San Antonio is one of my favorite cities in the United States, not just for the history, but for the atmosphere and particularly the Riverwalk area.
There is no doubt that the east coast cities of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington have great history but their story is so very different to that of Texas and San Antonio.
San Antonio is where the Battle of the Alamo took place in 1836 – the famous battle that led to the Texas becoming a Republic, and then in 1846 to it becoming the 28th State in the United States.
If you read the History of Texas on this website, it will help you understand the importance of the Alamo to not just Texan history, but also the development of the United States and American folklore.
The Alamo Fort dates back to 1718 and occupies just over four acres of land, with high stone walls, church, Long Barracks, Shrine of Texas Liberty and gardens inside open year round to visitors who come here to get a sense of what it was like in the early days of settlement, but mostly to hear the story of the Battle of the Alamo.
The Battle lasted 13 days and saw 200 Texas Defenders fight a losing battle against some 1000 Mexican troops who overran the Fort. Three of the most famous frontier Texan fighters (Texian) in the Battle were Davy Crocket, James Bowie and William B. Travis, who is said to have gone down fighting with the words "Victory or Death". Almost all of the defenders were either killed in battle or shortly after, with only a few children and women spared from the slaughter.
The Alamo then became a war-cry in the words "Remember the Alamo" as new battles were fought, and on April 21st, 1836 the Mexicans led by General Santa Anna was defeated in the Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston, who would become the first Governor of the Republic of Texas.
There are tours of the Alamo each day that last around 1 hour, and also night tours too, as well as an IMAX Theater experience. Seeing the Alamo is a MUST SEE experience in San Antonio, but there are also the old Mission stations to see too, and to get a true feel for the early days of Spanish Settlement you should also try and visit one or more of the four Spanish Missions that still exist in San Antonio.
The first Mission in Texas was located on the Rio Grande River in 1700 and given the name of Mission San Francisco de Solano, headed by Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares. In 1718 he moved the Mission close to San Antonio, a location that he had earlier explored in 1709, the new Mission given the name of San Antonio de Valero, but it ceased to become a Mission after a few years, becoming just a small outpost Pueblo settlement, until around 100 Spanish Troops and their families became stationed here in 1803, with the old Convento Building becoming their barracks, and a hospital established here. It would remain as a Military Garrison from 1803 until 1835, becoming known as the Pueblo de la Compañia del Alamo, its main role being to protect settlers from Indian attack. It also became a symbol of Spanish and then Mexican authority, until occupied by the Texan fighters in the lead up to the Battle of the Alamo.
In San Antonio four other Franciscan Missions were established and these can still be seen today. These are located close to the San Antonio River within a few miles of the Alamo. There is a bus 42 to Mission Concepción and San José, and bus 36 to San Juan, but no buses to Espada, which is the Mission that is furthest away (about 11 miles from the Alamo). There is also the Mission Riverwalk along the Riverside, where you can either walk or bike.
- Mission Concepción – 807 Mission Road and nearby is the site where the Mission San Francisco Xavier Nάjera was once located.
- Mission San José – 6701 San José Drive
- Mission San Juan – 9101 Graf Road. See www.sanjuanmission.com Tel: 210 534 0749.
- Mission San Francisco de la Espada – 10040 Espada Road
All of these Spanish Missions have great old stone buildings and interesting stories of their individual and collective histories.
Cathedral of San Fernando – This Catholic Cathedral with its stone towers on either side of the main entrance was built in 1731, making it the oldest church in Texas.
When Texas was part of Spain, the only religion was Catholic, but other faiths were allowed to worship here too. The Cathedral is located at 115 Main Plaza.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the little Flower – is located at 1715 N. Zarzamora. See www.littleflowerbasilica.org Tel: 210 735 9126. The Basilica was built in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression by Discalced Carmelite Friars in honor of St. Therese. This is said to be one of the most beautiful churches in the United States.
Spanish Governor's Palace– 105 Plaza De Armas. This Palace was built for the Spanish Governor in 1749. See www.spanishgovernorspalace.org
Buckhorn Museum – 318 E. Houston Street. See www.buckhornmuseum.com The Texan Rangers Museum is here too.
When the early Spanish explorers, missionaries and pioneers came to Texas, they established settlements next to rivers where they could obtain drinking water and water for animals, crops, washing and general use. Rivers can flood, and in times of flood can be quite dangerous, and in San Antonio the early Missionaries built irrigation channels (Acequias) from as early as 1729 to help in growing crops. Some remnants of stone walls around these old Acequias are near Mission San Juan and Mission San Espada.
Sometimes in floods a river can burst its banks and create new channels at the same time, and large bends in the River are particularly at risk of this happening. In San Antonio this happened in 1921 when 50 people drowned in the City. Since that time Locks and Dams have been built on the River, but the most interesting development was when they closed off a large roughly U shaped bend in the River to create what has become known as the Riverwalk, with the construction of this starting in 1939.
The Riverwalk (Paseo del Rio) is located at 110 Broadway Street, with walkways on both sides of a stream running between them. There are about 2 ½ miles of walkways, with a number of bridges crossing over the water. The Riverwalk is one level down from the main city center, creating almost an oasis in the City, with bars, cafes, small shops, restaurants on each side, with seating tables next to the walkway.
There is something very soothing about water, and the mix of greenery, flowers, small bridge crossings, some small boats or tourist barges on the water, no cars and an interesting mix of shops, food and drinks makes the Riverwalk a MUST SEE in San Antonio. In some ways the Riverwalk is a bit like the canals of Venice in Italy, yet it also retains a very authentic feel to it, not something that is contrived. This also makes it feel special. It also leads on to the Museum Reach, and the longer Mission Trail, and is a great place both in the day and also at night. The Pearl Brewery is here too.
The San Antonio Museum of Art is located on the Museum Reach at 200 W. Jones Avenue. See www.samuseum.org Tel: 210 978 8100.
In and around the Main Plaza and near the Alamo in the City, close to the Riverwalk are B-Cycle Bike sharing stations and there are a number of Stations spread out in and around the City Center and Parks to pick up or drop off a bike.
Also look for Market Square a big open air Mexican Marketplace and El Mercado – at 514 W. Commerce Street.
The San Antonio Visitor Center is at 317 Alamo Plaza with maps and information. Enquire here to find out where the Hertzberg Circus Collection is located. This is an amazing collection of Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Barnum and other circus memorabilia. If you can find it, it is an amazing collection to see.
The King William District is the most historic German-American area in San Antonio and this is also not far from the Riverwalk. Here you will find a number of grand old mansions including Villa Finale house Museum at 401 King William Street – where there is a Museum Shop as well. Also here is the Steves Homestead Museum at 509 King William Street with its carriage house, servant's quarters and the homestead itself, a 3 storey home built in Limestone, with arched portico veranda with cast iron columns and filigree and a Mansard roof on top.
Another district close to King William District is Southtown, about 20 minutes walking distance from the Alamo. Here you will find a number of commercial Galleries, coffee places, bars, micro- breweries, and an interesting mix of stylish shops to browse around. For contemporary art, look for the Blue Star Art Complex at 1414 S. Alamo Street.
Another interesting house to see is the Yurri-Edmonds house and Mill at 128 Mission Road that was built around 1840-60 which is closer to Mission Concepción.
At the Witte Museum – 3801 Broadway Street (Tel: 201 357 1900) there are a number of log cabins, rubble stone houses and small houses built in Limestone blocks that date back to the 1800's. This is the biggest museums in San Antonio to see with lots of history, but also activities too. It is next to the big Brackenridge Park that covers 343 acres with walkways, sporting grounds, golf course, the Japanese Garden and Tea Pagoda. The San Antonio Zoo is also here (See www.sazoo-aq.org ) and the Botanic Gardens ( www.sabot.org ) at 555 Funston Place on the corner of N. New Braunfels. There are a number of garden styles in the Botanic Gardens. A small steam train Railroad is also in the Park too if you get tired of walking.
For the best views over the City there is the Tower of the Americas – at 739 E. César E. Chάvez Boulevard. The tower is 750 feet high with an observation deck and revolving restaurant at the top. The Museum of Texan Cultures is nearby at 801 César E. Chάvez Boulevard.
Museo Alameda – is located at 101 S. Santa Rosa Avenue (Market Square). This is the biggest Latino Museum in the USA. See www.tamusa-ecac.com Tel: 210 784 1101.
Guenther House Museum is at 205 E. Guenther Street. This is a house museum (built 1859) which also a restaurant and store.
Texas Transportation Museum – 11731 Wetmore Street. See www.txtransportationmuseum.com Tel: 210 490 3554 See trains, cars, buggies and more here. Not always open.
McNay Art museum – 6000 N. New Braunfels Avenue. See www.mcnayart.org Tel: 210 824 5368.
Majestic Theater – 224 E. Houston Street. Tel: 210 226 3333 to see what's on.
While San Antonio has lots of art and history, there are also a number of Theme Parks –
- SeaWorld – 10500 Seaworld Drive Tel: 1800 700 7786. See www.seaworldparks.com This has Aquatica by Seaworld, Dolphin Cove and some of the biggest roller coasters, waterslides, pools and shows to see.
- Splashtown San Antonio – is located at 3600 North IH 35, with 20 acres of swimming pools, waterslides and other water based fun. See www.splashtownsa.com
- Schlitterbahn – 400 N. Liberty, New Braunfels . This is a waterpark and also resort. See www.schitterbahn.com New Braunsfels is about 32 miles from San Antonio.
- Also see www.morganswonderland.com and www.sixflags.com
- Rivercenter Mall – 849 E. Commerce Street in the center of the City. See www.shoprivercenter.com
- North Star Mall – 7400 San Pedro Avenue. See www.northstarmall.com
- South Park Mall – 2310 SW Military Drive. See www.visitsouthpark.com
- Ingram Park Mall – 6301 NW Loop 410. See www.simon.com
- Rolling Oaks Mall – 6909 N Loop 1604 E. Also see www.simon.com