SAMPLE SAN ANTONIO TEXAS - After the Alamo, there's still far too much to do in San Antonio.

by Annette Lucido

San Antonio has long been the favorite tourist city for Texans who, like seemingly every student in the state, visit the Alamo. It now attracts visitors from all over the country. Nowhere else in Texas do you find so many cultures represented and so much to do in such a small area. Much of the action is downtown and replicas of oldtime streetcars tote tourists. So park and enjoy the lively streets and riverfront action.

Add quality shopping, a slice of history at the Alamo and lesser-known missions to a cool river cruise or walk among the stores and restaurants that line the river and many other attractions and, even if the weather were not less muggy than the coast in summer, it's no surprise that San Antonio draws so well. However, it may be at its best fall, winter and spring.

Day or Night, the Alamo is San Antonio's top attraction.


We found downtown exceptionally attractive and parking convenient, so we started our pedestrian tour with the obligatory visit to the Alamo where Texas history really started. Besides the Alamo buildings that still show bullet holes from the battle, a worth-while museum and quite enjoyable slide show covers the "13 days of glory" of the siege that ended the lives of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie of raccoon hat and knife fame respectively. The Heart of Texas multi-screen, multi-media show at the Alamo Theater just across the street from the Alamo seemed worth our visit.

It's only an inexpensive shuttle streetcar ride or an easy walk up Paseo del Alamo to Paseo del Rio, the "River Walk" that took us to La Villita, the restored "Little Village" just off the river walk. Here you can zoom in for a close-up as glassblowers twirl molten glass into goblets and see potters finish traditional pots. History buffs enjoy a look at Cos House and the Little Church of La Villita. This tidy area, built by an oil-and-water mix of lively Canary Islanders and conservative Franciscan padres, is the root-stock of San Antonio de Bexar, the largest city in Texas during the Mexican Era.

During the third and fourth weeks of April during the Fiesta San Antonio, you can enjoy street dancers, concerts and band festivals here. Parades that rival those of New Orleans punctuate the Fiesta. "Fun-Tier" Nights run non-stop Dixieland, jazz, barbershop quartets and sidewalk food booths.

Twenty feet below San Antonio's street level, the Paseo del Rio laces the landscaped banks of the San Antonio River. You can wander between towering cypress trees, tropical plants, bistros and shops along the cool water. Once partly roofed-over as a storm sewer, the river and bordering Paseo is now one of the best examples of urban renewal in America.

The open-air Arenson River Theater offers Spanish and Mexican music and dancers during the Fiesta del Rio. Or, if you like, you can listen to bongo Joe's garbage-can drums and whistling at the Crockett Street Bridge or find flamenco, Dixieland jazz, pop and other musical entertainment in the many open air bistros and cafes that lace the riverwalk.

Food along the river reflects the area's multicultural traditions. Cajan, Mexican, Spanish, French, German, Tex-Mex and American dishes served under colorful umbrellas at water's edge cafes let you watch passing passenger barges and paddle boats.

If you like you can rent paddle craft or let an engine push your barge along the river and into the side-channel that leads to HemisFair, the home of the 1968 fair that commemorated San Antonio's 250th Birthday. The plaza on the river is the site of many activities, and HemisFair offers a yearly round of seasonal attractions. SCENE, the local visitor's guide, shows you what and where you can expect.

The Institute of Texas Cultures section of HemisFair details the contributions of the 26 different cultures and ethnic groups to settle Texas, the only American state that's been under six flags -- French, Spanish, Mexican, Texas Republic, Confederate States of American and the United States. The mix of lively lectures and museum displays makes the handicrafts and activities of diversified ethnic groups even more interesting.

The Museum of Transportation's vehicle displays range from chuck wagons to fire engines. For a splendid overview of the city try the "vertigo special" trip in a glass-walled elevator up the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas, a landmark that keeps visitors, and locals, oriented in San Antonio. You can ogle the landscape from the observation deck or the Cloud Room Restaurant. 

The nearby Mexican Cultural Institute offers arts and crafts with a Hispanic flavor. Of course, San Antonio's Hispanic tradition is ever-present. Little Mexico, a district surrounding El Mercado, the Mexican market place that features fresh produce and all sorts of crafts is just an easy walk or old time streetcar ride from the river. We found goods here less expensive and of better quality of those across the Mexican border.

Check to see if the municipal band or other attraction plays in the plaza across from city hall during your visit. Do take time to explore this area's fine restaurants and, locals claim, "crafts that rank with the finest of Mexico at lower prices." Shops along the river seem to have the best goods and, as usual, the highest quality. On the walk back to the river, visit the Governor's Mansion, a fine example of early adobe architecture and a cool spot to escape the sun on a hot day.

Another pleasant escape from the sun is the nearby Hertzberg Circus Museum that features a carved three-ring circus, Tom Thumb's tiny carriage and other memorabilia of the "Big Top."

There's something historic everywhere in the downtown.


There's an assortment of other museums too. The San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in a former Lone Star Brewery offers exceptional art of the Americas. The Witte Museum in Brackenridge Park specializes in natural history and arts and crafts. Next door, the Texas Ranger and old Trail Drivers Museum offers six-gun atmosphere complete with wanted posters and much else for fans of Western Americana.

If it's open -- the brewery changed hands a bit back so who knows? -- the Buckhorn Hall of Horns at another Lone Star Brewery offers a look at unique trophies. Ever see a 72-point buck? Or pictures made from rattlesnake rattles?

The Lone Star Brewery is just one of many reflections of the strong German heritage in the San Antonio area. Sample the summer and you can believe the claim that beer was and remains as important a survival tool for cowboys and visitors as boots and a wide-brim hat. German influence also produced the famous Menger Hotel on Alamo Plaza, where Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders chugged down German brew before they set out for San Juan Hill. On the contemporary side the McNay Art Museum offers fine French impressionist and post-impressionist art of Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh and Rouseau, as well as greater numbers of contemporary paintings. Allow extra time to visit the gardens too.

You can reach the above-mentioned attractions on foot, street car or decent public transportation. The Mission Trail, a well-marked drive along the trail, visits four Franciscan missions, Brackenridge Park and other worthwhile destinations you can either drive to or reach with a bus tour.

Each of the missions offers something special. San Jose de Aguayo celebrates mass with mariachi music on Sunday. Mission Conception offers Moorish architecture and lovely twin bell towers. The smaller San Juan Capistrano and San Francisco de Espada Missions best retain their neighborhood flavor.

Near Mission Espada, you can marvel at the mission aqueduct built by friars around 1730. It still looks as though it lifts water uphill from the San Antonio River, but it's worked for over 200 years and the dam -- current builders take note -- survived all sorts of floods and other hazards with minimal repairs.

On a fine day, don't miss the colorful gardens of Brackenridge park's 343 acres and, in particular, its superb sunken Japanese Gardens. Kids revel in rides on the Park's mini train and enjoy the playing fields, lakes and many shaded grassy acres. A particularly fine view of the Japanese Gardens is from the "Skyride" tram. The zoo has improved considerably over the last five years, but the Hixon Tropical Bird House, the second largest in the country, remains a favorite attraction.

If you enjoy a flexible schedule try to attend at least one of the city's many festivals. The year starts with the Great Country River Festival in February that, what else, features country-and-western groups. In April Carnival, the Fiesta San Antonio and Kings River Parade on River Walk draw hosts of visitors in usually mild weather. From June through August the Arenson River Theater is busy most days; and, in August, the Texas Folklife Festival shows off Texas lifestyles. In October you can enjoy another River Festival and an art show. Christmas features the Fiesta de las Luminarias, a traditional latin "Festival of Lights," as candles flicker off the river walk and reflect in the water. You can sample traditional christmas pastries and enjoy special religious services, dances, parades and much else.

Of course, visitors to San Antonio can include outdoor activities such as fishing, camping, hunting and much else you can find through the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, Box 2277, San Antonio, TX 78298. If you like, call for a splendid information package toll free at 1-800-531-5700. Pilots and Army Air Force or Air Force veterans might like to tour Randolf, Kelly, Lackland, and Brooks Fields -- Okay they're now all Air Force Bases, but old timers still remember them as "fields." The Lackland Air Museum is particularly solid in it's collection of World War I to current aircraft and memorabilia.

With so much to see, San Antonio presents some hard, if enjoyable choices, for those who see it only as a stopover between Dallas and the Texas coast. So plan to stay an extra night and you'll find plenty to fill two days or, if you must see everything, a week.