Visit San Antonio: The Alamo City

Road Trip to San Antonio

A famous Texas writer, J. Frank Dobie, once said that every Texan has two hometowns — his own and San Antonio. If Dobie had lived to see his “other hometown” in the 21st century, he would find a modern city whose eclectic delights haven’t changed significantly and continue to attract visitors from near and far.

While they come to San Antonio for a multitude of reasons, a majority of the visitors make an obligatory stop at the Alamo, scene of the 13-day siege in 1836 when less than 190 defenders held off a Mexican army of 4,000. After slaughtering the Texans and burning their bodies, General Santa Anna marched his troops east to put down the revolt by freedom-loving settlers, mostly from the southern United States. His campaign ended several weeks later at San Jacinto near modern-day Houston. Surprised during an afternoon siesta by volunteers yelling “Remember the Alamo,” his soldiers were routed in an 18-minute battle, and Santa Anna was taken prisoner and forced to grant Texas its independence.

Downtown San Antonio

Many first-time visitors to the Alamo are amazed to find it situated in the shadow of skyscrapers in the heart of downtown San Antonio, and some assume it must have been reconstructed and relocated. Though restoration has been extensive, the Alamo wasn’t moved. In 1836, the town’s center was several hundred yards to the west, but the city’s growth quickly swallowed up the old mission.

The Alamo is within easy walking distance of most downtown hotels, and from lodgings a bit farther away, the easy way to get there is on public transportation – the streetcar-like buses that ply routes around downtown. If you’re coming by car, good choices for parking are the high-rise garages at Rivercenter Mall. Get your ticket stamped at any of the mall’s stores, and you’ll park free for two hours.

Rivercenter Mall

Rivercenter Mall is home to an IMAX theater where a film shown continuously is “Alamo: The Price of Freedom.” Each of its seven daily showings lasts less than an hour, and the movie is a good way to introduce youngsters to the history of the “shrine of Texas liberty.” More information, including showtimes and a coupon for a $1 discount on up to six tickets, can be found on IMAX’s Web site.

Another entertaining way to introduce children, as well as adults, to the saga is the Alamo Special Effects Theater located across the street on Alamo Plaza. The theater uses light, sound, and special effects to transport visitors back to the historic battle.

You also could make the introduction by renting and viewing the most popular movie telling the inspirational story – John Wayne’s “The Alamo.” Though originally released in 1960, it’s even available now in a DVD version.

The Alamo

Obviously, neither of the aforementioned movies was filmed on location at the actual Alamo. Its downtown site makes that impractical. When Wayne went looking for the setting of his big-budget epic, he chose a ranch north of Brackettville, a small town about a three-hour drive west of San Antonio. The rancher, Happy Shahan, offered his property with the proviso that buildings constructed for the movie would remain there. Wayne’s movie set became Alamo Village, and it still operates as both a tourist attraction open year-round and a popular location for the production of movies like the IMAX film and other westerns, including “Lonesome Dove” and “Bad Girls,” as well as TV commercials and other endeavors.

Another way to get ready to visit the Alamo is to check out its website. It provides a comprehensive package of information in a visually attractive format. You’ll learn that while the Alamo is owned by the state of Texas it is managed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, a women’s organization similar in concept to the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). State law grants custodianship of the Alamo to the DRT, and there are state legislators who would like to change that, making it part of the state park system. During each biennial session of the Legislature, someone introduces a bill proposing to make the change, but the proposal finds scant support among lawmakers.

The DRT, in years past, was criticized for some aspects of the organization’s management of the Alamo. But the group reacted by making changes that have quieted many of the critics. And the DRT’s management keeps the old mission-fortress open to more than 2.5 million people who visit it each year without paying any admission charge. Though no one pays to enter, visitors are encouraged to make donations, and the DRT also raises funds through sales in a gift shop on the grounds.

River Walk

After touring the Alamo, many visitors make their way to the city’s famed River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, along the San Antonio River. The easiest way to reach it from the Alamo is to stroll west for less than two blocks on a beautifully constructed and landscaped pedestrian route down to the river level and through the Hyatt Regency Hotel to the River Walk. If you’ve spent a morning at the Alamo, lunch at one of the many restaurants along the River Walk is a delightful way to get ready for an afternoon of additional sightseeing in San Antonio.

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