Things To Do In San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas, is currently the seventh most populous city in the United States. It is also one of the top 10 fastest growing cities in the country. Originally named for Saint Anthony of Padua, the area is known for its many Spanish missions, some that date all the way back to 1691. In addition to historic Spanish buildings, the San Antonio area is also home to no less than 8 important US military installations, gorgeous scenery, great shopping, amazing theme parks, and real-life cowboys.
When To Go:
The best time to visit San Antonio is from mid-fall through late spring (October-May). San Antonio's summers are quite hot with average temperatures in the upper 90 degrees F, but the weather cools off significantly in the fall and stays moderate through the spring. Fall brings forth gorgeous foliage as the trees change colors, and the spring boasts amazing flowers. While many festivals are held through the year, the most extravagant celebrations are held during the holiday months of November and December.
What to see and do in the great city of San Antonio:
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What began as the San Antonio de Valero mission in 1755 is now one of the most famous sites in the United States; the Alamo stands as a bastion of American pride. From February 23 to March 6, 1836, a small number of famous defenders held off a Mexican army nearly 10 times their size for almost two weeks. All 190 men defending the small fort were killed including Davie Crocket and Jim Bowie. Because of their martyrdom, the cry “Remember the Alamo” rallied American forces that eventually destroyed Santa Ana's Mexican Army and solidified the US hold on Texas.
Much of the original fort is still standing. While repairs on the Alamo have been made through the years, great care has been taken to preserve original architecture.
Don't just wander around outside, the fort is open for tours. Once inside, you will be amazed at how small the fort is since it plays such a large part in American history. Stand on the ramparts and imagine you are one of only 190 men looking out at a sea of swarming troops and small takes on yet another meaning. The tour will take you through the history, the architecture, and historical fact versus fiction of the fort, its role in Texan and US history, and the men and women who gave their lives defending it. An absolutely must-see when visiting San Antonio.
The Fairmont Hotel
While it may not be the second-greatest draw in San Antonio, the Fairmont Hotel is only three blocks from the city's number one site, The Alamo. It makes sense that after visiting the Alamo, you would take the short walk to see the Guinness World Record holder for the heaviest building ever moved intact. The famous Fairmont Hotel is San Antonio's second oldest hotel having been built in 1906.
After the four days that it took to move the hotel to its present location, the Victorian masterpiece was renovated and brought back to its original charm. The rooms and public areas were furnished with period pieces and the hotel itself became a living museum of “Old Texas”. While not as opulent as other Fairmont Hotels such as you might find in San Francisco, this hotel is truly a piece of San Antonian history.
The San Antonio River Walk is one of the most visited places in the city. The beautiful promenade meanders through the center of the city following the original course of the San Antonio River. The walk is lined with restaurants, bars and a number of small shops. With lush trees and more than 20 artistic bridges adorning the walkways, the captivating corniche is especially delightful at night when the lights reflect off the water, the fragrance of the flowers blends with the scents of food wafting in from the many restaurants, and the music echoes through corridors. Of particular interest are the stone bridge and floating sidewalk fronting La Mansion Del Rio, a stretch of stone arches on the opposite bank, and the grass terraces across from the Arneson River Theater. With the right vantage point and companion, the River Walk could definitely be described as romantic.
The famous Casa Rio is the oldest restaurant in the area opening in 1946. There are also some larger attractions along the pathway such as the Arneson River Theater, the nearby Tower of the Americas, the Hilton Palacio del Rio and the landscaped “river extension” of waterfalls leading to the Hyatt Regency San Antonio.
During the holiday seasons, the River Walk is adorned with thousands of colorful lights and takes on a celebratory atmosphere. Traditional music is played both live and through the sound system throughout the year, but it is especially beautiful during the holidays.
Fiesta San Antonio
Every spring, the residents of San Antonio host a festival in memory of the battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto. Fiesta San Antonio is the city's largest festival and dates to the 19th century. It takes place during three weeks in the early spring at over a hundred locations throughout the city. On average, more than 3 million people will attend the celebration each year.
The many events range from “The Battle of the Flowers” to “The Carnival of Flags”, but parades are the highlight of the festival. The Battle of Flowers Parade is second only to the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena in size and extravagance.
The Fiesta Flambeau Parade is at night and lighted with torches. It is the biggest and most beautiful nighttime parade in the country. Even with these amazing parades, the clear festival favorite is the Texas Cavaliers River Parade where magnificent barges covered in lights and over-the-top decorations float down the San Antonio River past hundreds of thousands of cheering spectators who have lined the River Walk.
The smells, sights and sounds of the festivities are simply not to be missed. From the numerous food carts and BBQ pits to bands and orchestras, the carnival rides and games, the extravagantly dressed dancers and entertainers, and the parades – there is something for everyone.
San Antonio River
The San Antonio River actually is birthed right in San Antonio. A number of springs several miles north of downtown San Antonio bring forth enough water to create a river that runs for nearly 250 miles until it joins the Guadalupe River and empties into the San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico a few miles later. Five major Spanish Missions are found along the river's course including the famed Alamo. The San Antonio River Walk is set up along the banks of the river as it passes through the city's downtown district.
The San Antonio River was known for its flooding, and nearly wiped out San Antonio in 1921. The Olmos Dam and a cutoff channel were created in 1926 to prevent further flooding. It is thanks to this dam and diversion that the River Walk is safe and beautified today.
The San Antonio River is much more than just the River Walk, however. In fact, even the River Walk is much more than just the “River Walk”. Many people focus on the area that is fronted by stores and restaurants, but the walkway continues to the north and south past landmarks and lush nature. To the north, your tranquil and aesthetic stroll will lead you past the Pearl Brewery, the Southwest Craft Center and the Museum of Art; going south you will pass through the historic, ornate mansions of the King William district and continue all the way to Mission Estrada.
One of the best ways to see the stunning beauty of the river is to take a river cruise or gondola tour. Some of the cruises are complete with food and music. For those more adventurous, you can laze on down the river in a tube. Just remember to have somebody pick you up at your destination.
San Antonio Stock and Rodeo Show
Nothing says Texas more than cowboys, cowgirls, and longhorn cattle; and the San Antonio Stock and Rodeo Show is the largest livestock show and rodeo in the nation. The event takes place over three weekends in February. Started in 1950, the event has grown so big that it now has to be held in the AT&T Center with the previous venue, the Freeman Coliseum, now used to sell western themed items during the rodeo.
If you've never seen a real-life longhorn steer, or seen a bull-ride, calf roping, or other rodeo event you need to make time to stop by the San Antonio Stock and Rodeo Show when you are in San Antonio. Of course, there is a lot more than just cows, horses and bulls – though there are a lot of those, too. The event also has a kids' petting zoo, live music with BIG name headliners, lots and lots of food, over 650 shopping booths, carnival rides, pony rides, adult beverage tents, a Texas wildlife area, a truck show and so much more. You can hardly says you've been to Texas if you haven't been here.
Cathedral of San Fernando
The Church of Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe is better known today as the Cathedral of San Fernando. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in the country and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally built in the mid-1700s, the church has been expanded and renovated considerably through the years. The walls of the original church outline the modern sanctuary.
The oldest piece of furnishing is the baptismal which was a gift from Spain's King Charles III in1759.
The cathedral is not just an important piece of San Antonio's history, but it is still used today. Daily prayer and weekly masses are held through the year.
Arneson River Theater
Built along the San Antonio River, the theater was an important part in the original plans of the River Walk. An outdoor performance theater, the stage is on one side of the river and the audience sits on grass terraces on the other. The stage is joined to the audience by “Rosa's Bridge” which is often included in the staging.
The venue hosts events that range from plays and dances to music concerts and operas. Sitting alongside the beautiful San Antonio River while stars fill the southern sky, you will most certainly remember a performance caught at the historic Arneson River Theater.
Tower of the Americas
Built as the centerpiece for the 1968 World's Fair in HemisFair Park, the 750-foot Tower of the Americas was the tallest tower of its kind in the country until 1996. Today, a restaurant sits at the top of the tower just below the slowly spinning observation deck. You can pay a small fee to go to the deck and get amazing panoramas of the San Antonio skyline, or you can eat at the restaurant and the trip the deck is included with your meal. In addition to the great views, there is a wonderful exhibit on the observation deck showing the history of Texas, the 1968 World's Fair, and the tower.
Consider going up before dinner as the sun is still up and getting pictures of the city and the skyline, having a bite to eat as you watch the sun setting from the slowly turning tower, and then getting some more pictures as the sun displays its most glorious setting hues. After desert, you can get some outstanding photographs of the city lights. Definitely an evening well spent.
Most people take the elevator up the tower to the observation deck, but the 952 steps are a favorite racing challenge for those so aerobically inclined. At the writing of this article, the record time up the stairs of 5 minutes 18 seconds set in 1981 still stands.
Designed and landscaped for the 1968 Worlds Fair, HemisFair Park is filled with history. Sadly, many of the original pavilions are gone now, but the large park is filled with tremendous views, great trails, and beautiful sculptures. In place of the old halls are lush landscapes, fountains, waterfalls, and playgrounds.
The park is the perfect retreat from the city for a picnic, stroll, or to go birdwatching. With its proximity to the River Walk, you can pack a lunch, or grab a bite to eat along the river before you finish your day in the park.
McNay Art Museum
The first modern art museum in Texas, the McNay Art Museum was founded in 1954. Set in an historic mansion on 23 landscaped acres filled with fountains, gardens and ponds, the museum boasts galleries of medieval and Renaissance art as well as numerous more modern displays.
Over 14,000 works of fine art ranging from Cezanne and Picasso to O'Keefe and Gauguin make this collection one of the finest displays of art and sculpture in the south. The museum's library boasts more than 30,000 volumes and the Tobin Collection of Theater Arts was one of the first of its kind.
San Antonio Western Shooting
What says wild west more than gun-slinging cowboys? If you'd like to move past the standard tourist fare and try something a little more exciting, make a reservation at San Antonio Western Shooting and experience the historic wild west.
No, you are not going to have a shootout in the street, practice quick-draw skills, or learn to twirl your sidearm. In fact, these are a few of the things that are strictly prohibited. But, you will get to shoot “old time” revolvers, rifles and shotguns in a staged western town in the outskirts of San Antonio.
Shooters must be at least 12 years old (minors must have a parent with proof of guardianship) and have proper photo ID. Reservations must be made at least 2 weeks in advance. If you know you are going to be in San Antonio and want a true Texas memory, you definitely want to schedule a morning at this top-ranked attraction. What better souvenir than a silhouette you stared down at high noon and “filled with lead”?
San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium
Originally built as a small attraction in 1917, the San Antonio Zoo now is home to over 3,500 animals and gets more than 1 million patrons a year. The aquarium was added to the zoo in the 1940s and in the 1950's a small train was added as an attraction to take visitors around the 35-acre park. The zoo's avian guests represent one of the largest bird collections in the world.
One of the special attractions is the critically-endangered Addra Gazelle. The San Antonio Zoo is engaged in a breeding program to try to save this dying species. Other endangered species' breeding programs at the zoo are for the Black Rhino, Dama Gazelle, Komodo dragon, and several lion and bird types, among others.
A hippopotamus environment with underwater viewing and Nile Crocodiles headline the new Africa Live display. Dozens of other displays featuring mammals, birds, amphibians and fish are found in the zoo including thematic displays such as Cranes of the World, the Gibbon Forest, a Cat Grotto, Amazonia, and the African Plains.
Open 365 days of the year, the San Antonio Zoo is small enough that you can see everything in one day, but is large enough that is will provide quality entertainment for your entire family. When you get hungry, recent renovations added a full-scale restaurant to the amenity list.
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