I mentioned in a previous blog post how much I enjoy visiting San Antonio. Despite its ranking as the second largest city in Texas (after Houston), the home of the Alamo manages to retain a warm, tourist-friendly—almost small-town—feel. The River Walk area provides a plethora of options for visitors—eating, shopping, lodging, entertainment, relaxation, or simply soaking in the sights. If history is your thing, San Antonio serves up a Texas-size helping of just that! Explore its native American heritage, learn more about the era of Spanish exploration, discover its many missions, relive the Battle of the Alamo, reflect on its involvement in the American Civil War, and experience shades of the Old West. Whether strolling along the River Walk, retracing the steps of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, or hopping aboard a trolley for a city tour, San Antonio is a remarkable destination that will call you back time and again. It’s always a good idea to stop by the Tourist Information Center across the street from the Alamo to pick up brochures or purchase tickets for some of the city’s attractions.
Things to do:
- The Alamo (The Shrine of Texas Liberty: Originally known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero, this squat, unimposing, stone structure crouches amidst its taller neighbors—a far cry from its isolated location at dawn on that fateful day, March 6, 1836. Join two and half million visitors annually in touring this important landmark. (Be sure to note the Rules of Reverence outlined on the linked web page.)
- River Walk (Paseo del Rio): This pedestrian-only thoroughfare is situated one level down from street (driving) level. Two parallel sidewalks—one on either side of the river—meander under bridges past restaurants and shops, connecting many of the most popular tourist attractions.
- Rio San Antonio Cruises: See the River up close and personal by way of a boat tour, Rio taxi, or group charter (groups, corporate outings, dining). A boat tour is great if you are a first-time visitor. The informative 35-minute experience combines a leisurely river cruise, beautiful scenery, and interesting historical information (Do you know why Texas is the only state allowed to fly its flag on level with or higher than the American flag?).
- Tower of the Americas: (750 feet tall) – Great view of the city from the observation deck; breakfast and coffee served at the Tower Café; Skies Over Texas 4D theater ride; fine dining at the Chart House Restaurant.
- Alamo Trolley Tours: (Hop On, Hop Off) – Great way to see the city beyond the River Walk area—including several of the old Spanish missions; comprehensive view of San Antonio with less walking.
- Rivercenter Mall: This attractive shopping complex at the end of the River Walk includes a number of major department stores as well as specialty and souvenir shops, an IMAX theater, various restaurants (some overlooking the River Walk), and an outdoor entertainment venue with live music. The glass-panel construction allows visitors to connect with nature—whether rain or shine!
- Market Square – El Mercado: Drop by America’s largest Mexican market and enjoy local talent, peruse a variety of specialty shops, and chat with cultural artisans. This open market covers three city blocks and offers a “touristy” taste of Mexico.
- Six Flags Fiesta Texas: A great amusement park for the adventurous thrill-seeker in you! There are rides for all ages, shows and entertainment, restaurants and souvenirs! I am super excited about the new Batman 4D wing-style roller coaster opening this summer!
- Sea World San Antonio: Calling all ocean life lovers! Rides, shows, exhibits, animal tours…there is something for everyone at Sea World!
Where to eat:
- Boudro’s Texas Bistro: Accessible from street level or the River Walk, this ranks as my top choice for eating in San Antonio. Whether you’re in the mood for Jumbo Shrimp and Gulf Crab Enchiladas, Blackened Prime Rib, or Mesquite Grilled Texas Quail, Boudro’s is the place to be! My personal favorite is Boudreaux’s Shrimp and Grits! (Consider reserving a table for barge dining if you want a real River Walk experience.)
- Landry’s Seafood: For seafood, steak, and a waterfront view, Landry’s is the perfect choice. With its white linen tablecloths, tasteful decor, and attentive waitstaff, you would never guess that it is a chain restaurant. I have dined here on several occasions and it never disappoints.
- Casa Ole: Situated about as close to the River Walk as you can get, this stellar Mexican restaurant is always bustling with activity. From the brightly colored table linens to the live mariachi band and Fiesta Salad to Chicken Acapulco, you are sure to enjoy a lively—and tasty—dining experience.
Where to stay:
There are many hotels to choose from in San Antonio, but I recommend that you reserve a room at one in the central River Walk area—preferably on an upper floor in a room with a balcony that overlooks the water! Beware…every hotel that advertises its location as “on the River Walk” is not in the central area and, therefore, you may find yourself walking a fair distance to reach the action. (Personal experience!)
- I have stayed in the San Antonio Marriott Riverwalk (one of three Marriott hotels in the city) and would wholeheartedly recommend it. Within easy walking distance of everything, but remote enough to boast peace and quiet…with a nice view of the River Walk.
- If you prefer more of a boutique experience and don’t mind venturing beyond the River Walk, the historic Crockett Hotel is a choice option. Mere steps from the Alamo and other attractions, it offers comfortable accommodations that combine tradition with luxury. The hotel offers a full-service spa, valet parking, and a variety of special packages.
- La Cantera Hill Country Resort: If you prefer to get away from the action, be pampered in style, and maybe play a round or two of golf, this resort experience is the way to go.
Don’t miss my reflections on the other southern cities that ranked among the Top Ten of America’s Friendliest Cities: #8 Nashville, TN, #6 Fort Worth, TX, and #5 New Orleans, LA. Stay tuned for #4 Savannah, GA…
…and Happy Texas Independence Day, fellow wanderers!