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San Antonio
Ignore the "Don't Mess with Texas" bumper stickers—San Antonio's a great place to mess around in while seeing the sights. Indulge in a hearty Mexican breakfast (huevos rancheros, anyone?), then take in a few of the city's serene old missions or a world-class art collection housed in a Spanish Colonial...
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Introduction
Ignore the “Don't Mess with Texas” bumper stickers—San Antonio's a great place to mess around in while seeing the sights. Indulge in a hearty Mexican breakfast (huevos rancheros, anyone?), then take in a few of the city's serene old missions or a world-class art collection housed in a Spanish Colonial mansion. A crossroads to southern Texas and Mexico, this city is Tex-Mex at its best—complete with local sidewinders wearing ten-gallon hats and mariachi songs spicing up balmy spring evenings. Plus, there's amazing countryside peppered by oak, mesquite and cacti to boot. Bienvenidos to Fiesta City!

Remember the Alamo? In this famous 1836 skirmish, Mexican soldiers tried to mess with you-know-what. Erected as a mission centuries ago, the Alamo—the cornerstone of San Antonio's proud cultural heritage—stands in the middle of town. After visiting this sacred Texan site, take a stroll along San Antonio's other must-see, the River Walk (in Spanish, Paseo del Río). Tranquil parks, hip cafés and plenty of shops line this stretch of the San Antonio River, which winds through the heart of the city.


While you're here, don't miss some of the best tacos, enchiladas and guacamole this side of the Río Grande. Some restaurants never close, so as you're winding down a night of partying on the River Walk, you can sample a tamale at 2 a.m.

Mess with Texas, indeed. Olé!

In Depth
Touted as Texas' top travel destination, San Antonio reels in more than 20 million visitors annually. Those who journey to this southwestern urban center come in search of everything from terrific Tex-Mex cuisine to exhilarating SeaWorld and Six Flags thrill rides. But San Antonio's appeal doesn't end at fajitas and roller coasters.

The Alamo, a source of pride for Texans, remains the city's shining star. The former Spanish mission, the first built along the San Antonio River, changed hands many times before misfortune elevated it to iconic status.


When the Texas Revolution barreled into the compound in 1836, the Alamo was a makeshift garrison manned by Texians, the local inhabitants fighting for independence from Mexico. Seeking control of San Antonio de Béxar (modern-day San Antonio), Mexico's dictator, Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, sent a large army to overtake the fort. The Alamo's defenders, a vastly outnumbered band of fewer than 200, fought valiantly to their deaths, staving off their attackers for nearly a fortnight.

With its soldiers proclaiming “Remember the Alamo!” the Texian Army eventually defeated Santa Anna's troops at the short-lived Battle of San Jacinto. Perhaps inspired by this rallying cry, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas began their own crusade to protect the Alamo around the turn of the 19th century, using personal funds and donations to save the historic site. In 1939, just outside walls so bravely protected, the Texas Centennial Commission erected the exquisitely carved, grey Georgia marble Alamo Cenotaph as a memorial to the outpost's slain guardians.

Arriving by the busload, reverent travelers now stroll the site hoping for a glimpse of heroes who gave their lives in pursuit of liberty. Displayed in the old chapel, where many of the last freedom fighters fell, are some of their belongings: co-commander William B. Travis' ring, a period hunting knife like the one wielded by Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett's buckskin vest. Steps away, in a courtyard graced by flowering trees and cacti, docents attempt to separate fact from fiction while detailing events that occurred more than a century prior.


“Alamo City” also goes by the nickname “River City” thanks to its other prized possession, the River Walk. Like the Alamo, this picturesque stretch came into being after a period of heartache—in 1921, the San Antonio River overflowed during a violent storm, killing 50 people.

To prevent future tragedies, city officials wanted to create a giant storm drain by paving over the section of the untamed river cutting through downtown. Thankfully, the women of the San Antonio Conservation Society fought this idea, turning the tide in favor of a flood-control program. Soon afterward, architect Robert H. H. Hugman began advocating his plan for a waterside urban park that included a system of dams and channels, footbridges and street-access stairways.

Hugman's vision became a reality in 1941, and today, sightseers looking for food and fun easily find both beside the sun-flecked San Antonio River. At the water's edge, majestic bald cypresses shade preening ducks, while the colorful umbrellas of Casa Rio, the River Walk's oldest restaurant, provide shelter to leisurely margarita-sipping patrons. Passing barge captains detail the history of the canal-like waterway, ferrying an estimated 1 million people through this downtown oasis each year.

The city's Catholic Hispanic traditions are the highlight of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. At the park's four well-worn Spanish missions, contemporary worshipers carry out age-old rituals, along with newer customs.

After spirited Sunday services, locals crowd festive Market Square, the largest Mexican marketplace north of the border. Like other area attractions and locales, this colorful bazaar takes on new life during such special events as April's 11-day Fiesta San Antonio.


 
City Population
1,296,682

Elevation
650 ft.

Sales Tax
Municipalities may impose additional rates of up to 2 percent on the statewide 6.25 percent sales tax. Sales tax in the city of San Antonio is 8.25 percent; rates vary in the suburbs. The hotel occupancy tax is 19 percent.

Emergency
911

Police (non-emergency)
(210) 207-7273

Fire (non-emergency)
(210) 207-7744

Time
(210) 226-3232

Temperature
(830) 609-2029

Hospitals
Baptist Medical Center, (210) 297-7000; Metropolitan Methodist Hospital, (210) 757-2200; Mission Trail Baptist Hospital, (210) 297-3000; Northeast Baptist Hospital, (210) 297-2000; University Hospital, (210) 358-4000.

Newspapers
San Antonio prints one daily newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News.

Radio
San Antonio radio station WOAI (1200 AM) is an all-news/weather station; KSTX (89.1 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.

Visitor Information

San Antonio Visitor Information Center:

317 Alamo Plaza SAN ANTONIO, TX 78205. Phone:(210)207-6700 or (800)447-3372


Air Travel
San Antonio International Airport (SAT), 7 miles north of downtown via Broadway Avenue, I-410 and SR 281, is served by U.S. and Mexican airlines. Taxis into the city charge $25-$29 depending on the departure point.

Rental Cars
Hertz, (210) 841-8800 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service
The Amtrak station is at 350 Hoefgen Ave.; for train schedule and ticket information phone (210) 223-3226 or (800) 872-7245.

Buses
The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 500 N. St. Mary's St.; phone (210) 270-5824 or (800) 231-2222.

Taxis
San Antonio taxis are metered. The average fare is $2.50 when you enter the cab plus $2.60 for each mile. A $1 surcharge is added for trips between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Four passengers can ride for a single fare. The major company is Yellow Cab, (210) 222-2222. Boat taxis travel the river's downtown loop daily 9-9 (weather permitting). A one-way fare is $5, an all-day fare is $10, and a 3-day fare is $25. Phone (210) 244-5700 or (800) 417-4139.

Public Transportation
VIA Metropolitan Transit provides public transportation consisting of buses and streetcars. Buses are routed through all sections of town; one bus even whisks shoppers from mall to mall on I-410. Express buses run daily from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. Vintage streetcars travel three main city routes daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. or later, swinging by attractions, shopping areas and other key locations about every 10 minutes.

The fare for basic bus and streetcar service is $1.20; 60c (ages 5-11 and 62+). The express bus fare is $2.50; $1.25 (ages 5-11 and 62+). Each transfer is 15c; 7c (ages 5-11 and 62+). Exact change is required. A one-day pass offering unlimited bus and streetcar service costs $4 and is available at the San Antonio Visitor Center or any VIA Information and Transit Center. For schedules, routing and other information phone (210) 362-2020 or TTY (210) 362-2019.

 
Visitor Information

San Antonio Visitor Information Center:

317 Alamo Plaza SAN ANTONIO, TX 78205. Phone:(210)207-6700 or (800)447-3372


 
Getting There


By Car
Several of the country's more important transcontinental highways crisscross San Antonio.

The principal north-south route is I-35, heavy with traffic to and from the Mexican border and funneling an assortment of travelers from as far north as Lake Superior, near the Canadian border. US 281, similar in length and termini, carries a lighter flow of traffic. Sharing a frequently identical path with I-35 through much of Texas is US 81.

US 87 angles on a northwest-southeast course, bringing traffic from the ranches, the Great Plains and points along the Gulf of Mexico. US 181 also channels travelers from the Gulf area, but neither this nor US 87 is any match for I-37, a fast, wide link between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

The major east-west route, I-10, connects San Antonio with the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. US 90 parallels and frequently merges with I-10 east of the city but maintains a separate course through much of western Texas.

These routes converge in San Antonio's center, enclosing the heart of downtown, part of the river and HemisFair Park, and providing easy access to major streets within the area. Farther out, I-410 is a completely circumferential highway that defines the outer limits of the city, interchanging not only with major highways but also with local streets.

Note: There are no service stations in downtown San Antonio.

 
Getting Around


Street System
The street system of downtown San Antonio was laid out more than 150 years ago, and in many instances follows old cattle trails. Because the system has been described as being roughly similar to a skillet of snakes, you should study a city map before starting out.

The speed limit on most streets is 30 mph or as posted. Freeway limits range from 40 to 75 mph. Rush hours generally are from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6:30 p.m. Right turns on red are permitted unless otherwise posted.

Use the circumferential loops to reach the different parts of the city. San Antonio is surrounded by two loops—Loop 1604 surrounds the outskirts, whereas I-410 encompasses the city's midsection. Interstates 10, 35 and 37 converge in the heart of San Antonio, forming another unofficial loop.

The proximity of most downtown attractions and accommodations to the San Antonio River prompts many visitors to use the River Walk or the boat taxis instead of driving. The outskirts of San Antonio tend to conform more closely to a grid pattern.

Parking
Although some metered parking is available in certain downtown areas, public parking lots and garages are more plentiful throughout the city. Rates range from $1-$2 per half-hour to $6-$18 per day.


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Essentials
• No visit to San Antonio is complete without a stroll along the River Walk; besides, this longtime attraction is pretty tough to avoid. Threading through downtown, the pedestrian stretch alongside the San Antonio River features cobblestone paths and garden-bedecked banks 20 feet below street level. Rio San Antonio Cruises offers visitors an overview of the canal-like waterway.

• Shop for handcrafted gifts at La Villita, Alamo City's first neighborhood. Today, scores of artisans, from glassblowers to weavers to leather workers, sell their wares in this historic area encompassing shaded patios, lively plazas, brick streets and adobe buildings.


• Zoom high into the clouds on the glass-walled elevator that climbs to the top of the Tower of the Americas. Built for the 1968 World's Fair, the 750-foot-tall HemisFair Park landmark attracts modern-day visitors with a sky-high revolving restaurant and an observation deck, both of which provide panoramic views of the city.

• “GO Spurs GO!” The fiery rallying cry for San Antonio's professional basketball team, consistently one of the top NBA franchises, thunders throughout the AT&T Center on game days. Order tickets in advance, and be sure to pack something black, white and silver.

• Sidle up to the bar at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum and see how many of the 520 wall-mounted species you can identify. The collection started in the 1880s, when dusty cowboys fresh off the trail traded deer antlers for whiskey shots. Of course, nowadays you'll have to plunk down hard cash for your libations, but if the stiff drinks don't have you seeing double, the eclectic museum, which features a two-headed calf and an eight-legged lamb, surely will.

• Follow your nose to Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería, a 24-hour restaurant and bakery known for its sweet bread, Mexican candies and strolling musicians. After your meal, pick up a few souvenirs at Market Square, the Mexican marketplace Mi Tierra calls home. Encircled by a kaleidoscope of colors created by piñatas, paper flowers and folklorico dancers in rainbow skirts, you'll find just the right memento to take home.

• The locals stay cool in the summer by tubing down the spring-fed Comal River, which meanders through

New Braunfels,

a German-settled hamlet on the outskirts of San Antonio. At times, everyone traipsing through town is wearing an inner tube.


• To describe something first-rate or excellent, Theodore Roosevelt favored the word “bully”; it's likely he used this adjective frequently in the cherry-paneled bar at The Historic Menger Hotel, where he recruited many of his Rough Riders. The elegant 1859 hotel, which has hosted presidents and celebrities, maintains many of its original architectural features; however, it's also said to be haunted by the ghosts of several past guests and employees.

• The Spanish Governor's Palace, though never home to a governor, was built in 1722 and is one of the last remnants of Spanish aristocratic life in 18th-century Texas. The one-story masonry house boasts private gardens and period-decorated interiors.

• Worship alongside San Antonians at the Mariachi Mass at Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, when rich layers of guitars, trumpets and violins fill this wondrous centuries-old sanctuary. It starts at 12:30 p.m., but get there early, as this is a popular Sunday service with locals.



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Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

Self-described as a “Texas bistro,” Boudro's on the Riverwalk is, well, exotically Texan. For starters, order the fresh Gulf lump blue crab cakes dressed with flavorful roasted corn sauce and crunchy jicama slaw, or try the duck and jalapeño sausage gumbo. Main dishes include a papaya-marinated Black Angus flank steak as well as smoked shrimp and crab enchiladas, served with black beans, white cheddar and spicy tomato pancakes.


Bohanan's Prime Steaks & Seafood, downtown and across from the Majestic Theatre, features an elegant second-floor dining room complete with crisp white linens, sparkling glasses and well-polished silverware. For an extraordinary culinary experience, begin with the Hudson Valley foie gras, duck confit eggrolls or seared ahi tuna. Continue with a USDA Prime center cut or choose from Bohanan's expertly prepared seafood dishes—standouts include the Chilean sea bass, baked with a Reblochon cheese sauce, and the oven-roasted Alaskan halibut. For the big finale, order a dramatic flaming dessert, such as the bananas foster or the cherries jubilee, prepared tableside by your server.

Boasting deep German roots in the heart of ol' San Antone, Schilo's Delicatessen (pronounced “shee-lows”), has been in operation since 1917. The deli case features loads of cheeses, meats, pastries and marinating vegetables. Order at the handy to-go window and savor the flavor along the River Walk, or find a seat at a wooden table inside, where friendly volk are likely to be feasting on enormous Reubens, pea soup and warm potato salad.

On the second level of the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, you'll discover artsy décor, a lively atmosphere and choice morsels at Citrus, an imaginative high-end eatery overlooking the River Walk. Breakfast, lunch and dinner menus incorporate local, natural products, along with quality ingredients from around the world. Refreshments—perfectly paired with dishes showcasing everything from quail to diver scallops to venison—include aguas frescas, cold drinks made with Jamaica flowers or exotic fruits.

Also offering picture-perfect views of the River Walk, Las Canarias Restaurant presents excellent cuisine from both the New and Old Worlds in refined, dimly lit dining rooms perfect for special occasions or romantic evenings. While the menu changes seasonally, critics consistently commend this restaurant's chefs for their inspired creations. Past plates have included a blue crab-stuffed swordfish topped with a wasabi-tobiko caviar sauce and a five-spice barbecued duck breast served with braised red cabbage, Brussels sprouts and a chocolate kumquat sauce.

With the attentive staff doling out fresh, homey meals at Aldo's Ristorante Italiano, patrons feel like they're in Tuscany rather than south Texas. You'll relish the antipasto—layered with vinegary peppers, meaty prosciutto, dark olives, plump shrimp, Italian cheeses and tender hearts of palm—but be sure to leave room for the lightly breaded chicken parmesan or the grilled trout flavored with capers, lemon butter and artichoke hearts. An outstanding wine list supports Aldo's classic menu. For a sweet nightcap, try a dessert wine or the tiramisu paired with an after-dinner coffee.

The Dry Dock Seafood Oyster Bar gets packed to her gunnels with seafood-loving visitors. Sit at the oyster bar (a must if dining solo) inside the air-conditioned dining room or grab a spot outside on the pleasant terrace before casting off with a cool longneck and a dozen cold naked ones on the shell. Dress those glistening mollusks with a dash of Tabasco and a bit of horseradish and slide 'em down the hatch. Then set a course for the Shrimp Doty, a house specialty served sizzling in a pan. Secure the main smartly with a slice of south Texas-style key lime pie.

India Palace may be small, but the simple eatery's food also is addictive—savor one of their tandoori dishes cooked in a clay oven or the traditional garlic nan and you'll be hooked. Though the authentic Indian cuisine, dancing with exotic scents and seasonings, is served up in a plain Jane strip mall in northwest San Antonio, it's not uncommon to see a line streaming out the door, especially during the restaurant's budget-friendly lunch buffet.

Since the 1940s, San Antonians have been flocking to Grady's Bar-b-que in Balcones Heights. Tender, moist meat—smoked using Texas Hill Country oak—is piled high and served with all the fixings. With so many delicious menu items, you'll likely have trouble deciding what to order. So what's your best bet? Simply ask for a combo plate, which features your choice of two or three meats, along with pinto beans, potato salad and plenty of barbecue sauce, jalapeños and salsa.

As ubiquitous as barbecue joints (perhaps even more so) are Mexican restaurants. Everybody in town has their favorite spot for quesadillas, chile rellenos and fajitas, but for our money Rosario's is as good as any in the city. This Southtown watering hole is lively, loud and colorful (orange walls, interesting paintings and a big semi-circle of a bar). And the food? For starters, the house salsa—brown in color, with a smoky flavor redolent of garlic and chilies—is absolutely addictive. Scarf it down with chips and a freshly whipped-up michelada, a popular Mexican alcoholic beverage that includes lime juice, hot sauce and pepper and comes in a chilled glass rimmed with spiced lemon-lime salt. You can't go wrong with enchiladas de espinacas, tortillas filled with spinach, mushrooms and queso fresco, a mild, creamy white cheese, or chicken topped with a richly flavorful mole sauce that has hints of chocolate and peanut butter. Delicioso!

Catering to nearby Lackland Air Force Base, the diminutive Mina & Dimi's Greek House Restaurant is renowned for great food, fast service and Zorba-like charm. Dimi serves up tangy vegetables and sweet baklavas and creates his own yogurt dressings for salads as well as a tasty lemon-olive oil marinade for the lamb skewers. During lunch and dinner on Fridays, Greek belly dancers add to the charm of this west side eatery.

Francesca's at Sunset is northwest of downtown at The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort. Indicative of this restaurant's exotic and complex delights are such dishes as the timbale of ahi tuna topped by mizuna greens and the sesame-pepita crackers with panca-soy vinaigrette. Strip the banana leaf wrappings off the Yucatán chicken tamale, or munch on the guajillo chile duck confit enchiladas. Lobster with Serrano ham, adobo-rubbed New Zealand lamb chops, ancho-simmered venison and Española buffalo rib eye are some of the other tantalizing dinner choices.

One of the city's best-kept secrets, Silo Elevated Cuisine Alamo Heights is located in a nondescript, two-story structure (the main entrance is in the back) that looks more like a large telephone utility building than a restaurant. But don't let the establishment's outward appearance fool you—the exterior belies the interior. The city's glitterati are usually hanging out in the ground floor's high-energy lounge, and, if you take the elevator upstairs, you'll find an artsy, but relaxed dining room that features classic American fare. Best bets include the moist, tender, beautifully charred double pork chops and the golden pan-fried flounder. And, for your pre- and post-meal toasts, Silo is on point with one of the city's best wine lists.

Enjoy French cuisine at Bistro Vatel in the ritzy Olmos Heights section of San Antonio. Tables are set with starched white linens and gleaming tableware, and the menu is le rêve—a real dream. Appetizers include French onion soup, caramelized onions and brie tart, mussels, escargots with garlic butter and seared foie gras served with brioche. For a main course, choose from salt-crusted broiled salmon, duck breast with black currant sauce, confit de canard or bouillabaisse. The daily three-course prix fixe menu might feature duck cassoulet, lobster thermidor, rabbit rillettes or frog legs Provençale.

See all the AAA Diamond-rated restaurants for this destination.



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Attractions
In a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

In San Antonio, you'll find a historic and cosmopolitan southwestern city of diverse cultures—Native American, African-American, Tejano (Texans of Mexican descent) and German, to name just a few. Whether you're into the arts or history, or you're looking for rollicking entertainment, this south Texas city is the place to be.


So, you've got your camera and walking shoes, but where do you start? At The Alamo, of course. This AAA GEM attraction is arguably the most famous of Texas' many historic sites. Formerly the Misión San Antonio de Valero, the compound served as a makeshift garrison during the Texas Revolution. The pivotal Battle of the Alamo, which took place in 1836, was a brutal conflict—for 13 days, a vastly outnumbered band of fewer than 200 Texian defenders held the old mission against Mexican troops. In the end, nearly all of the Alamo's defenders perished, but following the defeat, “Remember the Alamo” became the rallying cry for the Texian Army in its fight for independence from Mexico.

Exploring the Alamo today is a humbling experience. Here Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and their fellow comrades fought day and night to defend the compound until Mexican troops stormed the grounds on March 6. The site is meticulously preserved, though the chapel and Long Barracks are the only structures from the original fort complex that remain. When you wander among the ruins, you'll certainly feel reverence for the brave men who fought here. You'll also take home a better understanding of that liberty for which the Alamo's defenders gave their lives—freedom.

San Antonio boasts one of the country's largest concentrations of Spanish Colonial missions, all of which date from the early 1700s. Begin your exploration at the visitor center at 6701 San Jose Dr., where you can pick up a driving map of the Mission Trail that connects the four sites comprising San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. A 9-mile route lined with beautiful flowers and mesquite trees, the trail leads south from the Alamo to missions that once were more than mere houses of worship—entire communities thrived inside their walls. Note: There are partial closures along the trail due to maintenance that is expected to be completed by fall 2013. As all are still active parishes in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, if you visit any of these sites, please be respectful of worshippers.

Adjacent to the national historical park's visitor center is the stunning Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, the “Queen of Missions.” Established in 1720, this AAA GEM attraction—the only complete mission fort in the chain—is still an impressive complex with restored defensive walls, living quarters, a gristmill, a buttressed granary and the magnificent church. The famous Rose Window on the south side of the mission's sacristy is the epitome of Spanish Colonial ornamentation.

The next site is Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Acuña, best known for its frescoes. The handsome, un-restored church looks much as it did 2 centuries ago. Remarkably, the facade's coloration has survived, although it is a little washed out. These outdoor frescoes blend vibrant Moorish designs and Native American images. Inside, marvel at the conserved wall paintings located in the convento. If these colorful works of art were any indication, this mission was certainly a lively place.

Follow the trail to Mission San Juan Capistrano, with its simple arches, ringing bell tower, tranquil chapel and wild environs. In 1731, San Juan was moved from an earlier location in east Texas. Although this site doesn't have the majesty of the other missions (a larger church was never built), the untamed setting provides a serene atmosphere. A self-guiding nature trail winds through the forest to the banks of the old river channel, where you can sit on a bench and enjoy the peace of nature (closed due to maintenance until fall 2013).

The last stop on the Mission Trail is the Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Like its neighbor, this site also possesses an ancient, isolated feel; however, the beautifully maintained church is very much an integral part of the community. The amazing Arab-inspired aqueduct still works. Dating from 1740, the Espada Dam and Aqueduct—the best-preserved segment of the missions' irrigation system, or acequias—is about a mile north of the mission.

At the San Antonio Botanical Garden, you can literally stop to smell the roses. The region's sub-tropical climate is perfect for cultivating a wide variety of plants, and this 38-acre AAA GEM attraction will delight any nature lover. Native Texas plants grow in three distinct landscapes—there's even an aquatic garden and a touch and smell garden for the visually impaired. Capping off the formal gardens is a spectacular glass conservatory housing palm trees, orchids, bromeliads and rare tropical specimens.

If you prefer paintings to plants, head to The McNay Art Museum, where you can marvel at Matisse, peer at Picasso, gaze at Van Gogh, seek out Cézanne and ruminate over Rousseau. Housed in a Spanish Colonial Revival-style mansion, this AAA GEM attraction features a wide-ranging collection: post-Impressionist and modern paintings, medieval art and Native American objects.

Ancient, Asian and Latin American masterpieces are the focal point of the San Antonio Museum of Art, another AAA GEM attraction. Interestingly, this museum is located in the castle-like former headquarters of the Lone Star Brewery Co. While you won't find any beer here, a gallery of Greek and Roman sculptures and an impressive Asian section satiate connoisseurs of culture. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art contains Mexican folk, modern, pre-Columbian, and Spanish and Colonial art.

If natural history is your thing, spend an afternoon at Brackenridge Park's Witte Museum. This AAA GEM attraction embraces hands-on exploration of ecologically diverse Texas. Indoors, there are dioramas and mummies galore. Outside, you'll walk through log cabins and discover a butterfly and hummingbird museum. Be sure to visit the H-E-B Science Treehouse, which offers four levels of exploration. Testing contraptions and lasers, observing underwater habitats and predicting the weather are just a few of the activities available.

The flags of six countries have flow over Texas: France, Spain, Mexico, Texas Republic, Confederate States of America and the United States. The Institute of Texan Cultures explores these countries' influences as well as the 25-plus ethnic groups that settled in the Lone Star State. Don't miss the multimedia show highlighting Texas' many faces. Investigate the puppet theater, chuck wagon and textile areas. Talk with costumed interpreters who will tell you what it was like to work on a Texas cattle drive or sew clothes for an entire family. You can touch many of the artifacts on display, which makes this AAA GEM attraction a literal hands-on delight.

Speaking of six flags, how about a trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas? This amusement park has it all: a water park, musical shows, roller coasters, trains and more. You'll find a ride to suit every mood; you'll shake, rattle and roll, then bounce, laugh, jiggle, glide and jump. And one thing's for sure—you won't forget to smile at this AAA GEM attraction.

For a good scare, Ripley's Haunted Adventure is the ticket. Walk through the pitch dark to encounter sinister ghosts and ghouls, creepy witches and a nightmarish maze from which some may never escape. Located across the street from the Alamo, this high-tech attraction packs an adrenaline punch with its live actors and state-of-the-art animatronics and special effects. You might not want to brave this one alone.

Northwest of the city in rugged Hill Country—and, yes, those really are hills in mostly-flat Texas—you can go spelunking at Natural Bridge Caverns. The massive underground chambers of this AAA GEM attraction contain thousands of formations: stalagmites and stalactites and cool rocks by the ton. Be sure to wear some rubber-soled shoes; the lighted caves are slippery and steep. After spending some time underground, experience a wildlife adventure among the trees (and hills) at the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. Riding in your vehicle, you beckon animals to your window with complimentary feed. At the AAA GEM attraction a number of exotic, native and endangered species may amble up for a treat. It's as if you're on a safari in the wilds of, er, Texas.

More animals await at the San Antonio Zoo in Brackenridge Park, a 343-acre area on both sides of the San Antonio River. The world-renowned 35-acre zoo features outdoor “habitat cages” for many of its residents—an abandoned quarry's limestone cliffs provide natural enclosures for more than 3,000 birds, fish, mammals and other fauna. This AAA GEM attraction has a children's petting area, a reptile house and an aquarium.

Animal lovers, you're not done yet—another must-visit is SeaWorld San Antonio, one of the largest marine life parks in the world. Here are mischievous otters, sunning walruses, friendly dolphins, whiskered sea lions and jumping whales. And there are rides at this AAA GEM attraction, too—three roller coasters, one of which is inverted (it might be a good idea to postpone the hot dog before embarking on this one). In keeping with the water theme, there's also a log flume and a river rapids adventure bound to cool you off in the Texas heat. Shamu the whale, SeaWorld's star, performs daily.

Bookend your San Antone visit with another famous military site, Fort Sam Houston. Named for the first president of the Republic of Texas, it still serves as headquarters for the U.S. Army Medical Command and the Fifth U.S. Army. The fort is steeped in history: Apache warrior Geronimo was held here en route to Florida imprisonment. Stroll the quadrangle, where there are memorials to servicemen and women and the former homes of the Eisenhowers (Mamie and Ike) and Gen. John Joseph Pershing. The fort's museum highlights the history of the post, and the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum has an extensive collection of Army medical equipment.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.



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San Antonio in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in San Antonio.

Day 1: Morning
Begin at the Spanish Governor's Palace on Commerce Street. Be sure to spend some time outdoors, as the formal landscaped gardens are lovely.

Continue west on Commerce Street to El Mercado (a.k.a. Market Square) and peruse colorful Mexican arts and crafts in the stalls.


Day 1: Afternoon
Return to Market Square for lunch at Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería, a landmark Tex-Mex restaurant established in 1941. Sample the succulent fajitas and, for dessert, the delectable flan. For another take on Tex-Mex cuisine, try La Margarita. Their oysters on the half shell are a favorite with those in the know.

After you've grabbed a bite and a souvenir or two, walk a few blocks east to experience the River Walk. This is the town's main artery, and many would argue that it's the heart and soul of San Antone. It's impossible to visit the city without walking or riding along this picturesque stretch of the San Antonio River as it meanders through downtown. Find an access stairway leading down and start sightseeing via the River Walk's lush, breezy walkways.

While leisurely strolls on the River Walk certainly are relaxing, you also can use this planned attraction to reach some of San Antonio's most treasured points of interest. For starters, take the Paseo del Alamo extension to get to the The Alamo; from early to mid-afternoon the crowds aren't as heavy at the revered historical site. Pore over the artifacts exhibited in the Long Barrack Museum but don't overlook the amazing grounds planted with flora from four different ecological zones.

Next, take Alamo Street south to La Villita—the oldest neighborhood in the city now shelters an arts and crafts community. The Spanish Colonial architecture is magnificent; plus, there are plenty of glassblowers, potters, weavers and leather workers to watch practicing their craft.

Across Alamo Street, you'll spot a needle-shaped structure reaching toward the clouds. The 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas, built for the 1968 World's HemisFair, features a 4-D theater as well as an observation deck where you'll enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Take the elevator ride up at dusk, when the sun spreads a golden veil over San Antonio; as evening approaches, the hilly countryside beyond darkens to purple on the horizon.

Day 1: Evening
Remain at the Tower of the Americas for dinner at Chart House, which rotates 360 degrees to give diners spectacular views of the city, or head back to the River Walk, where there's no shortage of restaurants suitable for any palate or budget. At Citrus, expertly prepared cuisine is presented in an elegant space in the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, while the zesty aromas of Spanish specialties fill the air at Las Canarias Restaurant. For those who prefer a casual meal, local institution Schilo's Delicatessen delivers homey platters showcasing such German favorites as Wiener schnitzel and bratwurst.

Day 2: Morning
It's best to drive to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, located south of downtown San Antonio. The park comprises four 18th-century missions founded by the Franciscans, all of which are still active parishes. Individual locations boast park stations that provide historical information and driving directions. The Mission Trail starts with Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Acuña and each subsequent mission is 2-3 miles away. You'll discover the architecture and heritage of Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Francisco de la Espada, and, if it's Sunday, you can attend the exuberant Mariachi Mass at Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo.

Day 2: Afternoon
After spending the morning touring missions, mosey over to N. Presa Street to the café at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum for a burger, some catfish or a rib eye. After lunch, walk through the museum for a glimpse of wildlife oddities and more than 4,000 mounted animal horns.

Next, head to The Historic Menger Hotel for some refreshments from the Menger Bar, where Theodore Roosevelt recruited many of the Rough Riders. This gorgeous building houses displays about the dignitary and also is rumored to be haunted.

Day 2: Evening
At sunset, return to the River Walk for a slow cruise down the waterway; the knowledgeable tour guides employed by Rio San Antonio Cruises enhance the beautiful scenery with facts and curious tidbits about the canal-like river.

When your stomach starts rumbling, try the casual Mexican cuisine of Rio Rio Cantina—it's worth the wait for a table at this festive eatery on the water's edge. The rellenos, a house specialty, are perfect paired with one or two of Rio Rio's signature margaritas.

Or, if you're in search of something swanky, relocate your evening fiesta to the downtown theater district, where the Majestic and Empire theaters offer concerts and other cultural performances. For dinner, luxe Bohanan's Prime Steaks & Seafood boasts a super-accommodating waitstaff and an impressive wine list, while Houston St. Bistro serves seriously savory pastas and soups in a relaxed setting.

Day 3: Morning
Drive north of downtown to The McNay Art Museum, where you'll spend the first half of the morning with Cézanne, Matisse and O'Keeffe. Then, make your way to the San Antonio Botanical Garden to enjoy flourishing gardens, pretty landscaping and diverse habitats.

Day 3: Afternoon
For lunch, stop at chic Cappy's for an oak-grilled Kobe burger or a cup of New Orleans-style gumbo; a full belly will help you to focus while you're perusing the noteworthy exhibits of the San Antonio Museum of Art. Highlights include the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art and the extensive Asian art collection, which spans nearly 6,000 years.

If you still have some energy, explore the 25-block King William Historic District. Affluent German merchants settled in this area in the late 1800s; a map detailing a self-guiding tour is available from the San Antonio Conservation Society, 107 King William St.

Day 3: Evening
Since your legs probably need a rest by now, give your lungs a workout instead by cheering on the NBA Spurs at the AT&T Center. If the four-time NBA Finals champs aren't playing, spend one last evening at the River Walk nibbling on exotic Texan fare at upscale Boudro's on the Riverwalk. Or, for something more laid-back, your choices include The Cactus Flower, near the Alamo in the San Antonio Marriott Riverwalk, and Charlie Wants a Burger, which serves a variety of hunger-stomping dishes, from fajitas to sandwiches.



close
San Antonio in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in San Antonio.

Day 1: Morning
Begin at the Spanish Governor's Palace on Commerce Street. Be sure to spend some time outdoors, as the formal landscaped gardens are lovely.

Continue west on Commerce Street to El Mercado (a.k.a. Market Square) and peruse colorful Mexican arts and crafts in the stalls.


Day 1: Afternoon
Return to Market Square for lunch at Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería, a landmark Tex-Mex restaurant established in 1941. Sample the succulent fajitas and, for dessert, the delectable flan. For another take on Tex-Mex cuisine, try La Margarita. Their oysters on the half shell are a favorite with those in the know.

After you've grabbed a bite and a souvenir or two, walk a few blocks east to experience the River Walk. This is the town's main artery, and many would argue that it's the heart and soul of San Antone. It's impossible to visit the city without walking or riding along this picturesque stretch of the San Antonio River as it meanders through downtown. Find an access stairway leading down and start sightseeing via the River Walk's lush, breezy walkways.

While leisurely strolls on the River Walk certainly are relaxing, you also can use this planned attraction to reach some of San Antonio's most treasured points of interest. For starters, take the Paseo del Alamo extension to get to the The Alamo; from early to mid-afternoon the crowds aren't as heavy at the revered historical site. Pore over the artifacts exhibited in the Long Barrack Museum but don't overlook the amazing grounds planted with flora from four different ecological zones.

Next, take Alamo Street south to La Villita—the oldest neighborhood in the city now shelters an arts and crafts community. The Spanish Colonial architecture is magnificent; plus, there are plenty of glassblowers, potters, weavers and leather workers to watch practicing their craft.

Across Alamo Street, you'll spot a needle-shaped structure reaching toward the clouds. The 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas, built for the 1968 World's HemisFair, features a 4-D theater as well as an observation deck where you'll enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Take the elevator ride up at dusk, when the sun spreads a golden veil over San Antonio; as evening approaches, the hilly countryside beyond darkens to purple on the horizon.

Day 1: Evening
Remain at the Tower of the Americas for dinner at Chart House, which rotates 360 degrees to give diners spectacular views of the city, or head back to the River Walk, where there's no shortage of restaurants suitable for any palate or budget. At Citrus, expertly prepared cuisine is presented in an elegant space in the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, while the zesty aromas of Spanish specialties fill the air at Las Canarias Restaurant. For those who prefer a casual meal, local institution Schilo's Delicatessen delivers homey platters showcasing such German favorites as Wiener schnitzel and bratwurst.

Day 2: Morning
It's best to drive to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, located south of downtown San Antonio. The park comprises four 18th-century missions founded by the Franciscans, all of which are still active parishes. Individual locations boast park stations that provide historical information and driving directions. The Mission Trail starts with Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Acuña and each subsequent mission is 2-3 miles away. You'll discover the architecture and heritage of Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Francisco de la Espada, and, if it's Sunday, you can attend the exuberant Mariachi Mass at Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo.

Day 2: Afternoon
After spending the morning touring missions, mosey over to N. Presa Street to the café at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum for a burger, some catfish or a rib eye. After lunch, walk through the museum for a glimpse of wildlife oddities and more than 4,000 mounted animal horns.

Next, head to The Historic Menger Hotel for some refreshments from the Menger Bar, where Theodore Roosevelt recruited many of the Rough Riders. This gorgeous building houses displays about the dignitary and also is rumored to be haunted.

Day 2: Evening
At sunset, return to the River Walk for a slow cruise down the waterway; the knowledgeable tour guides employed by Rio San Antonio Cruises enhance the beautiful scenery with facts and curious tidbits about the canal-like river.

When your stomach starts rumbling, try the casual Mexican cuisine of Rio Rio Cantina—it's worth the wait for a table at this festive eatery on the water's edge. The rellenos, a house specialty, are perfect paired with one or two of Rio Rio's signature margaritas.

Or, if you're in search of something swanky, relocate your evening fiesta to the downtown theater district, where the Majestic and Empire theaters offer concerts and other cultural performances. For dinner, luxe Bohanan's Prime Steaks & Seafood boasts a super-accommodating waitstaff and an impressive wine list, while Houston St. Bistro serves seriously savory pastas and soups in a relaxed setting.

Day 3: Morning
Drive north of downtown to The McNay Art Museum, where you'll spend the first half of the morning with Cézanne, Matisse and O'Keeffe. Then, make your way to the San Antonio Botanical Garden to enjoy flourishing gardens, pretty landscaping and diverse habitats.

Day 3: Afternoon
For lunch, stop at chic Cappy's for an oak-grilled Kobe burger or a cup of New Orleans-style gumbo; a full belly will help you to focus while you're perusing the noteworthy exhibits of the San Antonio Museum of Art. Highlights include the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art and the extensive Asian art collection, which spans nearly 6,000 years.

If you still have some energy, explore the 25-block King William Historic District. Affluent German merchants settled in this area in the late 1800s; a map detailing a self-guiding tour is available from the San Antonio Conservation Society, 107 King William St.

Day 3: Evening
Since your legs probably need a rest by now, give your lungs a workout instead by cheering on the NBA Spurs at the AT&T Center. If the four-time NBA Finals champs aren't playing, spend one last evening at the River Walk nibbling on exotic Texan fare at upscale Boudro's on the Riverwalk. Or, for something more laid-back, your choices include The Cactus Flower, near the Alamo in the San Antonio Marriott Riverwalk, and Charlie Wants a Burger, which serves a variety of hunger-stomping dishes, from fajitas to sandwiches.



close
Events
In addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

Who needs to ring in the New Year with a lonely little bell? At Celebrate San Antonio, there's music and noisemaking aplenty—you'll hear tunes blaring from multiple stages, count down to midnight with thousands of other horn-blowing revelers and take in an impressive fireworks show showcasing the Tower of the Americas.


The Fiesta City has never passed up a chance to party, even if it means getting a little dirty. In January, after the San Antonio River is drained for maintenance, the town goes hog-wild at the River Walk Mud Festival. The biennial weeklong celebration (held in odd years) includes the Mud Pie Ball, the crowning of the Mud King and Queen, a big arts and crafts show, and the Mud Parade.

When February moseys around, shine up your spurs and gallop on over to the 18-day San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo for roping, bucking and lassoing rodeo performances. You'll stomp your boots to a doozy of a music lineup; fiddlers, strummers and singers abound. Plus, with more than 650 vendors selling everything from Old West décor to leather goods, you'll certainly make time for a little shopping in between events. Giddyup, little doggie!

If you're curious about what life was like during the Battle of the Alamo, visit San Antonio in early March to experience Remembering the Alamo weekend, when the city honors the military garrison's fallen heroes. Both sides of the conflict are chronicled through historical re-enactments. You'll definitely “Remember the Alamo” after attending this event.

Shine up your shillelagh and dust off your green bowler when St. Patrick's Day rolls around in Fiesta City; energetic street and river parades prove residents are experts at honoring Ireland's patron saint and at partying. During the Dyeing O' the River Green and St. Patrick's Day Parade, the San Antonio River is temporarily renamed “The River Shannon.”

April brings San Antonio's biggest party of the year— Fiesta San Antonio. It began back in 1891 with the first fiesta event, the Battle of Flowers, a parade held in remembrance of fallen Texas heroes. Now an 11-day, citywide celebration, the fiesta's theme has expanded to observe Pan-American cultures, too. Entertainment includes carnivals, sports competitions, fireworks, live entertainment, ethnic edibles, art exhibits and parades. Boasting more than 100 activities, this AAA GEM event draws more than 3 million festivalgoers each year.

May 5, when the sound of mariachis carries across town on a warm breeze, brings Cinco de Mayo celebrations commemorating the day in 1862 when Mexican troops defeated an invading French army. At Market Square, you'll enjoy spicy south-of-the-border music and food. And, speaking of music, there is the Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio in mid-May at Rosedale Park and Guadalupe Theater. The sound of accordions, rock ballads and big bands—both electrified and unplugged—will fill your ears for 5 days, as the region's best Tex-Mex and Latin musical groups showcase everything from traditional Conjunto-style music to more contemporary Tejano tunes. Only the municipal sound code's the limit, so grab a partner and comienza a bailar (start dancing)!

In June, check out the Texas Folklife Festival, a 3-day fete that remembers the diverse ethnic and cultural peoples who settled the state. Some 40 groups share their stories, crafts, music and foods. The following month, Freedom Fest is an Independence Day bash with a motorcycle parade and an array of musical performances by local bands.

There's a lot of German heritage in San Antonio; you can experience it at Wurstfest in the German-settled village of

New Braunfels.

For 10 days in November, hang out with Texans dressed to the nines in lederhosen and dirndls, all while sampling thick potato pancakes, zesty sausages and mouthwatering strudels. How about a polka or a couple of waltzes? Oom-pah-pah!


The holidays are glorious in San Antonio. Don't miss the Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony, which kicks off the gift-giving season. On the evening after Thanksgiving, thousands congregate at the River Walk after sunset for the electrifying moment when the mayor “flips the switch,” illuminating riverbank trees in a galaxy of lights to the accompaniment of cheers and whoops. After the lighting, lavishly decorated floats glide down the San Antonio River in a nighttime water parade. Bands play, princesses wave, celebrities pose. The lights twinkle and reflect in the river, imbuing everything with an air of magic. It would be a shame to miss this event, but if you do, take heart: The city doesn't pull the plug on the sparkling lights until New Year's Day.

See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.



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Sightseeing


Boat Tours
Rio San Antonio Cruises

Bus and Trolley Tours
The easiest way to familiarize yourself with San Antonio is to take a bus tour of the city. Gray Line offers sightseeing excursions along the city's historic Mission Trail as well as to the King William Historic District, La Villita and the River Walk; phone (800) 341-6000.

Alamo Trolley Tour

San Antonio City Tours

Walking Tours
The downtown loop of the San Antonio River provides unusual ways to see a portion of the city. The River Walk, which follows the riverbanks, affords walkers a leisurely view of downtown.

The San Antonio Conservation Society offers two self-guiding walking-tour brochures—Texas Star Trail and King William Historic District. Beginning at the Alamo, the 2.6-mile Texas Star Trail follows a signed route through the downtown area. The tour of the King William district spotlights many elegant Victorian houses built by prosperous German merchants during the mid-19th century.

For more information contact the Conservation Society at the Wulff House, 107 King William St., San Antonio, TX 78204; phone (210) 224-6163.

Beginning downtown, signs designate the Mission Trail, an 8-mile route linking the Alamo with the four sites of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

Sports and Recreation
Mild winters and summers filled with sunshine provide outdoor recreational opportunities all year in San Antonio. In addition to the 3,000 acres set aside for sports and recreation, three lakes within the city offer sailboating and fishing. Three 1-mile jogging and biking trails pass through the downtown area; information is available at the Marriott San Antonio Plaza, (210) 229-1000, 555 S. Alamo.

More than 80 municipal tennis courts can be found within the metropolitan area. Consult the telephone directories. Golf is available at six 18-hole courses in the city: Brackenridge Park, (210) 226-5612, at 2315 Ave. B; Cedar Creek, (210) 695-5050, at 8250 Vista Colina; Mission del Lago, (210) 627-2522, at 1250 Mission Grande; Olmos Basin, (210) 826-4041, at 7022 N. McCullough; Riverside, (210) 533-8371, at 203 McDonald; and Willow Springs, (210) 226-6721, at 202 AT&T Center Pkwy.

The surrounding Texas Hill Country has many lakes and dude ranches. Horseback riding is popular.

Spectator sports include the basketball games of the NBA San Antonio Spurs and WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars, who play at the AT&T Center, One AT&T Center Pkwy.; phone (800) 745-3000 for schedule and tickets. The San Antonio Missions of the Texas Baseball League play baseball April through September at Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium at 5757 SR 90W; phone (210) 675-7275 for schedule and ticket information.

College teams add excitement to the sports seasons. The athletic program at Trinity University, One Trinity Pl., includes volleyball, soccer, tennis, football and basketball; phone (210) 999-8222. St. Mary's University offers soccer, volleyball, basketball and baseball; phone (210) 436-3528. The University of Texas at San Antonio also presents basketball games; phone (210) 458-8872.

Horse racing, both Thoroughbred and quarter horse, takes place at Retama Park; phone (210) 651-7000. Thoroughbred racing occurs Friday and Saturday from October through December; quarter horse racing occurs Friday and Saturday from June through August. Additionally, there are daily simulcasts.

Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.

Shopping
For Macy's and other national chains, follow the mall rats to the Rivercenter, a complex on the River Walk with an IMAX theater and more than 70 restaurants and stores. Weary shopaholics find respite on the steps of the mall's lagoon, where the musical group Andean Fusion puts a New Age spin on Incan sounds Mondays through Saturdays. You'll also find a smorgasbord of memento-browsing opportunities elsewhere along the San Antonio River. Here lollygagging tourists flaunt newly purchased wares—from T-shirts touting Texas virtues to trucker hats promoting the Lone Star State's unofficial don't-mess-with-us policy, a popular slogan that evolved from a highway anti-littering campaign.

You may spot a few “Don't Mess with Texas” road signs on your way to San Antonio's favorite shopping destination: I-410, known locally as Loop 410. Ingram Park Mall, 6301 N.W. I-410, with Dillard's, JCPenney and Macy's, is along the northern arc of this route, as is North Star Mall, at San Pedro Avenue and I-410, which lays claim to the world's largest set of cowboy boots. Thanks to the 40-foot-tall sculpture, you'll have no trouble navigating to the stomping grounds of such upscale retailers as A|X Armani Exchange, Saks Fifth Avenue and Williams-Sonoma. Rustle up a few goodies then seek out the nearby smokestacks of Alamo Quarry Market, 255 E. Basse Rd., built on the site of a long-gone cement plant. At this open-air commercial plaza, you'll peruse everything from fine leather Lucchese boots to organic and recycled clothing from Whole Earth Provision Co.

The Shops at La Cantera, off SR 1604 (a.k.a. Loop 1604) next to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, presents an award-winning architectural blend of natural and man-made elements. Anchored by Dillard's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, the sophisticated center combines al fresco shopping with the traditional layout of an indoor mall. Along shaded walkways, Texan moms and daughters tote Abercrombie & Fitch and White House/Black Market purchases past waterfalls, lush greenery and a tiki-themed children's play area. Plus, everyone in the family will appreciate La Cantera's abundance of casual eateries, though the Yard House, where classic rock and draft beers rule, inevitably is the boys' first choice. To the east, on the opposite side of I-10/US 87, The Rim retail hub features Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, JCPenney and an array of specialty stores.

Fashion mavens will largely be unimpressed by the downtown San Antonio shopping scene; however, the city's historic and artistic milieus will appeal to those seeking colorful tchotchkes, ethnic crafts and inexpensive keepsakes highlighting San Antonio's Tex-Mex culture. Bounded by Dolorosa, Santa Rosa, W. Commerce Street and I-35, lively Market Square, or El Mercado, delivers the flavors of Mexico to Alamo City—and we're not just talking tamales and tortillas! Indoor stalls beckon would-be customers with neat displays of imported leather goods, rich textiles and pottery; outside, it's more of the same vibrant eye candy, with strategically placed items like lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) masks, marionettes and sombreros attracting shoppers of all sizes.

Although Market Square has been central to the community since the 1900s, La Villita holds the title of oldest neighborhood in the city, having sheltered, at various times, Coahuiltecan Indians, Spanish soldiers and their families, and 19th-century European immigrants. With its cobblestone streets and quaint adobe and Victorian houses filled with handicrafts and artwork, the restored village serves as a leisurely detour for vacationers exploring the River Walk. The compact shopping venue at S. Alamo and E. Nueva streets also is accessible via the VIA streetcar system.

If the Texas heat has you longing for shade, head to Paris Hatters—you'll be following in the footsteps of Hollywood stars (Matt Damon and Tommy Lee Jones), rock gods (Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney) and world leaders (Pope John Paul II, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman). Family owned and operated since 1917, this timeless operation just northwest of the Alamo at 119 Broadway keeps customers feeling and looking cool in stylish custom-fitted hats ranging from $20 to $7,000.

Vestiges of the past permeate San Antonio, so it's not surprising to see local history branded on assorted souvenirs sold in the area's many nondescript gift shops. At Alamo Plaza, a handful of stores fronting the Alamo hawk miniature versions of the mission-turned-fort as well as coffee mugs emblazoned with the poignant “Remember the Alamo!” battle cry.

Nightlife
When it's time to let loose while vacationing in San Antone, there's little need to look much further than the River Walk. Offering access to a variety of clubs, casual watering holes and late-night restaurants, winding pathways along the banks of the San Antonio River are the liveliest means of traversing downtown after dark.

Most River Walk action is centered on the U-shaped channel (some call it “Horseshoe Bend” or the “River Loop”) that shoots off the river's main north-south artery. With bass-thumping spots concentrated between Presa and Commerce streets, barkers poised by bar entrances try their best to entice passersby, though their shouts are muddled by the roar of raucous twentysomethings already partying inside. Drifting from Howl at the Moon, the dynamic sounds of dueling pianos lure those seeking high-energy nighttime entertainment; phone (210) 212-4770. Next door, Hard Rock Cafe draws a more laid-back clientele with its rock 'n' roll memorabilia and juicy burgers; phone (210) 224-7625.

The Paseo del Alamo, an extension of the River Walk built in 1981, flows through the atrium of the Hyatt Regency San Antonio and allows access to the Alamo. And, when the stars come out deep in the heart of Texas, thirsty revelers also use this shortcut to reach the Menger Bar. At the onset of the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt recruited many of his Rough Riders in this London-style pub, an 1887 addition to the Menger Hotel adorned with cherrywood paneling and beveled mirrors. Peruse the inn's well-kept collection of historical photographs and relics, then sip some cognac in the dimly lit bar. Of course, with the hotel rumored to be haunted, the fainthearted may want to settle their tabs before the witching hour strikes; phone (210) 223-4361.

Nearby, you'll find a 19th-century building that served as a USO center during World War II. The revamped edifice now houses Bonham Exchange, 411 Bonham St., where youthful club goers shake their booties through a maze of packed dance floors Wednesday through Saturday nights. Popular with gay San Antonians, the cavernous nightclub attracts a diverse crowd with cheap drinks, weekly dance contests and special celeb guests—from RuPaul to Charles Barkley.

For a few laughs, add the Rivercenter Comedy Club, on the third level of the Rivercenter, to your evening agenda; phone (210) 229-1420 for show times.

For effortless planning, simply seek out your beverage of choice. Zinc Bistro & Bar is just off the River Walk at 207 N. Presa St. This sophisticated but mellow haunt keeps choosy patrons happy with a menu that, in addition to wine, includes food, cigars and cocktails; phone (210) 224-2900. Meanwhile, at Rio Rio Cantina's Naked Iguana Lounge, you'll find a blender working overtime to dole out more than 20 variations of San Antonio's favorite tequila-infused concoction, the margarita. Located at 421 E. Commerce St. on the River Walk, the small contemporary hangout features several flat-screen TVs and balcony seating that's perfect for people watching; phone (210) 226-8462.

Those who adore craft beers and homemade sodas should hit up the Blue Star Brewing Co. in the Blue Star Arts Complex. (The arts complex is in the Southtown district on the south channel of the River Walk, but unless you're lodging nearby, it's easiest to drive or take a taxi there.) On select nights, jazz musicians jam at the funky brewery, but any day of the week newcomers can sample ales and lagers alongside the usual clientele of artisans and undergrads. Tickle your tongue with a preservative-free, sugar cane-sweetened orange cream soft drink, or choose from the plentitude of beers on tap, including the Texican, Blue Star's homage to Mexican-style lagers; phone (210) 212-5506.

Bohemian Southtown encompasses residential neighborhoods as well as the commercial corridors of S. Alamo, S. St. Mary's and S. Presa streets. While several area restaurants offer live entertainment and after-dinner dancing, the hip set practice their salsa and merengue moves at spicy establishments like Azúca Nuevo Latina and Rosario's, both on S. Alamo Street. Phone (210) 225-5550 for Azúca Nuevo Latina or (210) 223-1806 for Rosario's.

If you've officially added the River Walk to your been-there-done-that list, two music venues outside the city are worth the trip: Gruene Hall, about 40 minutes northeast of San Antonio in New Braunfels, and the John T. Floore Country Store, about 30 minutes northwest of town in Helotes. Cowboy boots still stomp weathered wood floors at the former, the state's oldest dance hall, while at the latter, a traditional Texas honky-tonk opened in 1942, audiences have swooned over the likes of Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and the King of Rock ‘n' Roll. Phone (830) 606-1281 for Gruene Hall or (210) 695-8827 for the John T. Floore Country Store.

Performing Arts
One of the few remaining movie and vaudeville theaters in the country, the Majestic, has been restored and revived as the Majestic Theatre, 224 E. Houston St. Touring Broadway productions and concerts are presented throughout the year; phone (210) 226-3333.

Lila Cockrell Theatre at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Alamo and Market streets, is the scene of concerts, including pop, rock and jazz; phone (210) 207-8500 or (877) 504-8895 for schedule and tickets. The forum for instrumental soloists is Laurie Auditorium, on the campus of Trinity University, 1 Stadium Dr.; phone (210) 999-8119.

Strolling mariachi bands perform in the Mexican Market area along the River Walk.

Beethoven Halle, (210) 222-1521, and Lila Cockrell Theatre, (210) 207-8500, feature traveling dancers, including ballet troupes.

Trinity University's drama department presents several productions a year in its Jane and Arthur Stieren Theater. Ticket information can be obtained by phoning (210) 999-8515. Other colleges and the military bases occasionally produce theatrical shows.

Community theater also has a role in San Antonio's cultural environment. Presentations are held at San Pedro Playhouse, in San Pedro Park at Ashby Street and San Pedro Avenue; phone (210) 733-7258. Harlequin Dinner Theater, at Fort Sam Houston in Building 2652 on Harney Road, also offers performances; phone (210) 222-9694.

The most unusual of the city's theaters is Arneson River Theatre, where performers are separated from the audience by the San Antonio River. The San Antonio IMAX Theatre in the Rivercenter presents “Alamo…The Price of Freedom.”