Although it is now the 10th largest city in the United States, San Antonio still has a lot of the charm of a sleepy Southern town. It is unusual among U. S. cities in having a vital, pleasant and relatively safe downtown.
San Antonio is also quite an inexpensive city to visit, unlike such Texas boom towns as Dallas and Houston. The city depends mainly on the military and other government installations for its livelihood, and has a large population of retired people.
More than half the population of San Antonio is of Spanish descent, and the city has kept much of its original Mexican flavor. The Alamo, cradle of Texas independence, is here, as well as the former Spanish Governor’s palace, an 18th-century Spanish cathedral and a renovated Mexican market area. On the outskirts of the city are several old Spanish missions.
However, it is the Paseo del Rio or River Walk that is responsible for much of San Antonio‘s attraction. This 1 1/2-kilometre walk, winding along the San Antonio River through the downtown area, is lined with benches, trees, sidewalk cafes and boutiques.
Budget accommodations are plentiful in San Antonio. The top budget choice is the Menger Hotel, downtown right next to the Alamo. It has existed since 1859, and has preserved much of its original flavor. There is a lovely central courtyard with palm trees and a fountain, and a large swimming pool in another part of the building. General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant stayed here, as did writers O. Henry and Sidney Lanier. Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders here to fight in the Spanish-American War.
The public rooms of the hotel are furnished with antiques and Oriental rugs, and although some of the guest rooms are a bit shabby they are in the process of being redecorated. The price for all this atmosphere is $29 single in the older part of the building, $39 single in the new part. Doubles are $39 and $49. All prices are in U. S. funds. Somewhat cheaper is the Gunter Hotel, an older hotel in the centre of the shopping district. Rooms here are $24 single, $29 double, and include a free continental breakfast. The Crockett Motor Hotel just behind the Alamo has modern rooms and a small swimming pool, with rates of $28 single and $32 double.
On the outskirts of the city there are two of the Motel 6 chain, where rooms are only $9.95 single, $13.95 double. The motels have pools and rooms with TV but do not accept credit cards.
Restaurants in San Antonio are also generally inexpensive. Naturally, Mexican restaurants are the most numerous, but there are also French, German, Creole and steak restaurants and even a Hunan Chinese restaurant. A very popular restaurant with locals is the Mi Tierra Cafe in the Mexican market area. It is open 24 hours a day, serving good Tex-Mex food. Portions are generous and prices low – lunch, including a Mexican beer, can cost as little as $4.
More atmospheric are the outdoor restaurants along the Paseo del Rio. Try the Restaurante Capistrano or Las Canarias in the beautiful hotel La Mansion del Rio right on the river. Lunch here costs as little as $5 including a beer and tip. Las Canarias is named for the Canary Islanders, who were the first civilian settlers in San Antonio early in the 18th century.
There are a number of other restaurants along the Paseo del Rio, most offering salads, sandwiches and other light meals at reasonable prices. Near the airport, Jojo’s has good American food at low prices. In general, you have to try pretty hard to spend more than $15 – even for dinner – in San Antonio.
The city does a lot to promote tourism, which is a major industry. There is a little bus called El Centro that connects all the downtown points of interest and costs only 10 cents. A city bus connects the airport to downtown and costs only 75 cents for express service. Unfortunately it does not run after about 8:30 p.m, so if you arrive later you will probably have to take a taxi.
Many of the sights, including the Alamo and the cathedral, offer free admission, while the Spanish Governor’s palace costs 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children. A ride along the river in a flat-bottomed boat is only $1.15 for adults and 40 cents for children.
San Antonio’s climate is generally pleasant in winter, with temperatures rising above 20C during the day but sometimes dipping to frost at night. For a winter vacation that offers a lot to see, warm weather and low prices, San Antonio is hard to beat. Anyone who is getting tired of Florida and doesn’t want to pay the prices demanded in the Caribbean should find it a welcome alternative.