Texas Two-Step Promenading around the Alamo, the Riverwalk and Other Sights of San Antonio

Article excerpt

MORE THAN ANYTHING, it is probably San Antonio's history that brings visitors here, at least for the first time. It is either that, or the stories of the wonderful Riverwalk that winds through the city's downtown along a lighted ribbon of high-rise hotels, shops and busy sidewalk restaurants.

But once here, they cannot help but be overcome by the colors of this place - the vibrant, hand-painted colors of the string marionettes in the San Antonio Museum of Art, the colors of the papier-mache fruits and vegetables that fill the bins of Market Square and the rich blues and emerald greens and the scarlets of the pinatas that seem to hang nearly everywhere in this Texas community that nearly 1 million people now call home.

San Antonio is a city that certainly is not timid about its color, and it is a city that very definitely is not timid about life.

A little bit Tony Lama, a little bit Florsheim, one part small town, two parts sprawling metropolis, San Antonio rapidly is becoming one of America's premier convention and tourism destinations. And with good reason.

With its enormous, modern shopping malls, its markets strung with strands of red chili pepper holiday lights, its antique shops and an incredible array of restaurants, San Antonio is a city for every palate.

One moment, it is dining in an open-air flat-bottom boat on the San Antonio River, the next it is pausing to marvel at the elaborate face masks made from wood and glass in the art museum.

There is the wonderful smell of the bakery at Mi Tierra, the quiet contentment on the face of a young man painting flowers on a wooden chair at a shop called Esplendores, and the eyes of a bearded visitor as he stares down at Davy Crockett's rifle "Old Betsy" that rests now inside the limestone walls of the Alamo where the famous frontiersman met his death.

Every Texas schoolchild knows the story of the Alamo, and visitors from around the world still come here to stand quietly inside the 250-year-old chapel to listen to its story.

A warning for those who might be thinking about dropping the Alamo from their busy itineraries: Don't do it. Located in the heart of the city, the Alamo is not at all the kind of glitzy, overdone tourist trap that one might suspect. Run by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the Alamo is part museum, part lecture hall and part memorial to the 187 people who defended the old mission and Texas independence against 5,000 Mexican troops for 13 days in early February and March 1836.

Plaques on the walls are inscribed with the names of those who died here and displays include a lock of Davy Crockett's hair, James Bowie's famous, long-bladed Bowie knife and flags representing the home states and nations of the heroes of the Alamo. There is no admission fee, but donations are encouraged.

If the Alamo is the heart of San Antonio and, for that matter, all of Texas, the Riverwalk is San Antonio's jewel.

Also called Paseo del Rio, the area is one of America's great urban revitalization success stories.

A kind of mini-Disneyland for adults, the Riverwalk is really two very different and distinct areas.

One section of the 1 1/2-mile walk has the feel of an urban pocket park, with arching stone bridges and subtropical trees. There are actually times of the day when a visitor can feel almost as if he has the walk, and the city, to himself.

But the section of the walk that draws the most visitors is the so-called riverbend area, where restaurants, shops and hotels crowd up against each other, vying for tourists' attention and their dollars.

As might be expected, there is plenty of Mexican and Southwestern food. We ate at a waterside table at the Republic of Texas Restaurant, where the dinner plates, the napkins and even the table itself are decorated with the state's famous Lone Star. But for those beginning to suffer from Texas overload, there are restaurants specializing in virtually every type of cuisine, from Italian to French to Chinese. …

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