There is also no shortage of wide, open places to chill, such as the Botanical Garden and the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium, Michael Smith recommends
Everyone has heard of the Alamo, and not least after British rock star Ozzy Osbourne infamously did something there that he shouldn’t have.
Still, San Antonio’s most famous landmark has survived way, way more than rock’s Prince of Darkness and most notably, the onslaught of a huge army of Mexicans who were distinctly unimpressed by the doughty Texans’ bid for independence in 1836.
Yes, this deeply historical, multicultural and vibrant city in south central Texas has seen a fair bit of life, and then some. Here, the sights and sounds of old Mexico, Native America and the Wild West all merge in a modern metropolis that is home to 1.4 million people. And it’s easy to navigate.
The wonderful River Walk runs for several miles throughout the city and is replete with some of the best burger joints in the world, cafes, restaurants, shops, and simply places to hang out. In a city this size, you would expect myriad cultural attractions, which it delivers with gusto.
There is also no shortage of wide, open places to chill, such as the Botanical Garden and the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium. This being Texas, you’d expect a ranch or two, and the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is a safari park you can drive through safely and gaze in wonder at the more than 50 species of animals roaming the park. Yup, they like things big in Texas.
And so the amusement parks don’t do things by halves. Six Flags Fiesta Texas is a water park set in a former quarry, and if you’re up for roller coaster rides then you’ve come to the right place. Alternatively, Splashtown San Antonio, which, with its 50-odd rides has some of the best waterslides you’ll find anywhere.
Although it’s a bustling metropolis, San Antonio actually feels like Texas as you always knew it would be: Houston (too spread out), Austin (too compact), Dallas (too associated with JR and JFK) or El Paso (too far away). You’ve come to the right place for real, tastebud-tantalising tacos, enchiladas and burritos. And don’t forget the sweet potato fries. Sample them for their sweet/salty balance, and bite into that crispy exterior and fluffy interior and drench with one of the many spicy mayonnaises.
Do remember that chili originated here, not in Mexico, and is the “state food of Texas”. And it really is the best chili ever. You can’t make this with flavouring from a sachet. Also, the portions here are BIG. My other half asked for fried green tomatoes (as in the Kathy Bates film of the same name). She was expecting a sideplate, and got a platter piled with them so high she could barely see me across the table.
My favourite place The Alamo. It’s easily the most revered building in Texas and one of America’s most famous. It was built in 1718 as one of five Spanish mission stations in the city and converted into a fort in 1836. Then, a small army of 187 that included Davy Crockett bunkered themselves in and refused to buckle against a marauding Mexican army of thousands. Although Crockett and Co were slaughtered, the Alamo became an icon of Texan independence (despite the then Republic of Texas joining the United States nine years later). It’s a wonderfully atmospheric place; one that doesn’t pull in 2.5 million tourists a year for nothing. While much of it was destroyed or has crumbled away, its imposing front elevation seems to just growl: “Don’t mess with Texas.”
Highlights Those gutsy warriors of the Alamo ended up being buried at the site of the San Fernando Cathedral, which is one of the oldest in the United States. It’s as grand as anything you’d find in Spain, and it also played a part in the Alamo siege as it was here the Mexican forces swore that “no quarter” would be given. Within walking distance (or you can take one of the many delightful Victorian streetcars there), you will come across the Military Plaza, which houses the Spanish Governor’s Palace. Built in 1749, it’s technically a rather grand, white-washed bungalow but has 10 utterly fascinating rooms packed with furniture, paintings and rugs of the era. The courtyard is a delight as well.
If you fancy another helping of history coupled with art while meandering the River Walk, then the San Antonio Museum of Art should satisfy your cultural appetite.
But San Antonio can be nearly as hot as Muscat, so the city’s Japanese Tea Garden offers some respite, with lush gardens, lily ponds, a waterfall, and easily navigable tree-lined walkways.
Souvenirs How can you not find something to take home here, either on the River Walk or at Market Square? Crockery, buckskin caps, rifle pens, Mexican hats, and T-shirts.
Getting there Oman Air operates flights from Muscat to Houston. From there, you can take a connecting Delta flight to San Antonio. Alternatively, most major airlines run flights from Dubai to San Antonio. There will be at least one stop on the way.
Where to stay: All the main hotel chains have a presence here to suit all budgets but choose one near the city’s River Walk. Check out TripAdvisor, Trivago and Booking.com for options.
1. Step back in time and appreciate the Alamo
2. Stroll the River Walk and take a boat trip
3. Chill out in the Japanese Tea Garden
4. Sample some traditional Texan chili
5. Chill out in the Botanical Garden