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Vibrant river cityVibrant river city

San Antonio, TexasSan Antonio, Texas

Mention San Antonio and three things immediately spring to mind: the Alamo, the River Walk, and the Spurs. But this vibrant southern city with a Spanish heritage offers much more to the visitor. Fine dining, art museums, nightlife, and a rich culture make San Antonio a particularly satisfying destination. Fall is the perfect time to visit. Summer crowds and heat have fled, while the new NBA season is just getting started. Next time you need a little fall fiesta, point your airplane to this Texas “River City!”

  • Much of San Antonio’s charm revolves around the River Walk. Initially built for flood control, the river is one level below the street. You can walk alongside, stopping at shops and restaurants along the way. Better yet, take a boat cruise. Photo by Stuart Dee.
  • The Battle of the Alamo took place during the Texas Revolution. About 1,800 Mexican troops under President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna laid siege on the mission for 13 days in 1836. After losing around 600 men, the Mexicans finally stormed the walls and killed all 168 Texian defenders, including Davy Crockett and co-commanders James Bowie and William B. Travis. This so enraged the Texians, led by Sam Houston, that they rallied to defeat the Mexican army six weeks later, end the revolution, and gain independence for Texas. Photo by Richard Nowitz.
  • A River Walk boat cruise is a must for first-time visitors. You’ll pass under stone bridges as you float down the lushly landscaped river, and you’ll hear music playing and forks clanking as you pass the establishments along the way. Tour guides point out famous or historic structures and fill you in on little-known facts about the area; buy tickets at stations along the River Walk. Photo by John Skodavia via Flickr.
  • You can’t see all of San Antonio in one weekend—except from the observation deck at the Tower of the Americas, or its revolving Chart House restaurant. The 4D Theater Ride “Skies Over Texas” takes you on a flight over the state. Photo courtesy Tower of the Americas.
  • In the Mokara Hotel & Spa, you can overlook the River Walk from your private balcony. Photo courtesy Mokara Hotel & Spa.
  • At the Mokara, you can play in the heated rooftop pool, relax in the spa, or sip a cocktail at the Rooftop Café. Photo courtesy Mokara Hotel & Spa.
  • In the Hotel Havana, 27 fun, unique rooms each tout vintage chandeliers, Cuban artwork, wood blinds, pine floors, an old-school SMEG fridge, and a resident sock monkey. Photo by Allison V. Smith.
  • Room service at Hotel Havana. Photo by Allison V. Smith.
  • At the Hotel Havana, Ocho restaurant and bar maintains the Latin theme in a bright atrium-style room decorated with peacock pattern tables, velvet couches, ornate chandeliers, and exposed duct work painted Tiffany blue. Photo by Allison V. Smith.
  • At the Menger Hotel, don’t miss the 3-story lobby’s architecture, artifacts, and art and jewelry exhibits. Photo courtesy Menger Hotel.
  • The Menger Hotel’s Roy Rogers Suite. Aside from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, other past guests included Babe Ruth, Sam Houston, Robert Lee, and William Sherman, as well as Presidents Taft, McKinley, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. Stroll through the Menger’s Spanish garden and visit the gift shop, with exceptional collections of cowboy boots, cigars, and humidors. Take a dip in the heated outdoor pool and hot tub, or dine and drink in the Colonial Room Restaurant and Menger Bar. Photo courtesy Menger Hotel.
  • There’s plenty of nightlife to be had in San Antonio. You might want to enjoy a cocktail at Esquire, the largest bar in Texas, which opened the day after prohibition ended. At SoHo, try the ghost chili pepper-infused vodka or the Samoa Girl Scout Cookie martini. Photo courtesy City of San Antonio.
  • Right downtown, Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood occupies a building that dates to the 1800s; rich wood tones and white table cloths exude luxury. Photo courtesy Bohanan’s.
  • Piñatas adorn the ceiling at the colorful Mi Tierra Café, located in Market Square. The long bakery case displays Mexican ice cream, homemade sopapillas, flan, and pies. Photo courtesy Market Square.
  • Dining along the River Walk is a quintessential San Antonio experience. Photo courtesy City of San Antonio.

Stinson Municipal Airport, the second-oldest continually operating airport in the United States, lies just south of San Antonio proper and just outside the San Antonio International Class C airspace. Use caution for five towers east-southeast of Stinson that rise to as high as 2,049 feet msl, plus one 30 nautical miles northwest that tops out at 3,049 feet msl.

All over the west, cities that begin with “San” or “Santa” are so named because the Spanish who founded the settlement did so on the feast day of a particular saint. San Antonio got its name when the Spanish arrived in 1691 on the feast day of Saint Anthony. The secular purpose of the San Antonio de Valero Mission (now the Alamo) was to assert Spanish control of Texas. To this day the phrase “Remember the Alamo” stirs the spirit of many a Texan. I had visited before, but when I visited again with my husband, he was surprised at the Alamo's small size, considering its outsize stature in Texas history. Experience war reenactments and demonstrations on the lawn and learn where the terms “lock, stock and barrel” and “ready, aim, fire” originated.  

Tim Duncan has retired but the Spurs are still one of the NBA’s most exciting teams. Join the locals this season in rooting the team on toward another championship. Photo by Keith Allison via Flickr.

Of course you’ll walk along the river, and don’t miss taking a River Walk boat cruise. But there’s more to explore. Completed in 2009, a 1.3-mile River Walk extension to the north called Museum Reach gives access to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Pearl Brewery complex. It's an interesting juxtaposition of ancient classics from the Middle East and Rome, Asia, Latin American folk art, and contemporary art. An ecosystem restoration project, the final Mission Reach section, was completed in 2013. It’s accessible by foot or bike (no boat tours) and connects the public to a natural section, unlike the famous sections with bars and restaurants. Take a kayak, bike, or running tour or rent a kayak and take the eight-mile paddling trail, which has some man-made whitewater features. Also worth a visit is the Witte Museum, established in 1926 on the banks of the river near Brackenridge Park. The Witte displays a wealth of South Texas artifacts, from saddles and firearms to dinosaur bones and Western art.  

The Mokara Hotel & Spa is right on the River Walk. Photo courtesy Mokara Hotel & Spa.

San Antonio offers accommodations for every taste. The elegant Mokara Hotel and Spa is right on the River Walk. At the north end of the River Walk, the hip Hotel Havana is quieter. I'm also really partial to the decor, mid-century modern with a Cuban twist. Established in 1859, the Menger is loaded with history and sumptuously furnished. Theodore Roosevelt organized the Rough Riders here in 1898 and returned for their reunion seven years later. Danish immigrant sculptor Gutzon Borglum created his initial models for Mount Rushmore here as well.

Restaurants and bars abound, but a few standouts deserve special mention. Over in Market Square, Mi Tierra Cafe is a huge, authentic Mexican restaurant plastered with colorful decorations and open 24 hours. Bohanan's Prime Steaks and Seafood is famous for Chef Mark's Frito Pie, and of course, the steaks. Get the pretty Prickly Pear Margarita (say that fast five times) at Boudros, a Texas bistro on the River Walk with American southwest and Gulf Coast region dishes. You can't beat the selection of tequilas at Iron Cactus Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar, though. The three-chile pork loin is almost worth flying back to San Antonio! So indulge, remember the Alamo, and immerse yourself in the River Walk atmosphere. You can do it all in San Antonio.

Ocho’s patio, part of the Hotel Havana, is perched among the treetops and above the River Walk. Photo courtesy Hotel Havana.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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