Like most other non-Texas native kids who grew up in the 80’s, my introduction to the Alamo wasn’t in any textbook but rather in the ridiculous but somehow mesmerizing kids movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. In it, the wacky protagonist set off for the aforementioned famous landmark after being told by a gypsy fortune teller that he would find his stolen bike in the basement of the Alamo. Spoiler alert: there is no basement to the Alamo. But don’t let this deter you from visiting what is the most charming city in the Southwest. What it lacks in basements San Antonio more than makes up for in atmosphere. And now a rundown of the highlights faster than you can say A-Do-Be!
This monument is sacred to Texans, and is the unofficial icon – second only to the shape of Texas itself which can be found on everything from boots to cars to bric-a-brac without number. It was here that a small but tenacious group of volunteers dug in against a far superior force of Mexican troops. Despite the presence of (then) illustrious frontiersmen such as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, the defenders were eventually slaughtered. This only served to fuel the flames of Texan independence, and soon “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry all the way to victory at San Jacinto.
The building itself has been refurbished to a degree – the iconic fascia was a later add-on – yet still gives visitors an authentic, if somewhat depressing sense of the history that transpired. There are displays enumerating various firearms of the time and a list of the ill-fated volunteers. The grounds themselves are now a series of lovely gardens with a water feature that I’m pretty sure doesn’t date back to the days of Santa Ana.
Unless you are a fiercely proud Texan, you can complete a thorough visit of the Alamo in under an hour. Maybe less if you don’t bother to stop and read any of the informative displays. Surrounding the Alamo is a large square bordered by the inevitable souvenir shops. As you can imagine, Texas-shaped gifts are available for all.
All great cities have their ‘signature’ feature. In New York it’s Times Square; San Francisco has Fisherman’s Wharf and in San Antonio that particular role is ably filled by what is called The Riverwalk. As the name suggests, this is a pedestrian area alongside the San Antonio riverfront which has been channelled and sculpted into the ultimate place to hang out. Set below street-level, the shady sidewalks lined with giant Cypress trees teem with foot traffic shopping in quirky boutiques, crossing the gracefully arching bridges and sitting idly munching chips and salsa in waterfront cafes.
Most first-time visitors opt to take a guided riverboat tour, which for the eight bucks or so it will cost you is well worth the price. Your guide will spout information about the hotels, restaurants and buildings lining the river and you will tune most of it out while trying to take in the overwhelming charm. Once done, get a table at a riverfront eatery for surprisingly reasonable prices and a great view no matter which turn in the river you’re perched on. In fact, I have to give San Antonio’s riverwalk the nod for ‘best city feature”, as they’ve essentially created their own tourist attraction that for tourists and locals alike is the place to be.
Getting There & Around
You can easily fly into San Antonio’s International airport, or if driving, reach it by car in only three hours from Houston and even less than that from Austin. The historic district is accessible right off the highways, so find a parking garage and walk the rest.
Yes, the Alamo may not have a basement but the building – and city around it – is a great place to visit and even better place to hang out. So put on those Texas-shaped sunglasses, gas up your needlessly large pick-up and come see the pride of Texas in the heart of hill country.
Once again don’t forget to pick up a copy of my witty travel ebook You Can Keep Your Adventure, Just Leave Me the Toilet Paper available at your favorite online bookstore. And if you’ve already read it, do me a solid and write a review already, will ya?
And if anyone asks, tell them Large Marge sent you. 🙂