Updated 11.23.2019: Although many would be wise to pay heed to the warning, “Don’t mess with Texas” when it comes to travel, the Lone Star State has a wealth of interesting sites as well as its own rich history to explore. Today’s guest article by Sam Lowe explains the best way to see one of the state’s most intriguing, yet less explored cities, San Antonio.
Due to a lack of time and a need for pre-departure haste, I was ill-informed about the charm that awaits visitors to San Antonio. In fact, my major concern at that time was getting to the Alamo, which seemed to be paramount to any visit.
It was only natural. The Alamo has been around since the late 18th Century, is one of the nation’s most-visited attractions, has been the star of countless movies, and gets most of the publicity outside of that generated when the city’s beloved San Antonio Spurs win another NBA championship. (They did it again in 2014. It was their fifth title since 1999.)
But on my return visits, there was more time to inspect the other aspects that make San Antonio a tourist’s delight. First on the list is the River Walk, a charming combination of walkways, restaurants, bars and shops located one level beneath the streets of the city. Also known as the Paseo del Rio, the walkway is a pedestrian dream-come-true because all the vehicular travel passes high above, leaving strollers and gawkers all to themselves without fear of getting honked at or run over.
The walk itself moseys along under bridges and ambles past well-kept gardens along the banks of the San Antonio River. The eateries and saloons are decked out in brilliant colors, live music is a constant companion, and there’s usually some sort of festival either floating on the waterway or parading along the pathways. A primary example is the Fiesta San Antonio, an annual event featuring flower-covered floats drifting along the serene waters.
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Lyn, my wife, and I usually head there for lunch at least once when we visit. We sit beneath a colorful array of umbrellas and casually snarf down a repast that always includes shellfish, then wash it down with some wine that probably came from nearby Texas Hill Country. Although we haven’t done it, there are regular day trips to the wineries, and those who partake can spend the afternoon sampling the Lone Star State’s finest squeezed-grape products.
Back in the city, segway tours are becoming a popular attraction. Prior to my last visit, segways and I had never formed a compatible relationship because I did not trust them. There was, and still is, something alien about them, especially when they move simply because the rider leans one way or another. Despite that, I segwayed. And it wasn’t so bad, once I learned which way to lean. I took the daytime trip along tree-lined Houston Street and past the Alamo. There’s also a segway “City of Lights Ghost Tour” which I didn’t take. Herding one of those things in the daytime was trauma enough.
Guests who can’t quite picture themselves herding a two-wheeled stander-upper through city streets may also see most of the sites by taking a hop-on hop-off bus and trolley tours. They’re convenient, easy to use and not quite as expensive as the other offerings.
Of course, the Alamo is always worth visiting but don’t expect a sprawling compound like those depicted in the movies. The old chapel, the only building to survive the attack, time and the elements, is a reminder of the infamous 1836 battle against the Mexican army in which Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and as many as 250 other defenders lost their lives. It’s surrounded by a shaded park and is well-illuminated at night, which makes it attractive to photographers. Inside the relatively small building, a series of antiques, changing exhibits and artifacts attempt to tell the story of what it was like during the 13-day seige.
For many years, the Spurs played in the Alamodome but now they call the AT&T Center home. The structure is impressive, not only for its size, but because of the wide variety of activities held there. The list includes musical concerts that range from gospel to jazz to bluegrass, live theater performances, and stand-up comics. And, naturally, there’s a gift shop where fans can buy almost anything and nearly everything related to the Spurs.
Two sites I put on my personal can’t-miss-this list are the Tower of Americas and San Fernando Cathedral. The 750-foot tower was erected in HemisFair Park in 1968 when the city hosted the World’s Fair. Those who ascend to the observation deck will get a 360-degree view of the city. It’s especially fantastic at night.
The cathedral traces its roots back to 1731, when the original structure was erected. Now the walls of that building form the sanctuary of the church, making it the oldest standing church in Texas. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
And then, on my list of places to go if I have enough time, I add Sea World and an area of the city that features well-kept Victorian houses. Sea World is fun because it contains an area where you can feed and touch the dolphins. They are so-o-o-o-o smooth! The Victorian houses are just a few blocks from the River Walk and provide a nice look-and-see venue for those who like things the way they used to be.
So if you go to San Antonio, my advice is: Remember the Alamo.
But also remember that it’s only a small part of what there is to see and do there.
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