One of my favorite places in Texas is San Antonio. And history says that I’m not alone. When Spanish explorers came to the New World in the late 1500s, they were looking for treasure and trade goods. Spanish explorers traveled north from Mexico in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. They found a river they named San Antonio River. A dusty outpost sprang up next to the river in 1718. It was San Antonio de Béxar Presidio, more commonly known as San Antonio.
San Antonio has evolved from a Spanish provincial capital to a Mexican stronghold to a Republic of Texas battle site. Native American and Spanish residents were joined by people from Mexico, Africa, Germany, and a new country called the United States.
This year, San Antonio celebrates its 300th birthday. The city kicked off their Tricentennial celebration this past New Years Eve with a free concert in Hemisfair Park near the Institute of Texas Cultures. The annual Fiesta San Antonio kicks off with the Battle of Flowers this month and will be followed by the Tricentennial Commemorative Week during the first week of May.
Although San Antonio is the seventh largest city in America with plenty to see and do, the downtown area around the Riverwalk is the best place to start. The Riverwalk is an American version of the Italian city, Venice. The 15-mile long Riverwalk winds through San Antonio, taking you to restaurants, shops, and museums. The San Antonio Museum of Art, known as SAMA, is housed in the old Lone Star Brewery.
The banks of the Riverwalk feature cypress trees and other lush foliage. Arched stone pedestrian bridges take you to the other side of the river. Music, often mariachis, can often be heard. The smells are amazing and your most difficult task may be deciding where to eat. Boudros and Lula’s are popular restaurants.
If you tire of walking, see the Riverwalk area by water taxi or in the open air, flat bottom river barges. If you’re going farther down the river to the missions, rent a kayak or get a bicycle from a B-cycle station.
The Spanish established hundreds of missions in the Southwest. Most disappeared as casualties of war or time. San Antonio’s five missions make up the largest concentration of existing colonial missions in the United States. In 2015, they were designated a World Heritage Site.
Four of the missions are operated by the National Park Service. The fifth mission, the Alamo, is a state historic site operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It is the most accessible of the missions with the others farther south along what is known as Mission Trail. First christened Mission San Antonio de Valero, its name changed to the Alamo when it was converted to military barracks first for Mexican independence and then for Texas independence. The Alamo’s last battle gave Texas its state motto—Remember the Alamo.
Although San Antonio’s Hispanic culture is evident everywhere, the three-block outdoor plaza known as El Mercado or Market Square is America’s largest Mexican market. Stop by Mi Tierra for a meal or at the very least a mouthwatering pastry.
Two things are evident when you travel to San Antonio. One is that it is a true melting pot of cultures that works. And the other is that the city knows how to fiesta. Happy Birthday, San Antonio.