art. The folk history of Texas unfolds through a multimedia exhibit using 36 screens at the Institute of Texan Cultures. Oddities and western memorabilia are the focus at the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, housed in a renovated 1881 saloon.
Other special collections and contemporary and historical exhibits are on display at the Mexican Cultural Institute; HemisFair Plaza, featuring art from Mexico and South America; the Pioneer, Trail Drivers and Texas Rangers Memorial Museum; the Hertzberg Circus Collection, where Tom Thumb's carriage is among more than 20,000 items representing big top memorabilia; and the Buckhorn Museum containing curiosities such as a two headed calf and a lamb with eight legs. New attractions directly across from the Alamo are the Guinness World Records Museum; Ripley's Haunted Adventure, a multi-million dollar haunted house; and the Plaza Wax Museum. The San Antonio IMAX Theatre at Rivercenter shows a 48-minute docudrama depicting the famous battle at the Alamo. Images shown on a huge screen and magnetic surround sound makes viewers feel that they are there in the thick of battle.
For ten days in mid-April, from dawn to well past dusk, San Antonio celebrates the Fiesta San Antonio. Featuring more than 150 events illustrative of the city's gastronomic, ethnic and western history, Fiesta starts out with an oyster bake and culminates in colorful spectacles. Along the way revelers enjoy the crowning of King Antonio, a giant block party known as A Night in Old Santonio, fireworks, musical productions, fashion shows, and the Battle of the Flowers parade, in which 7,000 participants honor the Queen of the Order of the Alamo and her court. Flickering torches light up the Fiesta Flambeau parade; other activities include street dancing, a carnival, and concerts. Fiesta events have multiplied over the years, and they now attract some 3.5 million people annually.
San Antonio hosts a number of other celebrations and festivals throughout the year. The San Antonio River takes the spotlight in January when River Walk Mud Festival revolves around the annual draining of the river for maintenance. Championship rodeo competitors display their skills during February's San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, a 16-day western roundup that begins with a downtown parade. In March the San Antonio River is renamed the River Shannon and is dyed green for the St. Patrick's Day celebration, when Irish music and entertainment prevail. The Starving Artists Show in early April brings professionals and amateurs to the River Walk to sell their creations. The Cinco de Mayo events during the weekend nearest May 5 celebrate one of Mexico's Independence Days through mariachi music, folkloric dancing, and parades. Tejano music, described as a mixture of Mexican and German, is celebrated and studied at the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in May. The beat of Latin music and dance fills the air in the outdoor Arneson River Theatre in June, kicking off the Fiesta Noche del Rio, which runs on weekends through the summer. San Antonio's Contemporary Art Month, held in July, is the only month-long contemporary arts festival in the nation; it features more than 400 exhibitions and involves more than 50 venues. September's FotoSeptiembre USA is one of the three largest photography festivals in the country. Oktoberfest and the River Art Group Show by major state artists enliven the month of October. The Christmas season has a Mexican flair led by the four-day Fiestas Navidenas in Market Square and Las Posadas, a reenactment of the Holy Family's search for an inn during which children go door-to-door seeking shelter. The River Walk itself becomes a festival of lights known as the Fiesta de las Luminarias.
The San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association and he San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League play their home games at the SBC Center, opened in October of 2002. The Center is a state-of-the-art 18,500 seat arena. The facility is 730,000 square feet, with four concourses, 54 suites, a practice facility, and restaurants. San Antonio's baseball team, the Missions of the Texas League, play at the Municipal Stadium. Major league pari-mutuel live and televised horse racing are offered at Retama Park year-round.
The mild climate of San Antonio lends itself to a multitude of outdoor sport activities, many tied to the network of more than 100 parks administered by the city Department of Parks and Recreation. San Pedro Park, the city's oldest, includes the McFarlin Tennis Center. Brackenridge Park is San Antonio's showplace, with more than 300 acres of ballfields, horseback riding trails, bike paths, and scenic walkways through intricate gardens. Overnight camping is available at McAllister Park, an 850-acre facility with a number of playing fields. Outside of the city lies Friedrich Park, where wilderness trails offer a peaceful challenge to hikers. The city operates 21 public swimming pools throughout San Antonio, including a year-round indoor Natatorium where competitions take place. Some 100 tennis courts in various locations augment the Fairchild and McFarlin Tennis Centers.
Bordered by the Texas Hill Country, San Antonio provides ready access to a number of recreation areas where hunting and water sports are popular activities. Fifteen lakes are within 150 miles of the city, and the Guadalupe River north of San Antonio is a favorite spot for canoeing, tubing, and white water rafting. Lake McQueeney, 25 miles from the city, attracts weekenders for boating and swimming. Corpus Christi and other Gulf Coast towns provide seacoast attractions about 140 miles from San Antonio. Natural bridge Caverns are located nearby between San Antonio and New Braunfels, off I-35, exit 175. Here you can tour spectacular caverns, climb and "zip" from the tallest climbing tower in Texas while the less adventurous pan for gems and minerals. Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, located in the same area, is a Texas style African safari with hundreds of Animals from all over the world roaming freely. The Vietnam War Memorial is located at Veterans Memorial Plaza. Also not to be missed and located at 3400 Fredericksburg Road is the marker for the Old Spanish Trail which linked cities of Spanish conquest and settlement.
Blessed with more than 300 days of sunshine each year, San Antonio is becoming a major golf destination. Thirty-five courses (including military and private) and a championship course at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort are the lure. Citizens are also fond of bowling—more than 26 commercial and military bowling centers dot the city. It was a San Antonio firm, Columbia Industries, that introduced polyester resin into the manufacture of bowling balls in 1960.
The newest and most exciting shopping, dining, and entertainment venue in San Antonio is Sunset Station, housed in the restored 1902 South Pacific Railroad depot near the convention center. Market Square downtown houses a large specialty shopping area, as well as a Mexican-style market featuring crafts, apparel, pottery, and jewelry. La Villita has 26 arts and crafts shops and three restaurants. Southwest School of Art and Craft, on the grounds of a former cloistered convent, sells the works of local artists and operates a restaurant in a beautiful historic setting. Many other art galleries feature Latin American and Native American artworks. Souvenir shops offer the latest in Western wear, including hand-crafted leather boots and ten-gallon hats. Antique stores feature authentic and reproduction items, including miniature replica Civil War and Texas Revolution toy soldiers and fine furniture and jewelry that may once have belonged to turn-of-the-century settlers. For those who wish to make a day of it, many antique stores can be found along the main streets of nearby charming towns such as Comfort, Boerne, Fredericksburg, Castroville, New Braunfels, Gruene and Leon Springs. In addition, the San Antonio area has 16 retail shopping malls and two major outlet malls.
Downtown dining ranges from ethnic cuisine to barbecue. Many restaurants feature some Tex-Mex dishes on their menus, and a number of restaurants specialize in south-ofthe-border food. An emerging style of cooking, called New Southwestern, incorporates local produce and game. Italian, Greek, and German restaurants are well represented, as are delicatessens.
Visitor Information: San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, 121 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, 78205, telephone (210)207-6700