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Fall in love with San Antonio in 60 seconds

As San Antonio celebrates its 300th anniversary, see what makes this Texas city so vibrant.

Posted: May 2, 2018 9:04 AM
Updated: May 2, 2018 9:04 AM

The Battle of the Alamo may have spawned the state of Texas. But the city of San Antonio traces its roots a lot farther back -- to May 1, 1718 -- when Spanish padres and soldiers began construction of the fortified mission.

Three centuries later to the date, San Antonio is celebrating its 300th birthday with a week-long splurge of special events, exhibits and other activities (May 1-6), including free admission to the city's top museums and cultural centers.

Among the highlights of Tricentennial Commemorative Week are music and dance performances at the Alamo, fireworks along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, an action-packed Military Appreciation Weekend at Fort Sam Houston and dedication of the new San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Even if you're not headed to San Antonio for the 300th birthday bash, the sultry, sunny Texas metropolis offers plenty to see and do no matter when you visit.

1. Tour the Alamo

Although celebrated for the 1836 battle that spawned modern Texas, the famous Alamo traces its roots to 1718 when Franciscan padres founded a Spanish mission that was originally called San Antonio de Valero.

Living history encampments are often staged in the lush gardens in the back.

2. Stroll the River Walk

First conceived in the 1920s, this restaurant-and-bar-flanked route through downtown San Antonio is still the city's most popular attraction.

In recent years, River Walk has expanded a further 13 miles along the San Antonio River via the northerly Museum Reach and southbound Mission Reach -- portions where hiking, biking and kayaking are the main activities rather than eating and drinking.

3. Visit the Pearl

The project that kick-started the current San Antonio renaissance, Pearl underwent a metamorphosis a decade ago when the old brewery complex was transformed into an eclectic entertainment, dining, residential, hotel and retail destination.

The weekend Pearl Farmers Market attracts thousands, as do annual events such as the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival in October.

4. Roam around Southtown

San Antonio's other great urban renewal story, Southtown, has transformed from a derelict industrial area into a thriving arts, eating and historical district.

Located near the Alamodome and Hemisfair Park, the two-square-mile neighborhood includes the Blue Star Arts Complex and the flamboyant Victorian-era mansions of the King William Historic District, with the Southwest-centric La Villita Historic Arts Village just a few blocks away.

5. Have a drink in downtown bars

San Antonio's watering holes run a gamut from historic joints such as the Menger Bar (where Teddy Roosevelt allegedly recruited his Rough Riders before the Spanish-American War) to the spirit-infused Haunt at the St. Anthony Hotel (where the cocktails are named after the resident ghosts).

At the quirky Buckhorn Saloon, you can still trade deer antlers or rattlesnake tails for a beer or shot of whiskey.

6. Savor San Antonio cuisine

One of the spinoffs of the Culinary Institute of America opening a San Antonio campus in 2008 was the creation of young, entrepreneurial chefs raised on Tex-Mex food and trained in the culinary arts.

Since then, Johnny Hernandez, Andrew Weissman and others have opened edgy new restaurants and reshaped San Antonio cuisine into the state's most vibrant eating scene.

7. See historic missions

Four of San Antonio's old Spanish missions are now preserved within the confines of a national historical park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in a park-like setting on the south side of town.

From mariachi services and ranger guided historical tours to stargazing sessions and family archeology days, the missions offer a wide range of activities and events.

8. Go to cutting-edge museums

Like the rest of the city, San Antonio's museums have redefined themselves over the past decade, making the transition from stagnant collections to fully interactive adventures.

Among the many choices are The Witte Museum (dinosaurs!), the Institute of Texan Cultures (which recently featured exhibits on the history of Texas beer and local Day of the Dead traditions), and the outer-space focused Scobee Planetarium and Challenger Learning Center.

9. Enjoy rooms with a view

The 750-foot-high Tower of the Americas -- and its Flags Over Texas Observation Deck -- might be the city's most celebrated perch.

But there are plenty of other places in San Antonio to snatch a bird's view of the city, including the cool outdoor pool deck at the St. Anthony Hotel, the wooden tower in Eisenhower Park (which looks out over the entire city and the Hill Country), and the rooftop Paramour Bar overlooking the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River.

10. Listen to live music

Austin might have the reputation, but San Antonio has been a bona-fide music town for much longer, a melodious heritage that includes blues, soul, country, conjunto and even heavy metal.

Among the best places to catch tunes around town are JazzTX in the Pearl, the Cowboys Dancehall, which features modern country and Tejano, and Sam's Burger Joint, with a menu of live music that includes just about every American genre.

11. Tour Hill Country

Located just north of San Antonio, the celebrated Texas Hill Country boasts some of the only lush hills in the entire state, as well as dude ranches, recreational lakes, rodeos and historic towns.

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