San Antonio’s River Walk is a place where sunshine and shadows meet in perfect harmony. As you descend stone steps to the river below, you leave behind the traffic, the hustle of the city and the mid-day heat. Here you will find a lush and colorful sub-tropical paradise of towering cypress, magnolia, and cottonwood trees surrounded by honeysuckle,
night blooming jasmine and red and purple bougainvillea.
Originally named the place of refreshing waters by the Payaya Indians, it remains so today. It is cool here, refreshing. There is no rush, the atmosphere is relaxed, in tune with the winding, slow flowing river. Small European-style cafes and restaurants with rainbow colored umbrellas beckon you as you make your way along the cobblestone and flagstone River Walk.
You can feel the friendly nature of the place and the warmth of the people. It puts you at ease, and helps to create a festive atmosphere where you can truly enjoy the company of family and friends. The sounds you hear are those of celebration and good times, mingled with the drifting melodies of jazz and mariachi music.
There is something for everyone here. Restaurants like The Original Mexican Restaurant, Paloma, and Acenar serve delicious Tex-Mex and Mexican food. For those who enjoy a good steak, the Texas Land & Cattle Company guaranties that you will never leave hungry. For liquid refreshment, Durty Nelly’s and other establishments also beckon.
Along the way you will also discover quaint shops and art galleries in historic La Villita, the original settlement village of San Antonio. Just across the river from La Villita is the River Theatre. This unique theatre encompasses one of the river’s most scenic areas, with its backdrop of five bells representing San Antonio’s five missions and connected to La Villita via Rosa’s arched limestone bridge. Legend has it that lovers who kiss as they pass over Rosa’s bridge will forever be in love.
In addition to the River Walk, San Antonia offers many other attractions, including the Alamo, and four other Spanish missions. Although many people are familiar with the story of Davy Crocket, Jim Bowie and the Alamo, they may not realize that the Alamo is actually one of the five San Antonio missions. Its original name was Mission San Antonio
Like the other Spanish missions, Mission San Antonio de Valero was a walled, fortified stronghold, offering protection for missionaries, Indians, and soldiers alike. It is here in 1836 that Jim Bowie, renowned knife fighter, Davy Crocket, famed frontiersman and former Tennessee Congressman, and some 180 other men defended the Alamo and ultimately the freedom of Texas against General Santa Ana and his 4,000 Mexican troops. Although General Santa Ana and his troops ultimately overcame the defenders of the Alamo, today the Alamo is remembered as a place of a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds. A place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
The other four missions, each in their own way are equally compelling. Founded in 1720, Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo is the largest of the five missions. Upon entering its stone walls, you are transported back to the 18th Century. Here you will find a granary and working mill powered by the same waters that flow through the River
Walk. Missions Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion de Acuna, San Juan Capistrano and San Francisco de la Espada, with their chapels, bell towers, courtyards, and limestone arches evoke thoughts of a rich and fabled past. While exploring the mission, if you should happen to find yourself in the vicinity of Mission Concepcion, stop in at Ric-Ron’s Taco House on the corner of Mitchell and Roosevelt. The guacamole tacos are simply the best in the world, and at $1.60 each,
you won’t find a better bargain in all of Texas.
For some authentic culture and for just eighty cents you can take a bone rattling trolley car ride to El Mercado, the largest Mexican market place outside of Mexico. Here you can truly find and appreciate the spirit of San Antonio. With year round festivals and performances, including Mexican folk dance, mariachi, and Tejano music, Carnival Mercado, and the blessing of the animals you are always assured a unique and memorable cultural experience.
There are numerous other historic and interesting places to visit in this remarkable city, including the Menger Hotel. Not only is the Menger one of the nicest hotels in Texas, if not the United States, it is also known to be haunted by more than thirty ghosts and spirits. Notable ghosts include Captain Richard King, the founder of the King ranch which still bears his name, and Sally White a former chambermaid at the hotel.
A truly remarkable experience is San Antonio’s Ghosts and Legends Tour. As you tour San Antonio’s haunts in the dark with your spellbinding guide you will be introduced to hair-raising stories of the Donkey Lady’s eternal revenge and the wailing plight of La Llorona. You will then begin to truly appreciate why San Antonio is recognized as one of the top-ten haunted cities in the United States. It is truly a city of legends as big and bold as Texas.
There is an undeniable spirit to San Antonio, a spirit of welcome, hospitality and friendship. This spirit is due in large part to the indigenous people who originally inhabited this area. For 10,000 years these people lived in the vast grasslands of South Texas. Their descendents live on today in the Tejano culture. It is these people and this culture, including its music, food and dance that makes San Antonio such a unique, vibrant and wonderful place.
Story and Accompanying Photos by Joe Prickitt