Planning a trip to a new place can be daunting. Don’t fret yourself. If this is your first visit to San Antonio, these tips will make planning a breeze.
Many people have heard of The Alamo because they may have watched a movie or a TV series about it. The Battle of the Alamo (1835) that symbolises the struggle for Texas independence. And you ca n visit the site of the battle in downtown San Antonio. So, if you’re curious about this battle and the city, here’s some helpful tips.
What to do on your first visit to San Antonio
The history of San Antonio stretches back three centuries. In the 1700s, Spanish missionaries established several missions to convert Coahuiltecans to Catholicism. One of those missions was San Antonio de Valero, which we know as The Alamo. Built in 1724, it’s the oldest building in Texas.
Once it fulfilled its purpose, the mission closed and was taken over by Spanish soldiers, who rename it as El Alamo. Thus, it became a military post. Fast forward to 1835, Texas (then part of Mexico) rebelled against the government. In 1836, the Mexican army besieged and defeated Texans rebels in the Battle of The Alamo right here in the former mission.
Today, visitors can see what remains from that time. The mission church, the Long Barracks Museum, and bits of the original acequia, or irrigation canal.
Practical info: Entrance to the grounds and the church is free. Photography inside the church is forbidden. Opens daily except Christmas Day. More info here.
Opposite to The Alamo is the commercial centre called Alamo Plaza. Its commercial structures date from the 219th and early 20th centuries. Its attractions include the Guinness World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. I find this area a bit too touristy, but handy if you bring your kids along.
The Alamo Cenotaph
Near The Alamo is the Alamo Cenotaph, which commemorates the men and women who chose to fight against the Mexican army instead of surrendering. By the way, a cenotaph is an empty tomb, which I didn’t know until now. It was commissioned in 1936.
San Antonio Missions
The River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk is a network of walkways along the San Antonio River. The river bisects the downtown area. Both sides are connected by several bridges. Steps connect the paths with the streets above.
As well as being a lovely place to walk or take a water taxi, the river walk is lined with pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, and businesses.
If you prefer to glide on the tranquil waters, take a boat tour or a boat taxi. They operate from 9 am to 9 pm every day, weather permitting.
San Fernando Cathedral
In the 1730’s, Texas was part of the Spanish Empire. That’s why the Spanish flag is one of the Six Flags Over Texas. At the invitation of King Phillip, a few families from the Canary Islands settled in San Antonio. One of the things they did was to build a church (1738-1750), which later became the cathedral. Since the walls of that first church from the sanctuary of the current cathedral, San Fernando is considered the oldest cathedral in Texas.
At the left-hand side of the entrance, you’ll see a white marble coffer. It contains the remains of Travis, Crockett and Bowie, considered heroes of the Battle of the Alamo.
The focal point of the cathedral is the magnificent gold-leaf main altar retablo. The plaza outside the cathedral is called Plaza de las Islas Canarias, but it’s known as the Main Plaza.
Address: 115 Main Plaza
Historic Market Square
The main plaza held a produce market, but it moved to this location in the 1890’s , as new settlers arrived in droves. However, local produce gave way to stalls selling products that celebrate the culture of Mexico and the Southwest.
The covered market houses such stalls, which I found full of tourist tat, but there you go. Brightly coloured garlands, or papel picado, crisscross the outdoor plaza. Café and bakery Mi Tierra is the most popular café and restaurant. Again, a bit too touristy and garish for my taste.
Address: 514 W. Commerce St.
La Villita Historic Arts Village
The history of La Villita (the Little Village) goes back to the 18th century. At the time, the land belonged to the Mission San Antonio de Valero. The nearby military barracks provided protection from Indian raids. A group of people settled here to raise crops and rear cattle, which makes it San Antonio’s oldest neighbourhood.
Nowadays, La Villita’s adobe, antebellum, Victorian and Texan buildings house shops and galleries where local artisans sell their products. This is my favourite place to visit. I love to walk along the cobbled streets and to peer into the shop windows.
Address: 418 La Villita St. Accessible via the River Walk.
Historic Houston Street
Houston Street is located in downtown San Antonio. Originally called Rivas, it’s one of the oldest streets in town, having been on record since 1718. Look out for the kiosks describing the history and architecture of Houston St. Most commercial buildings date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
San Antonio Museum of Art
The San Antonio Museum of Art occupies the building of a former brewery and is accessible from the River Walk. Its permanent collection includes a large collection of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art, as well as an outstanding collection of Latin American folk art. Once you’ve fed your soul with art, feed your body at the restaurant overlooking the river for great views.