There’s something magical about spending a few days in a 300-year old city that isn’t (a) in Europe or (b) on the East Coast of the United States. San Antonio – the seventh largest city in the U.S. and the second largest in Texas (after Houston) – turns 300 this year and is looking very good for its age.
This year for Spring Break – rather than head to a beach where the weather still might be iffy in early April – we decided for something less traditional. None of us had been to San Antonio before (although it’s been on our list for nearly 20 years). After working a little magic with some miles and points accumulated over the last few months, this year we headed to Texas.
San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk is all it claims to be, and more. How it can be both exciting and calm, peaceful and energizing at the same time is beyond me – but that’s the Riverwalk.
I wasn’t sure what to expect after all I’d heard about the Riverwalk, but it is both impressive and more sprawling than I ever imagined. Lined with restaurants, shops, and hotels in some sections, and yet graced with nothing but lovely landscaping in others, it meanders through San Antonio. A recent extension even reaches to the bustling Pearl District – we didn’t walk that far but marked it for a return trip.
We also had reserved time for a river cruise – a half-hour guided boat tour through the main sections of the San Antonio River operated by GO RIO Cruises. (And did you know – there actually was a Saint Anthony – San Antonio – and there’s a commemorative statue of him along the Riverwalk!)
Another colorful destination – mainly for food and shopping – is San Antonio’s Market Square. We visited on a weekday, mid-morning, and candidly it was pretty quiet and there wasn’t a lot going on. But we munched on some fresh churros and meandered through the shops. Next time we’ll make it back during an evening or on a weekend for a livelier experience.
Tower of the Americas
Early in our family travels we found out if we weren’t careful, we could miss a lot of cool things by hovering too close to the places that we initially became familiar with in a new city. We like to walk, aren’t big on taking cabs or Uber when we can take our time and see neighborhoods and the connecting points between sights. But the psychological pull of “that’s too far” is always there.
So, we always try to find the high point – the tower, the bridge, the skyscraper – to get a top of the world view of where we are spending time. In San Antonio, that is the Tower of the Americas.
The Tower of the America is located a ten-minute walk from what’s considered San Antonio’s “main downtown area,” and provides a 750-foot high panoramic view of San Antonio. Simply spectacular views. And, it served the purpose of helping us tie in all the parts and pieces of the Riverwalk we’d already strolled, along with a couple of areas we still wanted to visit. We arrived an hour or so before sunset and caught the magnificence of the Texas sunset and afterward a delightful stroll through the park on our way to dinner.
Ok, ok , ok – but what about the Alamo? Yeah, well that’s one of the things we came to see, and we saw it.
The thing was – and maybe this is sacrilege – but it wasn’t all that big or impressive. Now, I know that the original Alamo Mission was much, much larger, and basically all that remains is the church, the iconic building that is universally known as The Alamo. And I know that the battle of the Alamo played a key part in Texas history and the shaping of the American Southwest.
But perhaps it’s because the edifice and grounds are treated as so sacred that the stories of the people who fought there failed to come to life for me. And yes, we read the plaques and the displays, we shelled out $15 a head for a one-hour guided tour that was replete with historical facts and details, and we went inside the edifice and saw it in detail. But the history just didn’t come alive. The kids begged to leave. Not a sign of a great historical monument. And a missed opportunity in my mind.
The City of San Antonio and the State of Texas have purchased several properties surrounding the Alamo and intend to improve the site. They want to give visitors a sense of how large and lively the original mission was, and perhaps that will help.
But while we went to San Antonio to see the Alamo, it’s at the bottom of our list of San Antonio memories.
San Antonio Hints:
- Great airport, easy to navigate, helpful and friendly people everywhere.
- Walk, walk, and walk some more – don’t try to see the city by car or cab.
- The city really came alive on Friday night after three pretty calm evenings before that.
- We used the two-day hop-on, hop-off bus tour to scout out the area and to get to the Pearl District for lunch one day.
- Rental car is not necessary, and parking in downtown San Antonio is challenging. Opt to walk.