I have been fortunate in my life that this is my twelfth trip to San Antonio.
In a 36-year sportswriting career, my very first bowl game was at Alamo City to cover Oklahoma State and Purdue in the 1998 Alamo Bowl. I attended. other Alamo Bowls, Final Fours, Women’s Final Fours, Big 12 Championships, Big 12 Media Days and High School All-American games. I have also vacationed there a few times and even attended a national women’s football presentation to watch my daughter.
So since this is Oklahoma’s first trip to the Alamo Bowl and the Sooners’ second game to San Antonio, I thought I could share with Sooner Nation my list of cool things to do in Alamo City. . Some are old watches, tried and true. Some may be unique to me and my family, but come with my highest recommendation. Hopefully this can be a starting point for OU fans looking for some fun things to do this week.
Remember, this is only a small sampling of places in San Antonio that I enjoyed, and I rarely leave downtown. I know there is a much bigger San Antonio to discover. But that should start your journey.
If you’ve never been there, or if you’ve only seen it in movies, be prepared. It’s almost unbelievably humble, small and indescribable.
It’s a massive, modern city, yes, but one with roots in a long and proud history that predates the founding of our own nation. They literally built one of the biggest cities in America around a 300 year old Spanish mission, and I find that very cool.
Located in the bustling center of downtown, the Alamo itself can be hard to find even if you’re looking for it. It is opposite a Ripley’s and a wax museum and is next to an ice cream shop and pharmacy.
But even the most cynical can’t help but feel the story wash over them once they step onto the pitch. It’s a 3D snapshot in time, an ancient ruin literally in the heart of a big city.
It is open all year round and easy to access. Everyone should take at least a few seconds to record their own story. But posing for selfies on the porch is one thing. To get a better feel for the Alamo itself (the mission, of course, but also the battlefield, and the long barracks, etc.) I couldn’t recommend enough extra time to take the guided tour. It takes less than 15 minutes, but you can stay longer. It is a National Historic Landmark, which is part of the National Park System, and the Alamo staff are friendly, helpful and extremely knowledgeable, but also very protective of their treasure.
Inside the gift shop is an epic diorama depicting the famous battle of 1836 that ultimately led to Texas independence. Right outside is one of the most amazing trees on the planet.
After studying the diorama, take a few minutes to wander around the barracks area and let your imagination run wild. Just outside the grounds, but still in Alamo Square, is the Alamo Cenotaph monument, commemorating fallen heroes.
It’s a powerful experience – and it’s just the most famous of the many historic missions in the San Antonio area. I’ve never done it, but if you have the time there are tours that take you to everyone.
Lots of towns have cool river rides now. But they all copied San Antonio, which remains one of the best.
There are many ways to experience the Riverwalk: by boat, bus, or simply on foot. And the boat and bus section has hop-on hop-off access so you can see it all at your own pace.
The best part of the Riverwalk, of course, are all the fantastic restaurants and bars. There is literally something for everyone. (My favorite stop is Paesano’s, where, of all my travels across the country, my all-time favorite meal is Shrimp Paesano. Believe me. Then, just above Paesano’s is a Ben and Jerry’s. I never miss this.)
Up there along with the Alamo itself, San Antonio food is probably my favorite attraction, and the Riverwalk has almost anything you could want. The Iron Cactus is a fantastic Mexican restaurant with a bit of a Tex-Mex side. For more traditional Mexican dishes, head to Casa Rio.
Or just go with the chains: Joe’s Crab Shack, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Hard Rock Cafe, Dick’s Last Resort, Pat O’Brien’s, Texas de Brazil and a few more are all within walking distance.
El Mercado is an extravaganza of street food and shopping just a few blocks west of the Riverwalk neighborhood.
The Marketplace and the Marketplace are two indoor-outdoor malls, but not malls like you might think. Here you can walk through the local culture and haggle with the vendor if that’s your thing.
If you’re hungry, Mi Tierra is widely regarded as one of the best places in town for authentic Mexican food, especially if you like tamales. It’s a bit touristy, but it’s okay. There is also a bakery on site, and everything is delicious and on display. Try the enchiladas or the Tacos del Mercado.
Keep in mind that San Antonio is a massive, bustling metropolis. The 2020 census ranks San Antonio seventh in the United States with nearly 1.6 million people. But the attractions we’re talking about here are almost entirely downtown, and San Antonio’s urban architecture is second to none. Just look up.
A cool way to see it is on this Riverwalk boat tour. You get a real concrete canyon feel, especially at night.
Get a map (or look at the map on your smartphone) to identify some truly awe-inspiring structures: the Mexican Consulate, the Palace of the Spanish Governor, the Paul Elizondo Tower, the Plaza de Las Islas Canarias, the San Fernando Cathedral and, of course, the Hemisfair Park Tower, aka the Tower of the Americas, a short walk from the Alamodome itself.
I would also recommend entering the lobby of the Saint Anthony Hotel (it’s a few blocks west of the Alamo). San Antonio’s premier luxury hotel has a lovely rooftop pool (the views are incredible, especially at night), but you just have to wander through the lavish lobby. Presidents, war heroes and movie stars have stayed there.
The Crockett Hotel, named after Alamo hero Davy Crockett, is just behind the Alamo itself and also has a beautiful lobby.
My goal for this trip is to take the time to enter the Tower Life Building at the west end of the Riverwalk neighborhood. I have seen photos of the lobby and the exterior which are just striking.
I also hope this time around to finally take a look inside the Aztec theater. It’s a modern concert hall in its own right, but the photos I’ve seen of the lobby and auditorium are amazing.
- The Shops at Rivercenter is a cool indoor mall that includes a movie theater and literally everything you need. At street level is a convenient gift shop and pharmacy.
- It’s been a few years, but when my daughter was toddler we took her to SeaWorld and we had an unforgettable time. The roller coasters are some of the best in the area and, of course, Shamu’s shows, which will soon be a thing of the past, are unforgettable.
- Likewise, when we went to the San Antonio Zoo the family had a great time. Seeing hippos and giraffes up close can be a bit mind-blowing.
- In a city as old as San Antonio, you know ghost tours have to be good. I haven’t done one myself, but I’ve heard stories that would curl your toes.
- Kids will enjoy the Legoland Discovery Center on the Riverwalk, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Plaza Wax Museum, and the Amazing Mirror Maze, all just blocks from the Alamo.
- Older kids might like the Briscoe Western Art Museum or the Escape the Room San Antonio.
Again, my sampling (with the exception of Sea World and the Zoo) is almost strictly downtown and would easily cover a few days around Wednesday’s game itself. There is much, much more to do in San Antonio. Check out Trip Advisor or Yelp for more suggestions.
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