San Antonio Combines More Than Three Centuries Of History With A Modern Ambience
A stroll along San Antonio’s River Walk is like walking through the city’s living room. Small, historic tile murals dot rock walls beside the sidewalks. Adobe-clad buildings line the watery corridor. Voices rise from restaurant patios with views of the iconic waterway and vibrant mariachi music floats through the air. Electric tour boats glide along the calm water, like gondolas navigating Venetian canals.
My name is Lisa Waterman Gray and I am a travel writer for a number of great publications including USA Today online. My first book, An Explorer’s Guide: Kansas, was published in 2011. I have also written the feature, 10 Places to Find Great Flavours in San Antonio Texas. Welcome to San Antonio; a city where cultures merge, and the past meets the future.
This vibrant city has quite a varied past indeed. Native Americans who first lived along the San Antonio River christened this area “Yanaguana,” meaning “clear waters.” Spanish explorers and missionaries built the Alamo (Spanish for cottonwood trees) and four additional missions to serve Native Americans.
Fifteen years after the Alamo came under Mexican control the bloody 13-day Battle of the Alamo led to Texas’ independence. Today the 4 1/2-acre Alamo site symbolises freedom and independence. Flags inside indicate 22 state birthplaces of defenders alongside flags from Ireland, Germany, Denmark, and Wales. The Alamo then served as a Confederate building during the 1860’s.
San Antonio: Where Cultures Merge
Now the nation’s seventh largest city, San Antonio hosts a melting pot of cultures, from Native American and Old Mexico to the Republic of Texas, Germans, the Wild West, and African Americans. It has also been dubbed the ‘Venice of America.’
1. Explore The San Antonio Missions’ National Historic Park
Travelling south from the Alamo, visitors can explore the San Antonio Missions’ National Historic Park – the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. Much of the 12-mile trail along the San Antonio River, offers glimpses of egrets, great blue herons and terns.
2. Drive The Mission Trail
Visitors can also drive the Mission Trail, a special road connecting one mission to the next. Together, the missions form one of the few U.S. National Parks located in the heart of a city.
3. Enjoy The River Walk Charm
If the Alamo and missions represent San Antonio’s historic heart, the city’s River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is it’s modern epicentre. Charming stone stairwells along downtown streets lead 20 feet below street
level to the River Walk.
Most of the pavement, arched bridges and entrance steps were completed from 1939 to 1941. Lush foliage and cobblestone walkways flank this historic 2 1/2-mile long river too.
4. See It From A Riverboat
Join a riverboat cruise for a different perspective of the River Walk’s charm.
5. Sample Foodie, Shopping & Cultural Delights
Park-like in some areas, the River Walk is full of activity in others. Stop inside a European-style sidewalk cafe for Tex-Mex cuisine to sizzling steaks, Creole cooking and pasta.
Purchase souvenirs inside local boutiques, and admire art in numerous galleries. Enjoy a cocktail and live entertainment inside a nightclub and then sleep inside a riverfront hotel. Also along the River, the outdoor Arneson River Theatre hosts events ranging from a Mariachi Festival and a Saint Patrick’s Day show to Coffins on Parade around Halloween. Mass weddings also take place at the river, on every Valentine’s Day.
6. Go Shopping at Market Square
If you love to shop look no further than Market Square. This largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico has operated ‘forever.’ Dozens of shops sell Mexican and South American products, including leather
goods, fantastic pinatas, and stained glass, to costume or fine jewellery. The El Mercado section includes 32 speciality boutiques and the Farmers Market Plaza hosts 80 speciality shops.
Purchase Mexican folk art and dresses, local pottery, and wrought iron and paper flowers. Some vendors may even barter a bit.
7. Don’t Miss The Mexican Food & Candy
Sample Tex-Mex dishes and cocktails, Mexican candy and ice cream, too. Restaurants, shops, and galleries outside El Mercado usually stay open later and offer similar merchandise. Authentic Mexican restaurants and open-air patios enhance your dining pleasure too.
In The Neighbourhoods
8. Pop Over To The Pearl Brewery District
Another of San Antonio’s ‘hot’ neighbourhoods, the Pearl Brewery District hosts dozens of local restaurants – including a food hall. ‘The Pearl’ is also home to a Culinary Institute of America outpost and Hotel Emma. This low-key luxury hotel operates inside a one-time brewery and offers guests a signature margarita upon arrival.
9. Check Out The King William District
Not far from the Alamo, the cosmopolitan King William District was developed on mission land. “Sauerkraut Bend” was subdivided into lots during the 1860’s and settled by German immigrants. Used as residences and investment properties, their stately mansions and simple cottages sat along the tree-lined streets.
Renovations began by the 1960’s, after the district had fallen into disrepair. It became the first Historic neighbourhood District in Texas and was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk or drive through the neighbourhood while admiring these impressive structures restored to 19th century grandeur. You can even stay in one of these magnificent homes when you book a stay at a luxurious bed-and-breakfast in the district.
10. See What The Artists Did At The Run Down Southtown Area
Artists began to revitalise the run-down Southtown neighbourhood, nearly 30 years ago. Many empty-nesters now live here. Young families also love this area and appreciate the highly successful dual-language elementary school (one of several in the city). Throughout the neighbourhood you’ll find art galleries and other locally owned small businesses such as Church Bistro & Theatre; Mexican cuisine from Rosario’s Restaurant and American or Tex-Mex fare plus shopping at The Guenther House.
Southtown’s Blue Star Arts Complex includes live-work spaces and the popular Blue Star Brewery plus plentiful arts venues, shops and studios. Get an up-close-and personal look at local creativity during arts-focused First Fridays events that draw thousands of people (with especially large crowds during Fiesta Week).
Photo below of Flowers At The Riverwalk by Flickr User SBMeaper1