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 locals 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.
Mess with Texas, indeed. Olé!
In DepthTouted as Texas' top travel destination, San Antonio reels in more than 32 million visitors annually. Those who journey here come in search of everything from tempting Tex-Mex cuisine to exhilarating SeaWorld San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas 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 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 save the historic site around the turn of the 19th century, using personal funds and donations. In 1939, just outside walls so bravely protected, the Texas Centennial Commission erected the carved grey marble Alamo Cenotaph as a memorial to the outpost's slain guardians.
Reverent travelers stroll the site today to learn about the heroes who gave their lives in pursuit of liberty. 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. In a courtyard graced by flowering trees and cacti, docents 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. 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. 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 dams and channels, footbridges and street-access stairways.
Hugman's vision became a reality in 1941, and today, sightseers find food and fun beside the 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 margarita-sipping patrons. Passing barge captains detail the history of the canal-like waterway, ferrying more than 1 million people through this 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. This colorful bazaar takes on new life during such special events as April's 11-day Fiesta San Antonio.
By CarSeveral 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 West Texas.
These routes converge in San Antonio's center, enclosing the heart of downtown, part of the river and Hemisfair, 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.
Street SystemThe 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.
ParkingAlthough 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 $5-$18 per day.
Sales TaxMunicipalities 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 16.75 percent.
Police (non-emergency)(210) 207-7273
Fire (non-emergency)(210) 207-7744
HospitalsBaptist 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.
Visitor InformationSan Antonio's Official Visitor Information Center 317 Alamo Plaza San Antonio, TX 78205. Phone:(210)207-6700 or (800)447-3372
Air TravelSan 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 $29-$35 depending on the departure point.
Rental CarsHertz, (210) 841-8800 or (800) 654-3131, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServiceThe Amtrak station is at 350 Hoefgen Ave.; for train schedule and ticket information phone (210) 223-3226 or (800) 872-7245.
BusesThe Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 500 N. St. Mary's St.; phone (210) 270-5868 or (800) 231-2222.
TaxisSan 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 $10, an all-day fare is $12, and a 3-day fare is $25. Phone (210) 244-5700 or (800) 417-4139.
Public TransportationVIA 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 $1.30; 65c (ages 5-11 and 62+). The express bus fare is $2.60; $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 $2.75 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.
What to Do in San AntonioNo visit to San Antonio is complete without a stroll along the River Walk (E. Commerce Street). Threading through downtown, the pedestrian stretch alongside the San Antonio River features cobblestone paths and garden-bedecked banks 20 feet below street level. GO RIO Cruises (315 E. Commerce St.) offers visitors an exciting addition to any trip with an overview of the canal-like waterway, though some are content to simply people watch, with a margarita in hand.
At The Pearl (302 Pearl Pkwy.), a more modern shopping experience awaits, replete with innovative local restaurants, a farmer's market on weekends, eclectic shops and live entertainment at its riverside amphitheater. A walk along the Museum Reach, a section of the River Walk, will take you straight to The Pearl.
“GO Spurs GO!” The fiery rallying cry for San Antonio's professional basketball team thunders throughout the AT&T Center (1 AT&T Center Pkwy.) on game days. Order tickets in advance, and be sure to pack something—preferably a black, white and silver ensemble supporting these Texas champs—to get into the spirit of the occasion.
Sidle up to the bar at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum (318 E. Houston St.) and see how many of the 520 wall-mounted species you can identify. The collection started in the 1880s, when cowboys fresh off the trail traded deer antlers for whiskey shots. 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.
Wikimedia Commons / CC BY SA/Michael Barera
San Antonio Travel with Kids
Under 13Hands-on learning—whether it involves operating a pint-size front-end loader, mining for gems, milking a cow or opening a bank account—is the name of the game at The DoSeum (2800 Broadway St.). Kids can also create art, watch themselves on a video screen and climb to the tippy-top of a tree for an awesome view of the museum's three floors.
Every San Antonio vacation should include a stop at Brackenridge Park (3700 N. St. Mary's St.), where the highlight is the San Antonio Zoo (3903 N. St. Mary's St.), where an abandoned limestone quarry's cliffs provide natural habitats for more than 9,000 creatures. Kids will have a ball riding the miniature train, exploring the aquarium and reptile house, and meeting endangered animals like Komodo dragons and white rhinos.
In Alamo Plaza there are six Ripley's attractions that'll guarantee a good time. If you can only hit one, opt for the mind-bending Guinness World Records Museum (329 Alamo Plaza) with 16 exhibit galleries.
Don't pass up a trip to SeaWorld San Antonio (10500 SeaWorld Dr.), home to dolphins, sea lions, penguins and a whole bunch of other finned, furry and feathered friends. What's more, the park offers adrenaline-pumping roller coasters and water rides as well as spectacular shows.
Check out Brackenridge Park's curiosity-piquing Witte Museum (3801 Broadway St.), whose top-notch exhibits spotlight South Texas history, science and culture. You'll find mummies, dinosaur bones and creepy crawlers galore, and there's even a four-story tree house that lets you experiment with sound, weather and electricity.
You don't need an invitation to attend the city's biggest and best bash of the year—April's Fiesta San Antonio. What started out as a parade held in remembrance of fallen Texas heroes has mushroomed into an 11-day affair featuring carnivals, parades, fireworks, street dances, sports competitions and ethnic eats.
Shopping in San AntonioFor Macy's and other national chains, follow the mall rats to a complex on the River Walk called Rivercenter , 849 E. Commerce St., with an IMAX theater and more than 100 nearby 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 Monday through Saturday. 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.
The Shops at La Cantera , 15900 La Cantera Pkwy. 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 places to eat, 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 other places where you may want to shop during your trip.
flickr/Liza Lagman Sperl
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 St. 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.
San Antonio NightlifeWhen it's time to let loose during your vacation 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 muffled by the roar of raucous twentysomethings already partying inside. Drifting from Howl at the Moon , 111 W. Crockett St., 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 River Walk 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 , 204 Alamo Plaza. 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. During your trip, 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; phone (210) 271-3811.
For a few laughs, add the Improv Comedy Club–San Antonio Rivercenter , on the third level of the Rivercenter at 849 E. Commerce St., 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 Naked Iguana Tequila Bar , 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.
If you've officially added the River Walk to your been-there-done-that list, here are a few options.
Just a few miles north of the River Walk is The Pearl, San Antonio's newest destination for entertainment and shopping. Step into Jazz TX , 312 Pearl Pkwy., and do some two-stepping on the dance floor while a live band plays. Don't let the name fool you though; depending on the night, you can also twirl to Texas swing, blues, salsa, Americana, conjunto or big band sounds. Phone (210) 332-9386. The Pearl is also home to High Street Wine Co. , a wine bar and shop, and Blue Box Bar , which features handcrafted cocktails, including some inexplicably named after David Bowie songs; phone (210) 908-9144 or (210) 227-2583, respectively.
Those who adore craft beers and homemade sodas and are looking for fun things to do in San Antonio should hit up the Blue Star Brewing Co. , 1414 S. Alamo St. 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 nearby restaurants offer live entertainment and after-dinner dancing, the hip set practice their salsa and merengue moves at spicy establishments like Azúca Nuevo Latina , 709 S. Alamo St., and Rosario's , 910 S. Alamo St. Phone (210) 225-5550 for Azúca Nuevo Latina or (210) 223-1806 for Rosario's.
Outside the city, two music venues are especially worth the trip: Gruene Hall , about 40 minutes northeast of San Antonio in New Braunfels at 1281 Gruene Rd., and the John T. Floore Country Store , about 30 minutes northwest of town in Helotes at 14492 Old Bandera Rd. 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.
flickr/H. Michael Karshis
San Antonio Performing ArtsWhen looking for things to add to your travel packages, consider one of the few remaining movie and vaudeville theaters in the country, the Majestic, which 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. González 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.
Beethoven Maennerchor 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 that are worth seeing during your travel. 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 The Playhouse San Antonio, in San Pedro Park at Ashby Place 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.
San Antonio Sports and RecreationMild 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 fishing. Three 1-mile jogging and biking trails pass through the downtown area; information is available at the Marriott Plaza San Antonio, (210) 229-1000, 555 S. Alamo St.
The surrounding Texas Hill Country has many lakes and dude ranches. Horseback riding is popular.
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) 999-8237. 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.
Note: Policies concerning admittance of children to pari-mutuel betting facilities vary. Phone for information.
San Antonio Sightseeing
Walking ToursThe downtown loop of the San Antonio River provides unusual ways to see a portion of the city during your vacation. The River Walk, which follows the riverbanks, affords walkers a leisurely view of downtown.
The San Antonio Conservation Society offers several self-guiding walking-tour brochures, including the 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.
More walking tours are offered by the city of San Antonio, including Houston Street, featuring commercial architecture on nine blocks, and S. Alamo and S. St. Mary's streets, with late 19th- and early 20th-century homes; phone (210) 215-9274.
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.
San Antonio in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major travel destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in San Antonio.
Day 1: MorningBegin at the Spanish Governor's Palace on Commerce Street. Be sure to spend some time outdoors, as the formal landscaped gardens are lovely.
Day 1: Afternoon
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.
Day 1: Evening
Day 2: Morning
Courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano
Day 2: AfternoonAfter 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.
Day 2: Evening
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.
Day 3: Morning
McNay Art Museum
Day 3: AfternoonFor lunch, stop at nearby restaurants like 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
Best Attractions in San Antonio
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.”
Elizabeth Fernandez/Elizabeth Fernandez
San Antonio boasts one of the country's largest concentrations of Spanish Colonial missions, all of which date from the early 1700s. Exploring the missions is ideal for group travel. Begin your tour 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. As all are still active parishes in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, if you visit any of these sites, please be respectful of worshippers.
AAA/Photo submitted by Maria White
National Park Service/Elizabeth Dupree
Courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano
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 Acequia System —the best-preserved segment of the missions' irrigation system, or acequias—is about a mile north of the mission.
Wikimedia Commons/Texas State Archives
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.
Art lovers looking for things to do this weekend may enjoy the ancient, Asian and Latin American masterpieces at 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.
Institute of Texan Cultures
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.
Natural Bridge Caverns
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.
Best Restaurants in San AntonioOur favorites include some of this destination's best local 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 citrus soy-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.
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.
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.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
San Antonio Events
In addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this travel destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Courtesy of San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo/Greg Westfall
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 St. Patrick's Day Parade & Festival , the San Antonio River is temporarily renamed the "River Shannon” when it's dyed a bright shamrock green.
Early May—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. From noon until midnight at Market Square, you'll enjoy 2 days of spicy south-of-the-border food and music. And, speaking of music, there's the Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio in mid-May at Rosedale Park. 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 people who settled the state. Some 40 groups share their stories, crafts, music and foods at the festival, which is hosted by The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures in Hemisfair. The following month, Freedom Fest is an Independence Day bash with a motorcycle parade and an array of musical performances by local bands at Market Square.
The Diez y Seis celebration in mid-September focuses on the city's Mexican heritage. There's also 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 from nearby restaurants. 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.
The River WalkImagine a Venetian waterway lazing through the heart of your town. San Antonians don't need to imagine—they have the River Walk (in Spanish, Paseo del Río). This system of paths bordering the San Antonio River runs 15 miles through downtown, extending as far north as Hildebrand Avenue and as far south as Mission Espada.
Years ago, the sight of gondolas floating through San Antone prompted journalist Ernie Pyle to call the new River Walk “The American Venice.” How did it come into being? For centuries, the San Antonio River provided water to the region's inhabitants. If a Franciscan missionary or a Spanish explorer or a Payaya Indian was thirsty, this glassy stream offered a cool, clear drink. In the first half of the 20th century, as the city's population boomed, the tributary was not so giving. In September 1921, a sudden rainstorm blasted San Antonio, and the Olmos Basin spewed 9 feet of water into city streets. The flood killed 51 people and cost countless millions in property damage.
Following the disaster, outraged citizens called for a flood plan. In a long civic battle, both conservation and commerce prevailed, and so, during the Great Depression, the WPA (Works Project Administration) and local business leaders began the river's transformation. Over a few decades, the troublesome San Antonio River metamorphosed into the placid River Walk, a popular attraction for tourists on vacation. Builders created dams, floodgates, cobblestone walkways, arched footbridges, thick retaining walls and staircases. Today, all these rough stone features are still in use.
flickr/Mike Boening Photography
Nowadays the city brings out the gondolas only for special occasions, but you can still ride the soft currents when looking for fun things to do with friends. Take a boat tour or hitch a ride on a water taxi. You'll coast by old cypress trees and watch trailing willow fronds swish the water's surface. If you're a landlubber and prefer to wander the walkways, promenade through isolated parks and past places to eat and specialty shops; you'll encounter joggers, students, families and happy tourists along the way. Take a break at one of the umbrella-shaded tables on the riverbank, then nosh, sip and watch the world sail by. Ciao Venice. Hola River Walk!
Places in Vicinity