25 Great Things to Do in San Antonio

This fast-growing cosmopolitan city encompasses a great number of natural, culinary, historical, and artistic attractions. Several can be explored along the River Walk or clustered in other areas of the city. Here are 25 favorites.

1. The Alamo. Begin with the shrine at the center of Texas history. San Antonio is celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo (read WOTBA's account) with events all year. Watch living history reenactors demonstrate how people lived, fought, and worked in the Texas of 1836.

2. The San Antonio River Walk. Stroll the historic walk along the San Antonio River and enjoy restaurants, shops, and music. Read about the major expansion of the historic downtown River Walk.

3. Tower of the Americas. This 750-foot-tall signature feature of the San Antonio skyline, built for HemisFair '68, is open for great views, dining, drinks, and even a 4-D theater show.

4. Menger Bar at the Menger Hotel is where Theodore Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders. Hang out and drink in this hotel home of Texas elegance.

5. La Villita. Originally a settlement for Spanish soldiers assigned to the Mission San Antonio de Valero, and later for Santa Ana's troops, this little village now houses a thriving arts community.

dinner cruise,
San Antonio River
6. Arneson River Theater. Within La Villita, visit the premier River Walk venue for the performing arts.

7. Little Rhein Steak House. Also at La Villita, this fine restaurant offers romantic views of the River Walk. Even on a chilly night, it's still possible to enjoy dining outside on the patio - the staff will provide a warm wooly pancho.

8. San Fernando Cathedral. Founded in 1731 by families from the Canary Islands, the Catholic cathedral played an important role in the Battle of the Alamo. Santa Ana raised the "no quarter" flag from the original tower. Some say David Crockett is buried there.

9. Tower Life Building. Long known as the Transit Tower, this historic neo-Gothic tower, built in 1928, was designed by the local Ayers & Ayers firm, complete with gargoyles staring down at pedestrians and the barge crowd along the River Walk. The building is indicative of the wealth of commercial architecture from mid-20th century in the city, easily explored near the city center.

10. Aztec Theatre is one of the great 1920s dream movie palaces, decorated in the Meso-American style.

The Alamo (1)
11. Blue Star Contemporary Art Center (116 Blue Star). The contemporary arts scene in San Antonio rivals any large city, in large part due to this pioneering art space near the city's King William and South Town communities.

12. Guenther House. In the gracious home of the founder of the Pioneer Flour Mills, you'll find this exceedingly tasty and scenic spot for a great breakfast or lunch. The biscuits and delicate waffles are particularly wonderful. Stroll the nearby King William Historic District after.

13. Steves Homestead House Museum. Located at 509 King William Street, this three-story mansion serves as a fine example of the prosperity of San Antonio's German community in the 19th century.

14. Liberty Bar, housed in a former convent on Alamo Street, serves up fine but affordable dining that blends local ingredients and seasonings with haute cuisine. The Frolic and Detour Coffee Bar on the second floor would be a good way to start the day with a little breakfast and free wi-fi.

ceiling by Dale Chihuly,
 San Antonio Museum of Art (15)
15. San Antonio Museum of Art. The museum, housed in the converted former Lone Star Brewery and in an expanded new wing, possesses a solid collection of art from many periods, but the strong collections of folk art from the Americas set the museum apart from many others. The museum is now linked to downtown via the Museum Reach of the River Walk.

16. La Gloria Ice House. In Texas, you want to kick back and eat great Mexican food, preferably while enjoying a river setting. At the Pearl end of the River Walk, enjoy Chef Johnny Hernandez's creative takes on the street foods of Mexico.

17. Pearl Farmers Market. Also at the apex of the Museum Reach of the River Walk, find food producers from within a 150 mile radius of San Antonio, gathered on the grounds of the old Pearl Brewery. Browse the shops indoors, too.

18. Culinary Institute of America, Pearl Brewery complex. A sure sign that culinary achievement has reached a critical benchmark in San Antonio, the premier culinary college has opened up a campus to promote Latin American cooking. Stop by the CIA Bakery Café for a taste.

19. El Mercado, Market Square. Be sure to visit Market Square for several destinations, including El Mercado, the largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico. Items include jewelry, pottery, hats, folk art, and many other hand-made gifts.

at Mi Tierra (20)
20. Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery. Visually an over-the-top extravaganza, Mi Tierra celebrates Tex-Mex in all its glories - enchiladas, marguerites, tacos, and other fare typical of the popular cuisine. The long cases of the bakery are filled with colorfully baked goods, and eager lines of customers are anxious to snap up their favorites.

San Antonio
Botanical Garden (22) 
21. The Museo Alameda, located in Market Square, is the nation's largest latino museum. An affiliate of the Smithsonian, the museum is currently showing an exhibit highlighting the evolution of art in Mexico from 1910 through 1968 and its parallels to cultural change in San Antonio.

22. San Antonio Botanical Garden. Several worthy attractions in San Antonio are away from the city center, but if one excuse to visit San Antonio is the weather and the greenery, then a walk in the botanical garden is a must. Situated on the highest point in the city, the sprawling gardens encompass several themed areas and the renowned glass conservatories. Most fascinating is the set of trails that leads to areas representative of Texas's diverse garden zones.

courtyard, The McNay (23)
23. The McNay Art Museum. With deep holdings in modern art, this art museum on sprawling beautiful grounds builds on the founding collection of Marion McNay, the keen-eyed oil heiress who left her Spanish Colonial Revival house and 700 works for all to enjoy. The expanding collection includes the must-see items from the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts and the Art of New Mexico.

24. Witte Museum. Located next to Brackenridge Park in San Antonio, the museum specializes in natural history, ethnography, and science. The family-friendly museum showcases a range of critters from dinosaurs to live tarantulas.

25. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park: Mission Concepcion. This mission, one of several on a southern trail, has recently undergone extensive renovation and serves as a great place to learn about Spanish Colonial architecture. The acoustics in the church make for a great sound during Sunday's noontime Mariachi Mass.

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Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from March 3-6, 2011.

For more information, please see Visit San Antonio.

During my stay, I was the guest of Visit San Antonio, and I thank them for their hospitality and for the chance to share the city with readers of Walking Off the Big Apple. Observations and opinions expressed in this series are my own. I am a fifth-generation Texan, on my mother's side, but my ancestors in East Texas stayed far away from the Alamo. I now live on the island of Manhattan.

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