San Antonio Traditional Things To Do

The Alamo: The Alamo is at once more and less than we expected. Neither grandiose nor dramatic, the humbly sized mission and beautiful surrounding gardens are surprisingly intimate. Once the battleground of such American icons as William B. Travis, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie against the fierce and ultimately victorious forces of Mexican General Santa Ana, the Alamo has become a Texas icon, symbolizing freedom and bravery. In 2000, curators discovered some frescoes in the sacristy, previously closed to the public, which you can now enter. The colorful flowers, fruits and other images – probably painted by Indians in the 18th century -  are surprisingly vibrant. Open every day except Christmas. Mon-Sat 9am-5:30pm, Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm. Free admission.

Paseo Del Rio – Riverwalk: What began as a Works Progress Administration Landscaping and flood prevention project in the 1940’s has gone on to give San Antonio its most defining feature – the world famous Riverwalk. Once an area of seedy character and somewhat ill repute, the Riverwalk became a star at the 1968 World’s Fair and inaugurated an urban renaissance that continues today. The Riverwalk is now home to luxury hotels, fashionable shops focusing mostly on Texana and Mexican crafts and hundreds of fine restaurants. Walk as much as you like, then take a tour on one of the river barges – the drivers can teach you a lot. Adults $7.75, kids 1-5yrs $2.00. For more information, call the Paseo del Rio Association at 210-227-4262.

Houston Street: Walk 3 minutes up Losoya from the hotel and you will hit Houston Street. Recently renovated properties bump up against classic establishments to create one of the most interesting areas in the downtown. You can do the quintessentially Texan Buckhorn Museum, or the San Antonio Children’s Museum. Stop by the Majestic Theater Box Office to check out the program schedule inside the beautifully restored ornately decorated theater. The Palm and Bohanan’s are two of the cities swankiest eateries, second home to downtown business bigwigs and politicians. Interesting shops display diverse wares or you can grab a quick sandwich at Sip Coffee Shop, or a dramatic salad at the Matinee Café, located in the early 1900’s Texas Theater building, in the former Tourist Hats Shop. One of our favorite restaurants, Acenar, is found inside the Hotel Valencia – try an updated Mexican favorite! The last Saturday of each month from noon to 6pm is the Houston Street Fair and Market – food, fun, arts, and crafts. Free admission.

San Antonio Mission Trails: This well-marked trail along San Antonio river traces the earliest history of San Antonio as a wilderness outpost of Spain. The trail begins well south of downtown and you will need either a car or a bike to get from site to site. You can pick up a map and historical brochure at the Visitor Information Center across the street from the Alamo, which is the first of the five Spanish missions found in San Antonio.

We recommend starting at the “queen of all missions” Mission San Jose. It’s a beautifully preserved large wallled compound which shows much of how life was for the Indians and priests.  An informative documentary is shown every 30 minutes, and if you are lucky enough to come on Sunday morning, don’t miss the wonderful Mariachi Mass which begins at noon. The bells of the chapel ring out often in song. For more information call (210) 932-1001.

Further along the Mission Trail, you will encounter Mission Concepcion, which still boasts original fresco work, and Mission San Juan Capistrano with a lovely woodland trail beginning at the arches at the south end of the original granary building.  Each has it’s special charm.

Mission San Juan de Capistrano was a self-sustaining community with Indian artisans and farmers.  Iron tools, tanned hides, cloth, grapes, melons, pumpkins, corn, peppers, beans, sugar cane and sweet potatoes were produced for the entire San Antonio region, missionary, military and native alike.

Mission San Francisco de Espada is farthest south, but its three dramatic bell towers are worth the extra distance. The Espada Acequia and Dam are close by, showcasing water technology used at the time.

Each of the missions remains an active parish (don’t be surprised to see traditionally robed Franciscan monks walking around) with regular service in the chapels. All missions are free and closed only Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Free admission.

San Fernando Cathedral: this cathedral has always been at the center of San Antonio. From its founding on March 9, 1731 by a group of 15 families who came from the Canary Islands at the invitation of King Phillip V of Spain, this church retains the love of the San Antonians. Recently renovated, the stations of the Cross and the Altar, along with much of the art work, are extraordinary. Some remaining of the Heroes of the Alamo have been entombed in one of the chapels. Free admission.

Spanish Governor’s Palace: A national historic landmark that once served as the state capitol, this building is the only existing example in Texas of an early Spanish aristocrats home. Built in 1722 and dedicated in 1749, it is nearly 100 years older than the Alamo. The palace is filled with period furnishings, and the grounds include a lovely patio, well, and courtyard. Self guided tours. Mon-Sat. 9am-5pm. Behind City Hall at 105 Plaza de Armas. For more information call 210-224-0601. Adults $2.00, Seniors&Military $1.50, Children $1.00, under 7yrs free.

Tower of the Americas and Hemisfair Park: From the hotel, you can take a short walk down S. Alamo to encounter the gates of Hemisfair Park. Hemisfair Park is home to lovely fountains, reconstructed historic homes, terrific wooden playgrounds, the never-crowded, yet exquisite museum of the Instituto de Mexico, the children’s Magik Theater (see for their schedule and prices), the Institute of Texan Cultures, and of course the defining feature of the San Antonio sky line, the Tower of the Americas.  This needle-shaped structure has an observation deck, plus a bar and revolving restaurant. Go up right at sunset for breath taking views and a cocktail (ride free). Ticket for observation deck & 4D Theater Ride $10.96 adult, $8.95 child. For more information: 210-223-3101

La Villita: Thanks to a bluff that protects it from the river, the “little town” became a favored settling point for citizens who had been overcome by floods. Today, the adobe buildings house 27 art galleries, shops featuring local and imported hand crafts, and restaurants.  Once a year La Villita hosts the week long event that is San Antonio’s answer to Mardi Gras – NIOSA (Night in Old San Antonio), a fund-raiser that underwrites much of the conservation efforts in San Antonio. Free admission.

Market Square: San Antonio’s oldest market, on the West Side of downtown, is comprised of El Mercado, Produce Row and the Farmer’s Market.  El Mercado offers an array of import shops, and Tex Mex restaurants and cantinas.  Produce Row, on the south side of the square, is full of shops brimming with authentic Mexican handicrafts, kitschy souvenirs and of course more places to eat, including the famous Mi Tierra café and bakery– open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The old Farmer’s Market across San Saba street houses a food court and an almost overwhelming assortment of colorful pushcarts and stores. Shops are open daily between 10am-8pm in summer, 10am-6p in winter. Open to the public. More info at .  Most recently added is the Museo Alamada, San Antonio’s own Smithsonian, featuring Latin artists. Hours: 10am-6pm Mon-Sat, 12pm-6pm Sun. Closed New Year’s Day, Easter, Battle of the Flowers, Thanksgiving, & Christmas. Donations for admission.

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