San Antonio’s dogged preservation of its past and avid development of its future—two goals that often overlap—guarantee that there’s something in town to satisfy every visitor’s taste. The biggest problem with sightseeing here is figuring out how to get it all in; you can spend days in the downtown area alone and still not cover everything (see this guide for suggestions about how to organize your time). Along with some of the state’s most storied historic sites, cultural attractions, and a splashy multi-use River Walk that keeps expanding its reach, the city offers plenty of family destinations, including three major theme parks on the outskirts of town.
A smart first stop would be at Visit San Antonio’s Official San Antonio Visitor Information Center, 317 Alamo Plaza (www.visitsanantonio.com; tel. 800/447-3372), across the street from the Alamo, where you can pick up a helpful coupon book for discounts on everything from theme parks to city tours to museums. Many hotels also have a stash of discount coupons for their guests.
The Alamo: The Movie(s)
At least one weighty tome, Frank Thompson’s Alamo Movies, has been devoted to the plethora of films featuring San Antonio’s most famous site. Some outtakes:
Most famous movie about the Alamo not actually shot at the Alamo: The Alamo (1959), starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett. Although it has no San Antonio presence, it was shot in Texas. Wayne considered shooting the film in Mexico, but was told it wouldn’t be distributed in Texas if he did.
Latest controversy-ridden attempt to tell the Alamo story: A 2004 Disney version, also called The Alamo, starring Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, and Jason Patric. Ron Howard was originally slated to direct, but eventually he only co-produced, turning directing duties over to John Lee Hancock. The resulting film was not a success in any shape or form, though it wasn’t an embarrassment, either.
Most accurate (and largest) celluloid depiction of the Alamo story: Alamo—The Price of Freedom, which you can see at the AMC Rivercenter 11 IMAX Theater, just across the plaza from the actual Alamo. According to writer and historian Stephen Harrigan in an interview on National Public Radio, it’s “90 percent accurate.”
Least controversial film featuring the Alamo: Miss Congeniality (2000), starring Sandra Bullock and Benjamin Bratt. A beauty pageant presided over by William Shatner takes place in front of the shrine to the Texas martyrs.
A Taxi No One Can Grab from You
Hop on board a GO RIO river-taxi shuttle (www.goriocruises.com; tel. 210/227-4746) to locations along the Downtown Reach and Museum Reach sections of the River Walk. Rio taxis run daily from 10am to 9pm. Tickets cost $12 for 1 day of unlimited rides on either the Downtown Reach or Museum Reach sections, $16 for a ticket to both sections. You can buy tickets from boat drivers—just wave from one of the marked stops—or at various hotels along the River Walk.
Pearl/Broadway Cultural Corridor
With the completion of the 1.3-mile-long Museum Reach section of the River Walk, the continuing development of the Pearl Brewery complex, and South Broadway’s transformation into a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, this section of San Antonio lying just north of downtown has become as tourist-friendly (but not yet as tourist-heavy) as the original River Walk area. With so many museums, it’s now known as the Broadway Cultural Corridor, and the Museum Reach section of the River Walk is an attraction in itself, with lush landscaped terraces and lots of artwork decorating the bridges of the lock-and-dam system.
On the first Friday of every month, San Antonio closes off a section of South Alamo Street in the artsy Southtown district and holds something between an "art walk" and a street carnival, which centers around the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center and extends northward, almost to downtown. It's a popular activity that attracts a lot of people, and with the people come street vendors, sidewalk artists, and street performers. Local merchants and restaurants get involved, too. For the visitor, it can be an entertaining pastime. If you're staying in the King William District, you'll be right next to the action.
Did You Know?
- Elmer Doolin, the original manufacturer of Fritos corn chips, bought the original recipe from a San Antonio restaurant in 1932 for $100. He sold the first batch from the back of his Model-T Ford.
- Wings, a silent World War I epic that won the first Academy Award for best picture in 1927, was filmed in San Antonio. The film marked the debut of Gary Cooper, who was on screen for a total of 102 seconds.
- Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson were married in San Antonio's St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.