“Every Texan has two homes—his own and San Antonio.”
—Frank Tolbert, Texas historian and journalist
My fellow Texans, what comes to mind when you think of San Antonio? Yes, you remember the Alamo, and you may have visited the River Walk, but have you ever taken the time to explore the other riches that this gem of the South has to offer? For those of you who may not be familiar with the city, or if you just want to get reacquainted with it, here’s a refresher course on San Antonio. When you’re ready, head on over for a visit and have a good time.
With a population of more than 1.1 million people and approximately 20 million visitors a year, San Antonio has come a long way since 1691, when a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries happened upon the river, which they named in honor of the feast day of St. Anthony. In 1718 Father Antonio Olivares established the Mision San Antonio de Valero, but it had to be relocated twice, so the Alamo as we know it today is actually the third location of the mission. The Alamo is undeniably a huge attraction for tourists, drawing more than 2.5 million people a year, and with the upcoming release of the Disney movie, there is sure to be an increased interest in San Antonio. But what else is there to do once you’ve remembered to visit the Alamo? Depending on what you’re interested in, San Antonio has something to offer everyone.
One of the best spots for people-watching is the Paseo del Rio, or the River Walk, located smack in the middle of—and some twenty feet below—downtown. For some two and a half miles, you can explore the shops, restaurants, and hotels along the River Walk by foot, at your own pace, or you can opt for a guided boat tour. Either way, the River Walk is a good way to get a feel for San Antonio.
When you are ready for a different kind of culture, head to one of the city’s many museums and galleries. Did you know that San Antonio is the home of Texas’s first modern art museum? The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, founded in 1950, houses an impressive collection, with pieces by Cezanne, Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, O’Keeffe, Hopper, and Rodin, among many others. If you happen to be in town on the third Thursday of every month, San Antonio’s Downtown Gallery Nights promises to offer a whole lot of art—more than fifteen downtown galleries extend their hours to accommodate the most enthusiastic art lovers.
What about those of us who have kids that just aren’t all that interested in art or the Alamo? San Antonio happens to be one of the most exciting places in Texas for children. After you’ve worn them out by taking them to SeaWorld or Six Flags Fiesta Texas, the San Antonio Zoo is an ideal place to unwind. This nationally recognized zoo is home to 3,500 animals, including the rare okapi, a bizarre-looking creature that seems to be a cross between a zebra and a giraffe. A stroll through the 52-acre San Antonio Zoo is both a fun and educational way to spend some quality time with your little ones.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Majestic Theatre, an outstanding example of the wealth of beautiful architecture that San Antonio has to offer. Originally built in 1929, the Majestic was renovated in the late eighties and then expanded in the nineties; it now hosts musicals like Miss Saigon and the Phantom of the Opera, as well as being the home of the San Antonio Symphony. The opulent theater was inspired by Spanish Mission, Baroque, and Mediterranean architecture, and a peek within reveals walls covered with scenes of a fantasy villa, complete with peacocks, grape vines, and a vaulted cloudy sky overhead.
Whether San Antonio is just a hop down Interstate 35 or a day trip across Texas, do yourself a favor and spend some time exploring the city. You may find that you are in total agreement with Mr. Tolbert, who was obviously acquainted with this lovely Texas city.