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When I made my first trip to Texas, I had only set aside one day to spend in San Antonio. Boy, was that a mistake! I was shocked to learn that San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the United States and, thus, has a wealth of attractions and history to offer. Poor planning on my part. Despite my very short exploration of the Alamo City, I quickly fell in love and planned on visiting again in the future.
Should you find yourself in the Alamo City for a quick adventure, below are my top five things you can easily fit into one day! But if you’d rather not explore on your own and prefer a guided tour, then I can’t recommend the Grand Tour by Alamo Sightseeing enough. This 8-hour bus tour takes you to many of the sights mentioned below, but adds the Buckhorn Saloon & Texas Ranger Museum, the Japanese Sunken Gardens, and two additional Missions. I had the chance to take this tour during my second visit to San Antonio and found it to be the perfect way to experience this historic Texas city.
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Tower of the Americas
Standing at 750-feet, a stunning view of downtown San Antonio from the Tower of the Americas is the perfect place to start your day. The Tower is the second tallest observation tower in the United States and was built as the theme structure of the 1968 World’s Fair, HemisFair ’68.
You have the choice of taking the 75 second elevator ride to the top or, if you so desire, you can climb the 952 steps. Whichever you choose, your first stop should be the Flags Over Texas Observation Deck where you’ll be able to view sights like the Alamo, the Tower Life Building, the Torch of Friendship, and the Alamodome. For a bite to eat, be sure to stop in at the revolving Chart House Restaurant for a selection from their award-winning menu as you continue taking in the panoramic views of the city below.
If you’re a fan of viewing a city from great heights, then a stop at the Tower of the Americas is a must. Take note: your ticket is good for the entire day, so you can always return later to see the brilliance of San Antonio lit up at night.
Tower of the Americas
601 Tower of the Americas Way
Flags Over Texas: Observation Deck
Hours: Sun-Thu 10am-10pm | Fri-Sat 10am-11pm
Admission: Adults: $12 | Children 4-12 years: $9 | Children 3 years & under: Free
The River Walk
Other than the Alamo, San Antonio is probably best known for the River Walk. Located one story below street level, the River Walk meanders along the banks of the San Antonio River and is lined with restaurants and shops for you to enjoy. Make sure you take the time to wander through La Villita Historic Arts Village, sit along the banks at one of the restaurant’s outdoor patios, and don’t miss the chance to learn more about San Antonio’s history as you float on one of the famous river cruisers.
El Mercado, or Market Square, is the largest Mexican Market in the United States. The three-block outdoor plaza allows visitors to browse 32 shops and eighty specialty shops in the Farmers Market Plaza, offering a wide range of items from hand-embroidered dresses to sombreros.
Several people had told me that I absolutely must eat at one of El Mercado’s more famous restaurants, Mi Tierra. The atmosphere was very festive, as the interior was decorated with Christmas lights and there was strolling Mariachi musicians. Wanting to try a variety of food, I ordered the Special Mexican Dinner which included a cheese enchilada, crispy beef taco, tamal, guacamole, chile con queso, Spanish rice and refried beans. I then washed it all down with their delicious award-winning margarita. Every bite was delicious, but beware that your tummy will be beyond filled by time you’re finished. That is, if you finish.
El Mercado – Market Square
514 W. Commerce Street
Hours: Summer (June-August) 10am-8pm | Fall/Spring (September-May) 10am-6pm
There’s no question that the enduring symbol for all of Texas is the old Spanish mission known as The Alamo. We all know the story of James Bowie, David Crockett, William Travis, and the other Texans that held out for thirteen days before finally succumbing to the Centralist army of General Santa Anna. It’s a story of courage and sacrifice that draws millions of people a year to visit this landmark in downtown San Antonio, and to carry out the words of Sam Houston when he shouted “Remember the Alamo!”
We all learned about the Alamo while in school, but for me the structure and story of the famous landmark took on a mythical quality of sorts. That is, until I finally saw it for myself. As soon as you enter the Alamo, you can immediately feel a sense of sacredness for the events that took place at the Alamo and what it stands for. Besides the mission, the 4.2-acre complex offers a museum filled with artifacts from the battle and a gift shop where you can purchase all kinds of Alamo memorabilia, including your own Davy Crockett coonskin hat.
300 Alamo Plaza
Hours: Sunday-Saturday 9am-5:30pm | Summer Hours 9am-7pm
San Fernando Cathedral
A perfect conclusion to your day is to stop at the place known as ‘The Heart of the City’, the San Fernando Cathedral and Main Plaza. The structure was built between 1738 and 1750 and has the distinction of being the oldest church building in Texas, as well as the oldest cathedral in the United States. San Fernando also has ties to the Battle of the Alamo: James Bowie married Ursula de Veramendi at the cathedral in 1831, during the battle General Santa Anna raised the flag of “no quarter” from the tower of the church, and it’s said that remains of some of the defenders of the Alamo — including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie — rests in a marble coffin by the entrance.
Once you’ve finished exploring the interior, head outside to Main Plaza to admire the magnificence of “San Antonio | The Saga,” a video art installation on the facade of San Fernando Cathedral. Debuting in 2014 and created by renowned French artist, Xavier De Richemont, the 7,000 square-foot projection with choreographed music narrates the historical discovery, settlement and development of San Antonio.
San Fernando Cathedral
115 W. Main Plaza
San Antonio | The Saga: Tue, Fri, Sat, & Sun @ 9pm, 9:30pm, & 10pm
Gift Shop Hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm | Sat 9am-6:30pm | Sun 8:30am-3:30pm