Without the modern skyline of Dallas or Houston, attractive and festive San Antonio looks nothing like the stereotypical image of Texas, despite being pivotal in the state’s history. Standing at a geographical crossroads, the city encases the complex social and ethnic mixes of all Texas. Although the Germans, among others, have made strong cultural contributions, San Antonio’s heritage is Hispanic.
The city proudly showcases its past. Approximately 30 million people arrive every year to explore the Alamo, stroll along the famed River Walk, shop at the largest Mexican market north of the border, and see a host of other attractions.
The Alamo is usually the first stop. This former Spanish mission remains a source of pride for Texans for the critical role it played in the state’s fight for independence from Mexico. The Alamo is smaller than one might expect and sits right downtown in Alamo Plaza.
Moving through these hallowed walls brings to life the story of how 189 brave men fought to their deaths against thousands of soldiers led by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The names of the men who led the heroic fight at the Alamo strike a familiar chord: James Bowie, known for the Bowie knife; David Crockett, later called “Davy” Crockett in the 1950s song and TV show; and William Barret Travis, a noted young lawyer from South Carolina. They, along with the rest of the Alamo defenders, held off the Mexican army for 13 days until, in the end, they all died after an attack in the early morning hours of March 6, 1836.
The attack spurred fellow Texans to rout the Mexicans mightily six weeks later in the Battle of San Jacinto. Sam Houston, leading 900 men, charged across the field chanting, “Remember the Alamo!” The Texans defeated the Mexican army in just 18 minutes, and the Republic of Texas was born.
The Alamo is one of five missions built in the 1700s by Catholic missionaries of the Franciscan order who came from Spain. The other four missions collectively form San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park consists of missions San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan, and Espada, and they still function as Catholic parishes, with regular services in English and Spanish. All are open for tours.
After the Alamo, San Antonio’s second-most famous attraction is the River Walk, which winds through downtown and takes visitors along the San Antonio River under cypress trees, over flagstone paths, and past restaurants, shops, and historic attractions. Thanks to a $384 million expansion completed in 2013, the River Walk now stretches 15 miles.
A fun thing to do is to visit the city’s historic Market Square (El Mercado), which offers a taste and feel of Mexico. This is the largest Mexican market in the United States and features restaurants, specialty shops, street vendors, artists, and musicians, all offering authentic treats and wares.
Food gets heaps of attention in San Antonio. Authentic Mexican restaurants, or the more familiar Tex-Mex dishes, provide delights. Mexican restaurants La Fogata and Mi Tierra Café y Panaderia are landmarks in San Antonio. Mi Tierra is open 24 hours, offering its full menu around the clock.
The Pearl complex is another spot for foodies. A brewery used to occupy the space, which now has world-class restaurants and boasts a campus of the Culinary Institute of America. Besides delicious choices for dining, visitors can check out shops and a weekly farmers market.
Other attractions that you may wish to investigate while you’re in San Antonio include the Institute of Texan Cultures, Tower of the Americas, Spanish Governor’s Palace, San Antonio Museum of Art, Edward Steves Homestead, La Villita Historic Arts Village, King William Historic District, Witte Museum, McNay Art Museum, and Brackenridge Park.
San Antonio offers so much that many RVers make plans to return. That’s helped along by the warmth of its residents as they share their city’s history and culture with visitors.
There is a growing feeling that perhaps Texas is really another country, a place where the skies, the disasters, the diamonds, the politicians, the women, the fortunes, the football players and the murders are all bigger than anywhere else.