By Linda Williams
Located in the heart of Texas, San Antonio has got it all. History buffs can explore the Alamo, art lovers will be impressed by the collections housed at McNay Art Museum, families can go wild at the San Antonio zoo, and romantics can enjoy a Riverwalk dinner cruise. And if you're a basketball fan, be sure to catch the San Antonio Spurs in action.
As the seventh largest city in the U.S., San Antonio is home to more than 1.3 million people and attracts millions of visitors annually. The southwestern city combines the colors and flavors of Native American culture, Old Mexico and the Wild West with the excitement and diversity of a metropolitan city. San Antonio is at its most vibrant in the spring, especially in April, when the city plays host to the Fiesta San Antonio.
The Alamo, the most famous historical site in Texas, was originally built as the Mission San Antonio del Valero in 1718, the first of the city's five missions. The sturdy limestone walls of the church and its adjacent compound later proved to make an excellent fortress. In 1836, fighters for state's independence from Mexico took a heroic, if ultimately unsuccessful, stand at the Alamo against Mexican general Santa Anna.
Under the command of Col. William Travis, 189 Texan soldiers bravely defended the Alamo for 13 days before finally succumbing to Santa Anna's larger Mexican army. The chapel and the Long Barrack are all that remain of the fort. The mission is now a museum containing relics from the era. Narrated tours are available.
No trip to San Antonio is complete without visiting the city's Riverwalk. The network of walkways and paths parallels the San Antonio River and is located one story below the main streets of downtown San Antonio. Lined by bars, shops and restaurants, the River Walk has become a popular tourist destination.
Back in the 1920s, San Antonio experienced severe flooding problems. Architect Robert Hugman suggested building the walkways as a way of preventing the San Antonio River from flooding. The Riverwalk area has since become hugely popular among visitors and locals alike. If you visit San Antonio, be sure to take a narrated tour or maybe a romantic dinner cruise of the Riverwalk area.
Battle of the Flowers Parade
This is the oldest event and largest parade of the spring Fiesta San Antonio, often attracting crowds of over 350,000 people. It is the only parade of in the U.S. that is produced entirely by women, all of whom area volunteers.
The first Battle of Flowers Parade was held in 1891 as a patriotic celebration to honor the fallen heroes of the Alamo and to commemorate the victory at the Battle of San Jacinto. Today, the parade features over 40 floats covered with artificial flowers, several bands from high school and colleges all across the city and antique cars filled with local politicians. The parade is meant to celebrate the diversity of Texas culture as well as the artistic and historic side of the city and state.
McNay Art Museum
Located in a Spanish-Mediterranean mansion, the museum is a hub for art buffs in Texas. The 24-room mansion sits on a 23-acre parcel of land, surrounded by expansive lawns, a Japanese-style pond and garden, and fountains. The art museum houses impressive artworks from 19th and 20th century America and Europe, in addition to one of the largest theater arts collections in the United States. On view are works by artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso and Diego Rivera. The museum now houses about 14, 000 art pieces, and is considered the finest of Contemporary Art and Culture in the Southwest.
San Antonio Zoo
Looking for some family fun? Kids of all ages can go wild at the San Antonio Zoo, considered one of the finest in America. The zoo's collection includes more than 3,500 animals representing more than 700 species. Located along the San Antonio River next to Brackenridge Park, the zoo features renovated "big cat" exhibit and an impressive bird collection, one of the largest in the U.S.
Experience the diverse history and culture of San Antonio with food, entertainment, pageantry, and parades galore with the Good Sam Club's new Fiesta San Antonio Samboree. Set for April 18 - 24, 2010, the Samboree features reserved seats for the Fiesta River and Battle of Flowers Parades, luncheon river cruise through the Riverwalk area, visit to the Alamo, San Antonio city tour, a tour of Texas hill country, including former President Lyndon B. Johnson's ranch, and much more!
- Story by Linda Williams