San Antonio is a rich, complex, and BIG city—the seventh-largest in the United States and the fastest-growing. This brief overview is just to give you a taste, distilling the city’s past and present into sections so you’ll have some insight into what you’ll be seeing when you arrive.
Home to Spanish missions and the vibe-changing River Walk, San Antonio has more character than any other big city in Texas. It’s one of the oldest cities in the country, celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding in 2018. It’s often ranked with New Orleans, Boston, and San Francisco as one of America’s most distinctive cities; that recognition became official in 2014, when San Antonio’s missions were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in 2017, when the entire city was deemed a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy.
The city of San Antonio is a collection of tightly knit, structured communities. Some residents can trace their lineage all the way back to the original Canary Islanders who settled here in 1731. Others have family going back to the days of the empresarios of the early 19th century, the Anglos who contracted with the Mexican government to bring settlers to Texas from the United States.
San Antonio has always had a special relationship with the army. The city is home to a lot of career military, both active and retired, and they add another layer of networking to the social fabric of the city. The military has its own channels of communication: listserves, newsletters, and bulletins. And retired military personnel socialize frequently and, in the way of any subculture, share information about their surroundings, including San Antonio. And then there are the neighborhoods, which provide a strong sense of identity to their members. This is especially the case on the south side but is true of neighborhoods on the north and east sides, too.
With these microcosms in place, San Antonio has a placid air about it, which masks the city's economic dynamism. It doesn't feel at all like the boomtown that it is, and this could be because much of the change of the last 20 years has been growth at the city's periphery. At its core, San Antonio still feels like a small town. Moving through neighborhoods in Central San Antonio, one gets the impression that nothing of much importance has happened since 1960.
San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the River Walk, has more character than any other big city in Texas. Indeed, it is often lumped together with New Orleans, Boston, and San Francisco as one of America's most distinctive cities. And, if you're looking for a destination for the whole family, you can't go wrong with San Antonio. It has a downtown area that is attractive and comfortable and safe, a couple of large theme parks—SeaWorld and Fiesta Texas—and resorts that cater specifically to families.
There is a richness in San Antonio that goes beyond the images often seen in posters and brochures. Visitors today will encounter a city with a strong sense of community, a city whose downtown shows its age and its respect for the past.
Although the city's outlying theme parks and attractions are benefiting from increased visitation, downtown is by far the most affected section. The city's Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center doubled in size at the end of the 1990s followed by strong growth in downtown hotels. But the biggest trend in the last decade or so has been recovering the past: Historic became hot. It started a bit earlier, with the renovation of the Majestic Theatre, which was reopened in the late 1980s after many years of neglect. This proved a great success and a point of civic pride, and resulted in the birth of several projects. The Empire Theatre came back in the late 1990s, and several hotels were restored to their former grandeur. And now, every time you turn around, some reclamation project is in the works.
Residential development in the suburbs was, until the bursting of the bubble, moving at a fast pace, and the city's growth has kept the excess of housing stock to a manageable level. The local economy relies on much more than just tourism and the convention business. In fact, the city's top industries, healthcare and bioscience, have a total economic impact of at least $12.9 billion, including medical conferences and the many people who travel to San Antonio for medical treatment. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are among the aviation companies that have been attracted to the former Kelly Air Force Base, now KellyUSA. And an $800-million Toyota truck manufacturing plant brought more than 2,000 jobs into the area when it began producing full-size pickups. Though the effects of the economic downturn have been felt here, the city has been cushioned by its diversity.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1994, has been a boon for San Antonio, which hosts the North American Development Bank—the financial arm of NAFTA—in its downtown International Center. Representatives from the various states of Mexico are housed in the same building as part of the "Casas" program. With its large Hispanic population, regular flights to Mexico City, cultural attractions such as the Latin American wing of the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Centro Alameda project, and a history of strong business relations with Mexico, San Antonio is ideally positioned to take advantage of the economic reciprocity between the two nations. And the fact that Meximerica Media, which is starting a chain of Spanish-language newspapers, established its headquarters in San Antonio strengthens the city's status as a major center for marketing and media aimed at the U.S. Hispanic population.
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.