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An Adventurous City Rich in Culture and Tradition

The Bayous Restaurant with umbrella tables for two, four or more, sits where the river bends beneath North Presa Street. Here, I indulge myself with two-dozen fresh Gulf oysters and a "happy hour" margarita. The late San Antonio, Texas sun is warm and welcome to this pale skinned Oregonian.

"Una margarita mas, por favor," I ask my waiter after the first dozen oysters. I get a chance to polish my rusty Spanish in this multi-culture travel zone where Spanish is spoken as often as English.

The River
Twilight along The River, heart and soul of San Antonio

Robust San Antonio

San Antonio is a robust, hot-blooded city rich in many cultures, foods, moods, recreation, art, and adventure. Though San Francisco, New Orleans and New York could vie for my pick as America’s most romantic and adventurous city, San Antonio wins hands down. Where else could you attend a Charreada (Mexican rodeo) in the early afternoon, dine Venice-like on a river boat in the early evening, attend an opera, and top off the evening with a live blues, folk, or jazz band, and enjoy all this under the spell of 70 to 85 degree springtime temperatures?

The Alamo
The Alamo, in downtown San Antonio

Oh yes, — and the mornings. A city tour of early 1700 missions — including the most famous, the Alamo — a healthy walk along enchanting Paseo Del Rio (also known as The River Walk) or the German-established King William District are great excursions. Watching an IMAX theater movie on a six-story screen, bicycling through charming La Villita or Hemisphere Plaza (the Texas and Mexico Institutes of Culture are located here), or browsing and shopping at colorful Market Square are some of the other possibilities. All of these pleasures are in or within easy walking distance of downtown San Antonio.

For those who would choose a more relaxed morning, try a late sleep-in at Hotel La Mansion del Rio. Order breakfast in bed, then slip to the veranda for a quiet read, relaxingly preparing one's self for the more lively evening to come. The morning senses will not be deprived, as there is a visual, aromatic and sound feast wherever one stays along The River.

Endearing Climate

San Antonio's climate is a blended adventure drink of desert, temperate and tropic. Summers are hot (hey, but the margaritas are cold!); autumn through spring is mild, yet subject at times to hot or even moderately cool streaks. Along the Paseo Del Rio, no matter what time of the year, day or night, the adventurous traveler — albeit, one that doesn't mind being spoiled a bit — will find the temps just right. 'Has to do with the mood The River exudes.

The River Walk

The River Walk or Paseo del Rio, with its undergrowth of flowering shrubs, tropical foliage palms and bananas, and giant cypress trees, meanders for miles on the banks of the San Antonio River, one level below the busy downtown. It was here on the banks that the native Payaya tribe camped in the late 1600s, followed by the enterprising Spaniards who established a chain of five missions.

The River Walk
A river boat tour along The River Walk

Whereas many cities have fallen prey to the bulldozer and modern architecture, San Antonio has wisely preserved the old and blended in the modern. This uniqueness is most evident when exploring The River Walk — a tour with a mix of impressionism, Spanish mission, modernism, romanticism, Texas ranch culture, avant-garde, and Mexican themes. It is a perfect mesh of Old World and New world in food, architecture, music, dance and art. Today's River Walk is a rich varied palette of popular hotels, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, art galleries, gift shops and boutiques, live music, a flotilla of touring riverboats, theater, and history.

The Latin flavor predominates along the river. During the summer at Arneson River Theater, there is local Hispanic entertainment each evening starting at 8:30 p.m. This outdoor theater is unique with the performing stage separated from the audience by the river. Summer performances include Spanish music, mariachis, Mexican folkloric dance, Spanish dances, and the flamenco guitar.

Dancer from Oaxaca, Mex.

Dancer in action

Mariachis at Market Square

Throughout the meandering course of The River Walk, arching walkways cross from one side to the other. Recently, the river was extended with a new arm flowing into the horseshoe-shaped, three-level Rivercenter. It is a glitzy regional shopping center that includes a dining and entertainment complex, and a six-story IMAX Theater screen. "The Alamo...the price of freedom" is shown daily, along with other features, just a cannon shot away from the Alamo itself.

Hemisfair Park And La Villita

A charro displays his skills

Short walking trips from the river will lead one to Hemisfair Park and La Villita Village. Hemisfair, a ninety-two acre plaza, was the site for the World's Fair and 250th anniversary of San Antonio in 1968. Kids will love Hemisfair Park with its lovely waterfalls, ponds and playground. The toadstool-like  Tower of the Americas is the focal point of Hemisfair, rising 750 feet into the San Antonio skyline. A revolving restaurant at the top makes a 360-degree turn each hour offering an impressive sunset and romantic evening view. A must-see at Hemisfair is the highly acclaimed Institute of Texas Cultures. There is no finer example of Texas' spirit than this.

La Villita is a replica of a quaint, cobblestone village in Old Mexico. It can be easily accessed from the River Walk at Arneson Theatre. Mornings are quiet here, a great place for coffee or tea. Take time to browse through one of its many galleries and gift shops. Every spring La Villita is the scene of "A Night in Old San Antonio," the most popular event during Fiesta.


Fiesta is San Antonio's major annual event. Like New Orleans's Mardi Gras, be prepared for crowds. Make reservations well in advance, and let your hair down to have some fun. This ten-day event in late April is a potpourri of parades (including a beautiful night parade on the river), ethnic food and festivals, dance, art, concerts, fireworks, running races, Mexican rodeos and mariachi music. There is even some pomp and royalty involved in the Coronation of King Antonio and El Rey Feo ("the Ugly King").

Every day and evening, there is a Fiesta theme event, beginning with "A Taste of New Orleans." Among the other themes are "A Day in Old Mexico and Charreadas," "Pilgrimage to the Alamo," "Fiesta Garten Concert," "Battle of the Flowers Parade," and the "Israel Festival." In La Villita the spectacle "A Night in Old San Antonio" plays Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.. I highly recommend this fiesta, as it showcases the rich diversity of San Antonio's culture and heritage from Czech to Norwegian, German to Hispanic.


No trip to San Antonio is complete without a visit to Market Square, the romantic center of the Mexican culture. El Mercado is a lively historic square where you can experience fully the taste and culture of Mexico. Make sure you have lunch or dinner at La Margarita Restaurant and Oyster Bar or Mi Tierra Café and Bakery. This is the perfect place to be serenaded by a mariachi band. Loosen your shirt, find a seat under an umbrella table, order pollo al carbon and relax as the large Casablanca fans refresh the "caliente" summer Texas air.

Market Square
An evening in Market Square, San Antonio

For a good choice of hotels with discount prices, visit Where to stay in San Antonio for more information.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to San Antonio.

Larry Turner
Article and photos

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