It doesn’t reflect poorly on the city of San Antonio, Texas, that one word on the tongues of visitors is likely to be “underwhelming.”
That’s because the term refers not to the city – which in recent years has begun to garner accolades for tourism of all stripes – but rather to San Antonio’s most historic, most famous and ultimately most fascinating attraction: The Alamo. The 18th century mission church where Davy Crockett,
Jim Bowie and 188 others waged their last stand against the Mexican army for Texas independence is a state symbol, and to many, an iconic representation of the U.S.’s western expansion – for good or ill. Today, with much of the city built up around the historic church fortress, it remains a tremendous tourist attraction, complete with tours, programs and a gift shop. But you will want to save a thorough evaluation of The Alamo for a daytime excursion.
Upon arrival in San Antonio, acclimate yourself to your hotel and surroundings. Skipping the city’s nightlife center until Saturday night, instead consider a relaxing Friday evening at the quaint, beautiful Majestic Theater. Dating back to 1929, the domed ceiling adorned with clouds and stars sets the stage for a magic theater experience. Around that experience, consider dining at Las Canarias Restaurant for authentic Mexican tastes or at Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse for countless cuts of meat – both are good representations of San Antonio’s most popular culinary elements – Tex-Mex blends and beef.
Saturday morning, it’s time to take in The Alamo as the start of your day of local culture, and it is there that “underwhelming” will come to mind. The Alamo is less fortress than it is a short-walled encampment with little interior space and very few positions that look buttressed for safety. As you explore The Alamo, the reality of what transpired here to ensure its place in history will astound you. That fewer than 200 men could hold this tiny, rather flimsy position against an entire Mexican army is a remarkable feat. It is the facility itself, not its history, which is underwhelming. The history is iconic and, unlike much of history, unexaggerated. Visitors with even a cursory awareness of its history will find The Alamo unimpressive – but its past is truly the stuff of legends.
Continuing to focus on history and culture, after The Alamo, don’t miss San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and its tremendous volume of local and regional history, McNay Art Museum with its strangely out-of-place Mediterranean estate architecture, the San Antonio Museum of Art and the San Antonio Botanical Gardens.
As evening draws near, it’s time to take to San Antonio’s social center, Riverwalk. While the trickle of water in the river itself might not be impressive, many attractions are, such as the reopened Aztec Theater and the Arneson River Theater, which features a stage on one side of the river with terraced seating on the opposite bank. But besides art installations, the real attraction here is revelry. Bars, restaurants and shops line Riverwalk, and most are usually deliciously raucous and brimming with tourists and locals alike. Both the dining and prices lean toward the touristy, but if you follow the trail of obvious locals, you’re likely to find your best options for dining.
Sunday should see you catch any of the arts or culture institutions missed the day before, or, instead, delve deep underground in Natural Bridge Caverns, visit the scenic Japanese Tea Gardens or take the whole family to Morgan’s Wonderland, a very popular amusement park. Complete your
San Antonio experience with dinner at Wildfish Seafood Grille, Biga on the Banks or Texas de Brazil San Antonio. After a nightcap on the Riverwalk, you’ll reflect on a visit that, overall, was hardly underwhelming.
Access: San Antonio International Airport is served by many national and international airlines.
Population: Approx. 1.4 million
Climate: Warm and dry with dangerously high temperatures in the summer, but more temperate weather in the winter.
Main Attractions: The Alamo, Riverwalk, numerous historic missions, arts and culture.
Mokara Hotel & Spa is elegant and conveniently located on a quiet section of the Riverwalk. Immaculate service, spacious rooms and an endless array of services and amenities makes this a luxurious home away from home. www.mokarahotels.com
Inn at Craig Place is a beautiful, intimate bed-and-breakfast that elevates quaint to elegant, and a favorite site for weddings and honeymooners. Whirlpool tubs and highly praised food are just part of the appeal of this beloved inn. www.craigplace.com
Train: Depending on your embarkation point, consider an Old West Classic – a train ride to San Antonio via Amtrak’s Texas Eagle service.
History: Visit Texas’ first Historic District, the 25-block King William Historic Area, which was founded by prominent German merchants in the 1800s.
Chopper: For a unique view of The Alamo and Texas Hill Country, consider a helicopter tour via San Antonio Helicopter Tours.