Wake up in the Alamo City with the scent of huevos rancheros in the air, the sound of mariachis, and the sight of barges winding down the San Antonio River, and you know you're some place special.
San Antonio is quite possibly Texas's most beautiful and atmospheric city, so it's no wonder it's the state's number-one tourist destination. Remember the Alamo? It's here, sitting in a plaza right downtown, so you can easily walk to it from your hotel. But while most visitors check out this famous symbol of Texas liberty when they come to town, the historic mission is by no means the only reason to visit San Antonio.
In fact, the heart of the visitor area is the Paseo del Rio—the River Walk—a festive, almost magical place that winds through downtown at 20 feet below street level. Nestled in by tall buildings and cypress trees, and tucked away from the noise of traffic above, the River Walk draws crowds to its high-rise and boutique hotels, specialty shops, and plethora of restaurants with alfresco dining.
Families are drawn to the big theme parks on the northwestern edge of town. San Antonio's Sea World is the largest marine-adventure park in the Sea World chain, and has what every kid wants in a park: animals, roller coasters, waterslides, and swimming pools. Meanwhile, Six Flags Fiesta Texas also boasts a water park and roller coasters, plus many other rides and Branson-like musical shows.
Snuggled firmly in south-central Texas, San Antonio acts as the gateway to the Hill Country—a landscape punctuated with majestic live oaks, myriad lakes, and flush-with-wildflowers hills—as well as the beginning of South Texas, the huge triangular tip of the state that is home to the Rio Grande Valley and South Padre Island, favorite destinations for bird watchers and beach-goers. San Antonio also isn't far from the Mexico–Texas border—between two and three hours to Del Rio to the west and Laredo to the south.
Given the city's close proximity to Mexico and its one-time position as the chief Mexican stronghold in Texas (prior to Texas's independence), it's not surprising that the rich tapestry of San Antonio's heritage has a good deal of Hispanic culture woven into it. Visitors can peruse shops selling Mexican crafts and jewelry, dine on Tex-Mex food, and enjoy Spanish music and mariachi bands at Market Square.
If experiencing San Antonio's multifacted ethnicity—including not only its Latino side but also its German, French, African, and even Japanese influences—is of prime importance to you, then the best time for you to visit may well be during Fiesta each April. An event that began in the late 1800s to pay tribute to the soldiers who died in the Battle of the Alamo and San Jacinto, the 10-day citywide celebration captures the city's many cultures, with music, food, festivals, fairs, parades, a carnival, and more.
Four of San Antonio's most unique features and characteristics:
Fiesta started over 120 years ago with a horse drawn carriage decorated with flowers. Honoring the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, the procession became known as the Battle of Flowers parade. It is considered the most famous part of Fiesta and is the only parade in the U.S. coordinated by women, all of whom are volunteers. These days, there are eleven parades and eleven days of scheduled celebrations. Fiesta hosts over 100 official events all hosted by non-profit organizations or military units. Guests choose from festivals, concerts, parades, contests and more.
2. River Walk:
‘America’s greatest vacation destination’ is just one description of the San Antonio River Walk. Like San Antonio itself, the River Walk is a multi-cultural buffet of experiences. Visitors can stroll along the river banks or take a river taxi. Tex-Mex, Italian, Irish and other fine restaurants line the watersides. Locals and tourists alike sip cold margaritas in the sunshine. Visitors enjoy outdoor musical performances at historic Arneson Theatre. During San Antonio’s eleven day Fiesta celebration, the annual floating Fiesta Flambeau Parade is a magical event. The Alamo and the Tower of Americas attract millions of visitors each year and are within walking distance.
Considered a cultural crossroads, San Antonio is most directly influenced by its Spanish and Mexican roots. Here, Tex-Mex is a dietary mainstay. Jalapeños accompany many dishes (even hamburgers!) and reflect San Antonio’s love for spicy cuisine. Melted cheese and tortillas are the heart of many Tex-Mex meals. Fajitas, a traditional meal made with flank steak or chicken and served in tortillas is a Tex-Mex invention. Diners like to enjoy margaritas, beers, iced tea and wines made in the wineries surrounding the city. With over a million people, San Antonio offers an endless choice of restaurants for all budgets and occasions.
4. Family Friendly Destinations:
San Antonio boasts eight different theme parks. The world’s largest marine life park, Sea World San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas are the two largest. In addition to modern day attractions, the city is home to Kiddie Park, the nation’s oldest amusement park. Locals rent tubes and float down the Guadalupe River. Experience an important part of San Antonio’s history and see the Alamo. Visit the River Walk, see the San Antonio Zoo, play miniature golf, enjoy local museums or take in an outdoor concert. The city also offers a wide range of free or inexpensive options.