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
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
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
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. …