Any first-time visit to San Antonio should include a tour of the Alamo, where a 13-day siege in 1836 claimed the lives of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and over 150 other “Texians.” Made famous by a 1960 movie starring John Wayne, the former Spanish mission remains a symbol of unity, independence, and bravery against overwhelming odds. Currently undergoing renovations, the mission is smaller than you might expect, but the history it represents makes it grand.
The Alamo is one of five Spanish colonial missions open for tours in the San Antonio area and designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The River Walk is a 15-mile urban waterway, 2.5 miles of which flows through downtown and is lined by bars, restaurants, shops. That stretch of the River Walk is often crowded with tourists, but it is clean and safe with a depth of only five feet in most places. Many of the restaurants offer outdoor seating with a view of the river. The part of the River Walk that extends north of downtown features public art while the area to the south includes an ecological restoration area perfect for birdwatching.
In addition to walking, a good way to get your bearings and select a dining spot is to ride on one of the Go Rio electric barges offering narrated tours. The River Walk offers a cool retreat even during the hot summer months, and it’s especially attractive after dark, when lights reflect off the water.
A downtown landmark impossible to miss is the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas, which was built for the 1968 World’s Fair. Topped with a rotating restaurant, the tower is the most visible building in Hemisfair Park, which often hosts seasonal celebrations.
San Antonio has a variety of history and art museums, with the Witte Museum topping the list. A short cab ride away from downtown, it features the nature, science, and culture of the region from prehistorical dinosaurs to the present.
The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, within walking distance from the Alamo and River Walk, houses a unique 130-year collection of preserved animal oddities from all over the world. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders are reported to have thrown back a few drinks there.
The museum started when word spread that the bar owner would offer a drink in trade for horns and antlers. The growing museum and curio shop enabled the saloon to survive Prohibition.
Housed in the same building is the Texas Ranger Museum, which features guns and hundreds of other artifacts from the storied history of those early law enforcement officials.
The Pearl, a 22-acre mixed-use space north of downtown, is a restored and repurposed former brewery. One of only three campuses of the Culinary Institute of America is located there, along with restaurants, cafés/bars, retailers, and the boutique Hotel Emma.
San Antonio is a great destination for families, with Legoland and the Sea Life Aquarium located downtown at the Shops at Rivercenter. Six Flags Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld are both a short drive to the west, and the area also features a large zoo and the Natural Bridge Caverns and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. Families might also be interested in Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an “ultra-accessible splash park.”
You’ll need a car, but a tour of the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio might be of interest if you’re in the mood to explore. If you have children to entertain, consider booking one of the 1,002 rooms at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa, which offers a large water park.
The nearby Hill Country communities of New Braunfels, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and Boerne are worth a visit if time permits. Numerous wineries in the area are open to visitors and the unique Hangar Hotel is located adjacent to the Gillespie County Airport ramp. Another Fredericksburg attraction of interest to aviators is the National Museum of the Pacific War.
Lastly, a visit to Texas might not be complete without investing in a genuine Stetson cowboy hat. I got mine at the world-famous Paris Hatters store downtown, which has been family-owned and -operated since 1917.