America’s 7th largest city offers not only historic sites and a wide range of cultural offerings, but also a distinctly cosmopolitan feel. San Antonio, Texas, blends American, Mexican and European culture offering visitors a unique atmosphere.
San Antonio boasts one of the most well known monuments in the country – the Alamo. This national monument is the site of a heroic standoff during the war against Mexico in 1836 in which Davy Crockett, along with a handful of soldiers, defended the tiny fort against the Mexican army.
On thing that surprises first time visitors to the Alamo is how small it is. Despite its size, the site has a great deal to see - the Alamo complex includes the soldier’s barracks, a small museum and the mission church.
There’s also a research facility and a pleasant and peaceful garden, which makes a nice place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city. The Alamo trolley leaves regularly from here, offering a relaxing sightseeing option.
The Alamo was originally one of five missions that were located throughout the city to help convert the local Indian population to Christianity. You can visit all five missions by following the five mile mission trail, although if you only have time to visit one, it should be the San Jose mission – also the largest.
The complex of beautiful buildings provides an excellent overview of life in a mission community, complete with quarters for the Indians, mill and granary. The mission visitor’s center is located here too, and the church offers mariachi masses every Sunday at noon – an experience not to be missed.
One of the most unique ways to explore the city is of course by foot along the city’s well known Riverwalk – or Paseo del Rio. Today, it’s hard to believe that the city actually wanted to pave over the river after the devastating 1921 floods, until architect Robert Hugman unveiled the plan that would eventually lead to the creation of the city’s famous Riverwalk.
The paved riverbank stretches for over 2 miles through the heart of the city, shaded by cypresses and oaks. Parts of the Riverwalk around South Bank and River Square are lined with shops, restaurants and bars – and the festive atmosphere is often added to by street entertainers. Try strolling the Riverwalk at night for a more relaxing – and romantic – experience.
One way to travel south of the border without your passport is to visit the city’s colorful Market Square area. Indoor and outdoor stalls sell everything from Mexican crafts and clothes to edible delicacies. You’ll almost certainly be serenaded by some strolling mariachis if you sit down here to eat.
San Antonio is very much a city of neighborhoods and there are a couple of colorful areas close to downtown. German immigrants settled in the area of town known as King William, named after Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia. Today, the ornate and beautiful mansions that they built are still there and the pleasant tree-lined streets make a good place to stroll.
Several of the mansions have been turned into distinctive B&Bs and a couple of other homes are sometimes open to the public. There are also a couple of small museums in the area – the Guenther House and the Steves Homestead Museum. And if you want to sample more beer and bratwurst, take a day trip to the hill country of Texas with its German sounding towns such as Fredericksburg and New Braunfels.
The other neighborhood close to downtown that shouldn’t be missed is the La Villita area, now a historic district. This area was originally settled by Europeans, however today it resembles a Mexican or Spanish village and offers shady patios, plazas and plenty of shopping in its galleries, craft shops and boutiques.
San Antonio offers some excellent museums. The Museum of Art offers a wide-ranging collection of Greek, Egyptian and Asian art – although one of the highlights is the impressive collection of Latin American art in the Rockefeller Center – supposedly the biggest and best in the country.
Children enjoy the San Antonio Children’s Museum with its kid-friendly exhibits offering an overview of the city and its culture. There’s even a miniature version of the Riverwalk. More local color can be found at the Southwest School of Art and Craft. Here you can purchase works by local artists and escape from the noise of the city while you wander through the peaceful gardens.
San Antonio offers the visitor the best of both worlds – all the facilities of a large city, but with a unique and vibrant culture, making it one of the country’s most fascinating destinations.
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