The “Alamo City” lures travelers to its famous attractions, while a legendary cowboy town awaits in the hills north of there.
By James and Dorothy Richardson
You may not guess that San Antonio, Texas, is the eighth-largest city in the United States, but according to census reports, it is. It recently jumped ahead of Dallas in the rankings. Because of its size, you also may think that seeing all of its attractions might prove difficult. But such is not the case, especially if the attractions in the downtown area are the primary objective. Exploring them is relatively easy, if the traveler keeps a few things in mind.
San Antonio is perhaps best known for being the home of the Alamo, and the San Antonio River is the center point of many activities in the downtown area. The river actually has its headwaters in northern San Antonio and travels southward through the city. The Alamo is part of a chain of five Spanish missions that still stand along the river and served as religious institutions and economic centers 200 years ago. The five missions are somewhat connected by their proximity to the river and signage linking them along a route called the Mission Trail.
The most famous of the five missions is Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), set in the center of the city and flanked with lovely, landscaped grounds. It was the first mission constructed in San Antonio. Inside is a museum containing relics of the Republic of Texas and the noted battle that resulted in the fall of the mission on March 6, 1836, to Mexican General Santa Anna. The mission was built elsewhere in 1718 and was moved to its current (and third) location in 1724, when it later became known as the Alamo. It looks somewhat out of place amid today’s modern stores and high-rise buildings.
This is a good place to begin a tour of the Mission Trail and all the other downtown attractions, including River Walk. San Antonio has a convenient streetcar system that circulates around the downtown area and just far enough out to offer a reliable means of transportation for anyone wishing to avoid city traffic. RVers know there is always the concern of parking and getting around in the heart of a city. Maneuvering a motor coach in downtown San Antonio might be difficult, so making use of the convenient parking available on the outskirts of town and exploring the city via streetcars is advisable. More information about the VIA Metropolitan Transit is available from the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Signs link the other missions. Pick up a brochure that contains maps of those sites, which will prove useful as you leave one mission and follow street signs to the next in line, which is usually two or three miles away. From the Alamo southward, you’ll see Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. All were built between 1718 and 1731. While the Alamo is the best known, it also is the most visited and the most crowded. No photography is allowed inside. The other missions are not restricted in such a way. They also seem distant — both in time and their relation to downtown San Antonio.
Development along the river has greatly enhanced the appeal of the downtown area. Restaurants, shops, hotels, and sight-seeing opportunities have been incorporated into the landscape of the San Antonio River as it flows through the downtown area. The lower-than-street-level River Walk (Paseo del Rio) is one of the major attractions of downtown and lies within easy walking distance of the Alamo and other sights. A cool stroll on the cobblestone walkway makes for an interesting diversion, mixed with shopping and maybe a meal at one of the many restaurants.
A San Antonio River boat tour takes visitors along the River Walk and offers an overall view of the district for closer investigation later. The tour guide gives an interesting narrative about some of the attractions seen along the route, and includes historical details. The boat boards at the Holiday Inn Riverwalk, at the Market Street Bridge, or at the Rivercenter Mall near the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The mall contains several floors of name brand and specialty shops. For more information, phone Rio San Antonio Cruises at (210) 444-5700 or visit www.riosanantonio.com.
San Antonio offers many more attractions to sample:
La Villita is a historic district set up as a living community of working artists; restaurants; and specialty shops. It also contains a museum with artifacts and art objects.
Market Square, or El Mercado, contains 32 shops and is fashioned after an authentic Mexican market. Several Hispanic festivals take place there throughout the year.
San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Lucile Halsell Conservatory is a 33-acre floral sanctuary. Sections in the botanical garden feature a variety of plants, including perennials, roses, native flora, and even a Japanese garden. The Lucile Halsell Conservatory contains plants from around the world displayed in different environments.
San Antonio Zoological Gardens and Aquarium is home to more than 3,500 animals of 750 species on 35 acres. Its bird collection is said to be one of the largest in the world. A children’s zoo is also located on-site.
The Spanish Governor’s Palace once housed the officials of the Spanish Province of Texas. This beautiful building — designated a national historic landmark — contains period furnishings with a centerpiece patio and fountain.
Tower of the Americas, located in HemisFair Park, is a residual piece of architecture from the 1968 HemisFair. At 750 feet tall, it offers those who ascend to the observation deck a great panoramic view of San Antonio.
Now, Head For The Hills
San Antonio is located in the beautiful Hill Country of the south-central part of Texas. It would be a shame to reach this part of the Lone Star State and miss the features of the region. Although San Antonio has attractions that could fill many days, visiting the highlights noted above would not occupy more than a few.
Consider exploring outside San Antonio in a pleasurable, quieter, and non-citified area. The Hill Country offers many getaway options, so you may wish to pick one near the attractions that interest you.
The towns of Boerne and New Braunfels are well-known Hill Country destinations, but you may not have heard of Bandera. Located approximately 55 miles north of downtown San Antonio, Bandera is billed as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” It definitely is the place for fans of the country-Western lifestyle. Shops with all kinds of Western wear; restaurants; and several honky-tonk saloons line the wide streets. If you like country dancing, here’s your opportunity, as it’s offered regularly on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Bandera once was the staging area of the Great Western Trail, which ran cattle across many miles. Open rodeos are held there twice a week during the summer. The town also has several historical buildings and homes dating from the 1850s. The Bandera County Chamber of Commerce claims that this is the fastest-growing county in Texas, and the second-fastest-growing county in the nation.
Ranch tours, hiking, and horseback riding allow visitors to enjoy the outdoors. The Medina and Sabinal rivers offer canoeing, kayaking, and tubing. The countryside is definitely green, hilly, and mostly forested.
An RV resort in this area, Koyote Ranch (listed below), is located outside Bandera in Medina. Koyote Ranch offers flat RV sites with all hookups, including the Internet. Hiking trails, a swimming pool, a café, and a store with gas pumps are also available.
The roads through Hill Country live up to the area’s name, and some very steep grades make motorhome travel unnerving. To get to Koyote Ranch from Interstate 10 without white knuckles, take the State Route 16 exit at Kerrville south to State Route 173. Follow signs to Medina and pick up State Route 16 again. Go north for approximately seven miles. Other RV parks are also located along this route.
Even though San Antonio is one of the country’s largest cities, getting to the main attractions of the downtown area is easy. The Mission Trail and River Walk are the center points and the San Antonio River connects them historically and strategically. But while visiting these interesting attractions is important for a San Antonio trip, consider taking in its Hill Country setting in South Central Texas as well.
Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 171
Bandera, TX 78003
San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau
203 S. St. Mary’s St., Second Floor
San Antonio, TX 78205
The following is not a complete list, so please check your favorite campground directory or FMCA’s Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com, for additional listings.
Alamo Fiesta RV Resort, C7395
33000 I-10 W.
Boerne, TX 78006
Blazing Star Luxury RV Resort, C9594
1120 W. Loop 1604 N.
San Antonio, TX 78251
Koyote Ranch, C9421
23233 State Highway 16 N.
Medina, TX 78055
Travelers World RV Park, C10277
2617 Roosevelt Ave.
San Antonio, TX 78214