| Family Fun in San Antonio, Texas
By Joyce Kiefer
Last summer a family reunion took my husband Bill and I to San Antonio, Texas. We were delighted with the chance to explore this lovely city that my cousins call "home" and that also lies deep in the heart of every Texan.
THE ALAMO and more
San Antonio is the home of the Alamo and no place is more Texan than that. The Alamo is a former Spanish mission where in 1836 a group of 184 Texas settlers fought an army of 4,000 Mexican soldiers led by Mexican General and President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The "Texians" rebelled against Mexico’s increasingly tight rule. Every defender was killed.
The battle cry "Remember the Alamo" fired up those who finished the fight for Texas independence.
Fittingly, Alamo Square and the building itself form the center of downtown. This low-lying adobe structure is small in comparison to the buildings that surround it, especially the Emily Morgan Hotel across the street (Emily was the "Yellow Rose of Texas"). But in an unTexan way, size doesn’t matter here.
Even non-Texans remember the Alamo in some iconic way with visions of defender Davy Crockett in his coonskin cap, brandishing Old Betsy, or of Jim Bowie with his gut-twisting knife in hand. I’m old enough to remember Davy Crockett from watching the Disney TV series on his life. The theme song ballad returned as an earworm as I walked through the room that contained his portrait (sans cap), his extremely long rifle, ("kil’t him a ba’r when he was only three") and his beaded leather vest.
Like most missions the Alamo has a central building and an arcade that borders the garden area. Interpreters are on hand to give brief presentations and answer questions. The story of the battle is interpreted in a video shown on site. I was surprised to learn that The Alamo is maintained not by the National Park Service but the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. At the turn of the twentieth century these stalwart ladies promoted its restoration and have been entrusted by the state for its maintenance. Admission is free. Donations are welcome.
We left the Alamo fired up to learn more, so we watched the 48-minute IMAX movie at the nearby Rivercenter Mall. "Alamo – The Price of Freedom," is shown on a six story-high screen. The actors were good and scene looked authentic. The gory battle could be hard on young children.
The Alamo may be the heart of San Antonio but the River Walk is its main artery. A cousin took us on the boat ride starting next to the Rivercenter. The landscaping, architecture, and art works along the way made me think I was drifting through the tropics, perhaps in South America. The ride lasts about 40 minutes. Each barge holds about 15 people and the driver/guide is full of information. Paseo del Rio, as it is also known, was developed with WPA funding and completed in 1941, rechanneling the San Antonio River through the central part of the city. Our family reunion dinner was held at Casa Rio, a colorful Mexican restaurant typical of the eateries and shops that line the path along the water’s edge. Later that night some of us walked the entire downtown area which was alive and beautifully lit. Music from the river cafes drifted up by the bridges.
This past spring a new route– the Museum Reach - opened to extend the River Walk 1.3 miles north to the San Antonio Museum of Art, which occupies the 1884 Lone Star Brewery. The Rio Taxi – a different system than the barges - begins at the Holiday Inn El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel and passes through a lock and dam system and clever art work along the way. I look forward to returning in a few years when the Mission Reach will connect the river to the Spanish missions to the south.
Back on land my husband Bill and I took a brief walk from the Rivercenter to San Antonio’s first neighborhood, La Villita. It began as a settlement for Spanish soldiers 300 years ago, before San Antonio became a sprawling city of 1.14 million people. Santa Anna drew up his cannon line here during the seige of the Alamo. The doorman at the Hilton Palacio del Rio pointed the way to this small neighborhood of shops behind the hotel. The present buildings were once adobe houses and hotels built in the mid-1800’s. While Bill sipped lemonade at the tile floored Bolivar Cafe, I explored gift stores with a cousin. My favorite: Bonzai Arbor, the former Herrera House built in 1854 with a doorway so low that I had to watch the top of my head and I’m only 5’1"!
Across busy South Alamo Street we once again met the contrast of the small and the tall. In HemisFair Park the Tower of the Americas rises 750 feet and reminded me of the Seattle Space Needle. The tower and the surrounding park were the site of the 1968 World’s Fair. My three-year old grandson Adam would love the glass-fronted elevators that zip up to the observation deck where the view extends beyond the city into the Hill Country. My teenage granddaughters Ally and Savanna, who loved "Soarin’over California" at Disneyland, would soar with delight in "Skies over Texas," the 4-D multi-sensory ride that simulates an aerial tour of the state. The ride is located in the base of the tower. Tickets include the observation deck and the 4-D ride. The tower also has a revolving restaurant.
To us, the Hispanic stream of San Antonio history was overwhelming. Therefore, was hard to believe that the city street signs once appeared in German as well as English and Spanish or that a district near the center of town was named for King Wilhelm I of Prussia. Germans were the first wave of settlers to come from Europe in the mid 1800’s. Prosperous burghers built the large, stately homes in what is now the King William District, south and west of Alamo St. from the far side of HemisFair Park. The Guenther House and Steves Homestead are open to the public. The tree-shaded streets provide a relaxing, interesting walk, especially if you like architecture.
But back to that Mexican flavor: Browsing the stalls of El Mercado on Market Square was the next best thing to shopping at one of the border towns south of the Rio Grande. The junk was a guilty pleasure and the street food smelled great. On the way back to the center of town I stopped in at the Spanish Governor’s Palace on Plaza de Armas and at San Fernando Cathedral on West Main Plaza. Both are a few blocks east of Market Square. The cathedral, build in the mid 1700’s, contains a marble coffin with the remains of the defenders of the Alamo.
San Antonio also has ghost walks, a wax museum, water parks, specialty museums, and a sea world that provide tourist fun, especially for kids. I’ll try a few of these places when I go to our next family reunion. But right now I’m with Patsy Cline when she sang,
"Deep within my heart lies a melody, A song of old San Antone."
TRAVEL TIPS :
The best and cheapest way to cover the places mentioned above is to take the VIA historic street car. A day pass is $5.00. For routes and other information go to
Several guided city tours are offered by other vendors. Check the Visitor’s Center at Alamo Square.
San Antonio can get hot and muggy in the summer. Therefore, get in line for The Alamo by 10 a.m. It opens at 9:00 am. daily and 10:00 a.m. on Sundays and closes at 5:30 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays when it closes at 7:00.
Everything Texas: If you drive the freeway around the city, notice all the Lone Star flags. You can find muffin molds in the shape of Texas at the Alamo gift shop. Huge cowboy boots light up the North Star Mall at night.
If you have more time: A couple of hours on the road will take you into the Hill Country to Fredricksburg, to the LBJ Texas White House and to Austin, the state capitol.
Rio San Antonio Cruise $8.25 general admission. $2.00 children 1-5 years old. Boats depart from the Rivercenter Mall, Market at Alamo, and the Holiday Inn Riverwalk.
For a map of the river walk and its attractions, go to
To get to the new Museum Reach of the River Walk by water, you would take the yellow Service of the Rio Taxi. Look for a yellow checkered flag. Base price is $15 for a round trip.
For ticket and route information, go to
San Antonio IMAX Theater for Alamo movie "Alamo…The Price of Freedom." – River Center Mall downtown. Phone ahead for show times. 210/247-4629 . Admission: $10.40 adults, $6.49 children 3-11. For discount coupons go to http://www.imax-sa.com/coupon.html
HemisFair. For full information and all-inclusive tickets, go to
For a walking tour map of the King William District, go to
And finally, here’s a map of downtown San Antonio with the places marked where tourists spend 95% of their time. http://www.sanantonioinsider.com/map/San-Antonio-Map.htm
Joyce Kiefer is a regular BAFT contributor.
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