Over the past few years I have visited San Antonio and the surrounding Texas Hill Country a number of times on my father-son golf excursions. These were exceptional experiences but we seldom took the extra time to see much more of San Antonio than tee boxes and rolling fairways.
It was my goal to come back with my wife to properly discover San Antonio. I wanted her to share with me some of the other tourist highlights in the area that have made the region so popular. We made the journey this spring and our timing was perfect, as our return almost coincided with the HBO mini-series about its famed tourist icon, the Alamo.
With the recent television dramatization titled Texas Rising, a renewed interest emerged surrounding the history of the Alamo and its home in San Antonio. Its cornerstone as an important point in American history began in 1836 with the 13-day siege by Mexican general Santa Anna. The battle at the Alamo may have been lost but it would lead to a dedication to victory soon after, and in the years that followed, a symbol of American determination and resilience.
Located in a region known as Texas Hill Country, San Antonio is the focal point for a destination that has grown to be one of the most visited cities in the United States. Few people who visit the area will pass up the opportunity to walk around the small structure that started it all. While the HBO series covered events that occurred after the fall of the Alamo, an excellent re-enactment of the battle can be seen at the nearby Commerce Mall’s IMAX Theatre, only a few minutes’ walk from the Alamo.
The Alamo itself is just one check mark on a long list of places in the city and the area around it that deserve attention. It is perhaps not surprising, given the number of annual visitors to the Alamo, that a number of tourist entertainment centres have been set up across the street from it. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, along with a number of other similar brands shout out their presence in large neon signs that almost beg those lining up across the street to go there next.
The San Antonio Riverwalk is deservedly world famous. It did not begin its existence as a tourist attraction. In 1921 a major flood motivated the city fathers of the day to build a bypass channel to save the city from another similar disastrous event. It was not until 1929 when a young architect proposed plans for more people-friendly uses of the newly created ‘river’. The idea was not accepted until the persistent Robert Hugman finally pressured the city into adopting his proposal.
Today his foresight is honoured by the millions of annual visits to the restaurants, bars, and shops that line both sides of the expanded riverwalk waterway. Every year for U.S. Thanksgiving, a festival of lights heralds the lead up to the Christmas holidays. Thousands fill the walkways throughout the Black Friday weekend, helping ensure a profitable retail sales season.
One of the tours any first time tourist should do is take the river walk tour boat ride. Not only does it wind through the most developed stretches along the river, but the captains of these small boats act like trained comedians, and well they may be. They regularly gain extra tips from grateful riders for raising the enjoyment of the tour from pure information and education into genuine self-depreciating hilarity. We emerged from out tour still laughing at our guide’s antics for about an hour after.
To get a feel of San Antonio, like the riverboat ride that provides an excellent overview of the river, a similar recommendation can be made as a first step to understanding the city. There are two separate companies that offer on and off bus tours of the city and downtown region. One covers the large central area, while the other ventures farther to take in more of the community areas, and more particularly the historic missions which were recently designated as a United States national park.
. This is a park that is decidedly different than any you may have visited. Four of the five Spanish missions where Catholic orders came to spread the word of the gospel are included. Each mission is five to seven kilometres from the next and are divided by the homes and business that occupy the area. This might be expected since they were established to serve the Spanish residents of designated areas apart from each other. Yet each mission is different than the other. Some are still used for Sunday services and other celebrations.
While the temperatures during winter can go below zero from time to time, the areas relatively moderate temperatures have drawn more and more snowbirds over the past number of years. Monthly rentals and food prices are reasonable, and there is lots to do throughout Texas Hill Country. It is a golfer’s paradise, not as well known as other places, but its courses are first class, and during the winter season, very attractively priced. Shorter term packages, as well as winter long-stay condos can be accessed through a company I have come to know well and trust completely at www.texasgolfvacation.com.
During high season from spring to fall, San Antonio is home to one of the Six Flags amusement parks, with fun for the entire family. Shopping is also a fact of life for most people who vacation, no matter where they travel. And the San Antonio region has loads of options for every budget. The shops at La Cantera tend to attract the higher end buyer. Halfway between San Antonio and Austin the large San Marcos Premium Outlets lists 145 shops, while almost a hundred more are featured directly across the road from it at the Tanger Outlet property. Name the brand and at least one of its stores is likely to be offering clearance prices at either one or both outlet locations.
San Antonio is one of the largest urban centres in the United States, and with that comes the traffic and bustle of a normal city environment. But the city features a quiet sanctuary to get away from it all in its Japanese Tea Garden. Also known as the Sunken Garden, it was built upon a limestone quarry on land that was donated in 1899, by the then president of the San Antonio Water Works Company, George Washington Brackenridge. It truly is a quiet place for peace and reflection, with many convenient places to rest and reflect, and numerous pathways to let you wander through to find resting spots to experience the genuine tranquility of the natural surroundings.
Not far away is the San Antonio Zoo, also recognized as one of the best in the United States, backed up by many accolades it has received. It is one of the best designed zoos I have seen, with well-marked trails to each area of the zoo, to find the animals, birds, or reptiles visitors may be seeking to view. There are as many fine restaurants and national chains as one would wish to find, but its proximity to the Mexican border has influenced many of its flavours and restaurant styles.
Our trip was special and we found it to be a vacation well worth taking. The people are friendly, it is the home of two prominent cultures, and it has scenic delights to satisfy the photographic eye of both professionals and amateurs. Manitobans can get to San Antonio’s modern airport with only one connection through either Minneapolis or Chicago.
Find out more about these and other tourist attractions from the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau at http://visitsanantonio.com .