San Antonio is Texas' second largest city, and is rich in its diverse cultural offerings. Famous as the location of the
The heart of the city's tourism business beats along the
If San Antonio gets funky, this is where it happens. Once primarily residential and neglected, the area has seen a resurgence of interest and an infusion of capital. Urban professionals are snatching up historical homes and refurbishing them, entrepreneurs are launching hip new businesses, and the locals are taking notice. Wander just a few blocks from downtown and discover
One of the original suburbs of San Antonio, Alamo Heights harbors some of the city's finest dining establishments and upscale shopping opportunities. And with good reason, as a huge portion of the city's wealth resides in this neighborhood. For dinner, locals flock to
Monte Vista/Olmos Park
Neighboring Alamo Heights, this area is home to some of the most exquisite mansions in the city. At the very least it is worth driving through just to gawk. You will find some wonderful neighborhood secrets, such as the thick chocolate shakes at
North East/North Central
Shopping centers, housing developments and highways are popping up all over North East and North Central San Antonio as many new residents move in, both from out of town and from within the city's more central neighborhoods. This kind of rapid growth seems to require predictability, as is evidenced in the plethora of restaurant and shopping chains. If you want to shop at Old Navy, use the phone book. Otherwise, be a rebel and shop at a place like
The medical industry is big business in San Antonio, so this area continues to grow at a steady pace. Sort of a hodgepodge of strip shopping centers, restaurants, residences and office complexes, the atmosphere of the neighborhood seems a bit disjointed. Still, you can find great dining at
When big money folks are tired of paying city taxes, they flee outside the city limits. Locals that feel the need to escape the city head out this way to dine at
San Antonio has many different options when it comes to where to stay. The bulk of the hotels are located in the Downtown, River Walk and Loop areas, with some other choices outside the city.
Downtown/King William/South Town
A few steps off the river, you will find many downtown hotels. All keep you within the River Walk area; they are only a short walk from the river, shopping, dining and entertainment yet are far enough removed to provide a welcome respite from the noise. The historic Menger, the Emily Morgan Ramada, and the Holiday Inn Crockett hotels, all on Alamo Plaza, are actually next door to the Alamo and a stone's throw away from the Rivercenter Mall. The Gunter Hotel, with its magnificent lobby and intriguing history, is a wonderful choice, especially if you plan to enjoy the Symphony or a theatrical performance at the restored Majestic Theater across the street. The Marriott Plaza Hotel, with its breath-taking courtyard and award-winning restaurant, hosts many illustrious visitors, as does the smaller Fairmount Inn a few blocks away. As far as moderate hotels go, downtown offers several properties, including Hampton Inn, La Quinta and the Sumner Suites.
Should bed-and-breakfasts be more to your liking, visit the Arbor Inn and Suites tucked away behind the Plaza Hotel.
The River Walk is so popular with tourists, conventioneers and celebratory locals that rooms book far in advance. While there are many hotel properties downtown, there are a limited few with actual river frontage. All are by far luxury hotels, with prices to match, but the novelty of having the River Walk outside your door and the proximity to the plethora of shops, restaurants and entertainment along the river are well worth the expense. The Hyatt Regency is in the heart of it all; it provides a great short cut to the Alamo through its lobby. La Mansion del Rio provides a little peace and quiet on the river within its historic walls. The newest kid on the block, The Westin River Walk, offers its distinct luxury toward the southern end of the entertainment strip. Other River Walk options include the Marriott Rivercenter, the Marriott Riverwalk, the Hilton Palacio del Rio and the Homewood Suites.
The Loop/North Central
Interstate Highway Loop 410 is dotted with numerous moderate and inexpensive hotel options. Anchored by the Airport Hilton and the Embassy Suites, the Loop offers many well-known chains including La Quinta, Holiday Inn Select and Courtyard by Marriott. Expect the usual clean rooms and limited amenities here but marvel at the accommodating price structure. You can usually snag a good deal since the area hotels rely on luring guests away from River Walk properties with their cheaper prices. If the Loop properties are full, simply travel up Highway 281 or Interstate 10 to find more locations.
Further out from the city's center are two of the most acclaimed resorts in the state. The Hyatt Hill Country Resort, nestled in the hills near Sea World, offers guests a luxurious stay with thoughtful amenities, exquisite dining and a challenging golf course. Further north near Six Flags Fiesta Texas, the Westin La Cantera Resort likewise offers a luxurious escape from the city and a challenging golf course that also happens to be home of the Texas Open, a stop on the Professional Golf Association Tour.
San Antonio is a niche marketer's playground. The citizenry boasts a broad range of interests, and there never seems to be an overwhelming crowd at anything except perhaps the most popular Fiesta events. Whether your tastes are sophisticated and refined or run more toward the casual and relaxed, you're liable to have a great time in this city.
Music lovers will revel in the variety of live music available almost every night of the week in San Antonio. From jazz and symphonic music to Tejano and rock 'n roll, music exudes from bars, restaurants and concert halls across the city. The San Antonio Symphony performance season includes both traditional scores and pops performances, often with vocal accompaniment by popular artists like James Taylor and Willie Nelson. Jim Cullen's Jazz Band holds court at The Landing on the River Walk, and Arjon's is the hotspot for Tejano, cumbia and salsa music. Bars like The White Rabbit, The Laboratory Brewing Company, Stonewerks, and Crabby Jack's host rock and pop bands, while Cibolo Creek Country Club, Gruene Hall and Far West are the best choices for live country music.
There are several theatrical venues whose productions run the gamut of genres. For national acts, The Broadway Bank Theatrical Series hosts numerous touring productions in the historical Majestic Theater and, occasionally, the Municipal Auditorium. Recent performances include Grease, Chicago, Rent, Phantom of the Opera and Cabaret. Outstanding local productions grace the stages at the Josephine Street Theater and Steven Stoli's Playhouse, with recent performances including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Steel Magnolias. To enjoy great local talent and dinner, check out the Harlequin Dinner Theater at Fort Sam Houston. Guadalupe Theater and Jump-Start Theater typically produce more avant guard and cultural works.
Not to be left out, children can enjoy productions designed just for them at theaters such as Steven Stoli's Backyard Theater for Kids and the Magik Children's Theater.
Art of all genres and media abound at the many museums and galleries in San Antonio. From cutting-edge contemporary works to more traditional pieces, you will admire the depth of this city's talent pool. Be sure to visit the McNay Art Museum and the San Antonio Museum of Art to marvel at their impressive collections as well as the touring exhibits they host. As far as galleries go, some of the best include Blue Star Arts Complex, ArtPace, One9Zero6, Cletus Gallery, and Wallace-Musket Gallery. To catch the work of budding artists, visit Say Si, which displays student work in its gallery. Many restaurants and coffeehouses also display the works of local artists; pay a visit to Rosario's, WD Deli or Espuma Coffee and Tea Emporium to enjoy the delicacies and the view.
As with any major city, San Antonio offers more movie theaters than you could count. While there's at least one in every part of town, a few that stand out among the crowd. If you're staying downtown, the cinema in River Center Mall is a great choice for first run releases and is within walking distance of many of the hotels. The fairly new cinema at the Alamo Quarry Market offers first-run features with shows as late as midnight. If not for a movie, stop in just to see the enormous quarry-inspired movable mechanical display in the lobby. For arthouse films, your only option is the Crossroads Theater. Finally, for larger-than-life films, check out the IMAX Theater adjacent to River Center Mall downtown. A perennial favorite is Alamo—Price of Freedom, which tells the story of the battle of the Alamo; it's a great film to catch before visiting the cradle of Texas liberty.
Whether you want to get down with your bad self or simply prefer to watch, San Antonio's dance offerings fit the bill. If you like to dance the night away, be sure to check out The Bonham. Located downtown, this is perhaps the best dance club the city has to offer. Predominantly a gay bar during the week, the weekends and Wednesday night "straight nights" draw a very mixed crowd. Huge dance floors, a pounding sound system and the requisite disco lighting make for a fun, dance-‘til-you-drop evening. The place really doesn't start hopping until after 10pm. Three multi-format entertainment complexes—The Atrium, Park Place and Sunset Station—offer several different dance floors with different genres of dance music, all under one roof. A great concept if you can't decide between hip-hop and country.
For those who prefer to watch the professionals, there are several dance companies that perform regularly, including the San Antonio Dance Umbrella and Urban 15. The city also hosts many touring companies during the year, quite a few performing culturally significant movements.
San Antonio is an amazing city comprised of many different cultures. And the people here like a good party. Combine the two traits and you have more cultural festivals and events than you can imagine. San Antonio's biggest party, Fiesta, is a 10-day long celebration of the city's history and culture; it is held every year in April. Comprised of parades, debutante balls, street parties, concerts, sporting events and more, you are guaranteed to find something for everybody. So significant is this festival that the city practically shuts down on the last Friday afternoon so that everyone can attend the Battle of Flowers parade that winds through downtown. Other popular events include Jazz's Alive, Juneteenth, Cinco de Mayo and St. Sophia's Greek Funstival.
What began as a small settlement of missionaries, priests and Native Americans has swelled into a metropolis of nearly one million citizens of varying ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds.
Native Americans originally occupied this area. Many lived along the stream that is now known as the San Antonio River, some as early as 9000 BCE. In the late 17th Century, Spanish settlers migrated north from what is now Mexico to settle along the banks of the stream, claimed the area for themselves, and Christianized the peaceful tribes inhabiting it. As decades passed, the Spanish colonists dominated the area agriculturally, spiritually and culturally. In 1718, Mission San Antonio de Valero was established along the river; the chapel and its grounds would later be known as the Alamo. Over the next few years, the Spanish culture and the Catholic faith would come to play an integral role in the settlement's development.
In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and held its claim to northern territories, including land that included San Antonio, with the aid of U.S. settlers who had entered the area while it was under Spain's rule. Tension slowly arose between the American settlers and the Mexican government, particularly over the issue of slavery. In 1833, that tension flared into all-out disdain following General Santa Anna's declaration of himself as president. The settlers refused to acknowledge his authority, trounced him in a confrontation, and braced for the backlash. Retribution was harsh. Led by Santa Anna himself, thousands of Mexican soldiers marched into the territory and confronted a ragtag band of only 188 rebellious Texans barricaded within the Alamo. The battle that ensued resulted in the deaths of over 1000 Mexicans and all of the Texan rebels, and numerous myths and legends that are still debated by historians today.
Ultimately, Texas won its independence from Mexico, and San Antonio became a part of the Republic of Texas. An influx of European immigrants followed the Mexican-American War. San Antonio's inherent Tex-Mex style blended with the new European influences to create a vibrant, growing community. However, the city's isolation from the remainder of the state helped preserve its reputation as a rowdy, rebellious place and resulted in the gradual decline in new residents. The reputation diminished only after the arrival of the railroad and the construction of Fort Sam Houston.
Progress ensued, the population grew, and the city prospered. Over the following decades, the city witnessed the confluence of wealth in neighborhoods like King William, Monte Vista and Alamo Heights. Downtown developed into the city's business center with the construction of the Tower Life building and Joske's department store. And, thanks to the brilliance of a local architect and the support of business leaders, the River Walk and all its beauty was created out of a seedy, run-down flood zone running through downtown.
Several industries became quite dominant in the economy. Here you will find five US military bases, including one of the Air Force's largest training academies; for years they have influenced the cultural climate and have contributed to the city's growth. The University of Texas Health Science Center, along with several other top medical entities, has made the city a leader in that industry. San Antonio's designation as one of the top tourist destinations has sparked phenomenal growth in the city's tourism and convention business, and has led to the expansion of the convention center downtown. In recent years, telecommunications has come to play a vital role in San Antonio's economy, as Southwestern Bell Telephone continues to relocate large divisions of its business to the city.