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Facade of The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.
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updated 11/7/2006 7:32:50 PM ET 2006-11-08T00:32:50

San Antonio is very much like the Tejano music that gives it its characteristic pulse—passionate if a bit sentimental, vibrantly colorful, and funky enough to groove to the nasal wail of accordions.  Its food is fiery hot, its dance halls even hotter, and its ability to tickle the visitor (with fascinating historic sights, scenic riverside strolls, top-notch museums and cultural festivals) has made it a red-hot force in the tourism industry, Texas’ most popular city, drawing 7 million visitors each year. With the largest Hispanic population of any major city in the US, it also can feel like a trip across the border, the moment you cross the invisible borders within the city itself that divide the touristy areas from the more authentic neighborhoods where residents live, eat, and dance until the wee hours of the morning. One day isn’t enough to see it all, but with the itinerary below, you’ll sure have fun trying.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Tuck into a stack of airy, melt-on-your-tongue pancakes at Magnolia Pancake Haus , a favorite of the area’s large German community, where the house batter’s loaded with cream and made fresh every two hours or so. Go with pecan, or, if you can invest in a 15-minute wait, order the house special: Munich Pfannekuchen, the owner’s grossumutter’s secret recipe, crowned with granny smith apples, house-made syrup, butter and cinnamon.

9 a.m. - noon: Sounds obvious but: Remember the Alamo . It’s nearly against the law in Texas to go to San Antonio and forget to visit  (as big a faux pas as a Mall-free Washington, DC jaunt or a first trip to Paris that skips the Eiffel Tower).  Surprisingly modest, this mission was at the center of the most important battle for Texan independence, a 13-day siege during which 188 men (including Davy Crocket) held off the Mexican Army. All of the Texan fighters were slaughtered, but their deaths inspired the troops at the important battle of San Jacinto, a month later, which secured  independence for the state in 1836. To get the whole story, combine a visit to the site with a viewing of the Alamo: The Price of Freedom at the nearby IMAX theater, a haunting and accurate portrayal.

Morning Alternative
If you’ve already done the Alamo—or secretly wish that the other side had won—head to the The San Antonio Art Museum , which boasts the largest collection of Latin American folk art in the United States. Amassed over the course of many shopping sprees by no less than Nelson Rockefeller himself, the eye-popping treasures here (2,500 in all) span from the 1500’s through today.

Noon-2 p.m.: Join the locals chowing down at Rosarios , a proudly Mex—not Tex Mex—eatery, where the food is almost as colorful as the Frida-Kahlo-on-steroids décor, and fairly unusual for those more used to Taco Bell-style Mexican. Try the pollo de canote an earthy blend of chicken, sweet potatoes and mushrooms; the tangy ceviche; the addictive roasted salsa; or the enfrijoladas Santa Clara, chicken enchiladas topped with a cumin-chili sauce.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Stroll the Riverwalk. Yes, it’s touristy, but the two-and-a-half mile stretch of paved walkways right next to the river is also breathtakingly scenic, its arched bridges and cobblestoned path smartly designed by architect Robert Hugman and constructed by the Works Progress Administration during the 1930’s. Stop and shop along the way, or grab a margarita to fuel your walk at one of the many pretty cafes you’ll pass.

Afternoon Alternative
Go on a mission—to see all the Missions in town. If your morning visit to the Alamo has peaked your interest in  San Antonio’s history, head to Missions National Park . The city’s four other Franciscan missions are here along a 5.5 mile path, and since they weren’t at the center of one of America’s most famous battles, they’re in much better shape than the Alamo. San Jose, in particular, has been restored to give visitors an idea of what it would have been like to live in a mission community; or be one of the Native Americans who were converted to Catholicism here.

6 p.m. - 8 p.m.:  If you haven’t already been walking the Riverwalk, head there for a scenic dinner at Acenar , which serves up TexMex fare with a foodie flare. Along with enchiladas, tacos and empanadas, you’ll find such adventurous dishes as roasted young goat, mini veal shanks served with a trio of mole sauces, and beef tenderloin with sweetbread salsa. Try to snag a table on the terrace if you can.

8 p.m. on … Head to Randy’s Ballroom , which books top Mexican bands for raucous nights of music and dancing. If country’s more your style, head instead to Floore’s Country Store which has one of the largest dance floors in the oversized state of Texas and has hosted such big-name performers as Willy Nelson, Dwight Yoakum and Lyle Lovett.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

Magnolia Pancake Haus, phone210/496-0828; www.magnoliapancakehaus.com/. Open daily 7 a.m. - 2 p.m.

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The Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, phone 210/225-1391; www.thealamo.com/. Open Mon-Sat 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and Sun 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Free admission.

San Antonio Theater, IMAX Rivercenter, 849 East Commerce St. in the Rivercenter Mall; www.imax-sa.com/. Check the website for showtimes, Tickets are $8.95 adults, $7.95 seniors and children.

The San Antonio Art Museum, 200 W. Jones Ave, phone 210/978-8100; www.sa-museum.org. Open Tues 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Wed-Sat 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sun noon-6 p.m. Admission $8 adults, $7 seniors, $5 students with ID, $3 children 4-11, free for children under 4. 

Rosario’s910 S. Alamo, phone 210/223-1806.

All of the missions at San AntonioMissions National Park are free to visit and open daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Go to www.nps.gov/saan for a list of Ranger-led tours. The visitors center is at 6701 San Jose Drive.

Acenar, 146 E. Houston St on the Riverwalk, phone 210/222-CENA; www.acenar.com/

Randy’s Ballroom, 1534 Bandera Rd, phone 210/434-6266.

Floore’s Country Store, 14464 Bandera Rd., Helote, phone 210/695-8827; www.liveatfloors.com/. Cover charges range from $5 to $35.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

Photos: Don't mess with Texas

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  1. Howdy

    Big Tex greets over 3 million visitors to the State Fair of Texas each year. The State Fair is held annually at Fair Park, located near downtown Dallas. (Courtesy of Fair Park) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. We'll meet by the riverside

    A project is under way to turn the banks of the Trinity River -- here reflecting the Dallas skyline -- into the nation's largest urban park. (Dallas CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mad hatters

    An athlete competes in a bull-riding event at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, which runs April through October in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite. (Dallas CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. November 22, 1963

    The view of Dealy Plaza from the Sixth Floor Museum in the former Texas School Book Depository. The site, from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy, is dedicated to Kennedy's life and legacy. (Courtesy of the Sixth Floor Museum) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Child of blues and industry

    A center for blues and jazz early in the century, Deep Ellum had become a warehouse district by the 60s and 70s. But the artists returned, and an the area is once again a hotspot for arts and entertainment. (Courtesy of the Deep Ellum Assoc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Cattle call

    Cowboys move a herd of Texas longhorns along the Trinity River Bottoms. Once a major stop along the Preston Cattle Trail, the Dallas area still has a number of working ranches. (Dallas CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Downtown skyline

    An aerial view of downtown Houston. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Ballunar Festival

    The RE/MAX Ballunar Liftoff Festival is an annual ballooning event near Johnson Space Center involving a weekend of hot air ballooning, arts and crafts, live entertainment, sky-diving exhibitions and food. Aug. 25-27, 2006. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Diana Garden

    Framed by the native bayou woodlands, the Diana Garden at Bayou Bend provides a magnificent vista from the north terrace of the house. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Hermann Park

    Hermann Park, presented to the City of Houston by George Hermann in 1914, is Houston's most historically significant public green space. The park rests on 401 acres in the heart of the Museum District. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Space Center

    As the official visitors center for Johnson Space Center, this theme park for space fans features actual spacecraft, flight simulators and a guided tram tour of NASA and Mission Control. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Augusta Pines

    Located north of Houston in Spring, Augusta Pines Golf Club hosted the PGA Champions Tour (formerly the Seniors Tour) in 2004 and 2005. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Houston Zoo - Natural Encounters Exhibit

    The Zoo's Natural Encounters exhibit features meerkats, otters, vampire bats and other small mammals. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Museum of Fine Arts

    Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the largest art museum in the Southwest. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers more than 51,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Galveston Beach

    Just 50 miles south of Houston, Galveston is Texas' most beautiful, entertaining & historic island. Visitors to this splendid tropical paradise are treated to 32 miles of sun-drenched beaches, direct access to four major cruise lines, miles of historic Victorian architecture, countless exciting attractions, 20 square blocks of shopping on Galveston's Historic Downtown Strand and much more.. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Kemah Boardwalk

    Kemah, on Galveston Bay, is a spectacular waterfront destination with themed restaurants, the Boardwalk Inn hotel, amusement rides, dancing fountains, mid-way games and retail shops. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Minute Maid Park

    A jewel in the crown of the majestic downtown Houston skyline, Minute Maid Park has become a welcome home for the Houston Astros and has ushered in a new era of Major League sports in the city. (Greater Houston CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Illuminated Alamo

    San Antonio and the Alamo played a critical role in the Texas Revolution - it is a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The River Walk

    The World Famous San Antonio River Walk offers a variety of attractions and activities including riverboat rides, live music, hotels, museums, art galleries, shopping. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Day of the Dead

    An ancient festivity that has been much transformed through the years, the Day of the Dead was intended in prehispanic Mexico to celebrate children and the dead. The holiday today is a time when Mexican families remember their dead and the continuity of life. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Mission San Jose

    Mission San Jose was founded in 1720 by the famed Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, a prominent Franciscan missionary in early Texas. It was built on the banks of the San Antonio river several miles to the south of the earlier mission, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). Mission San Jose is an active parish. Visitors are welcome to attend mass on Sundays. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Witte Museum

    The Witte Museum is San Antonio 's premiere museum featuring scientific and historical exhibits for the whole family. The H-E-B Science Treehouse offers four levels of fun and experimentation with Energy, Air Power, Simple Machines, Eco-Science, Weather, and Sound Waves. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. McNay Art Museum

    Housed in what was the home of the late Marion Koogler McNay, the McNay Art Museum was the first modern art museum in Texas. Founded in 1950, the McNay focuses primarily on 19th- and 20th- century European and American art, and opened to the public four years later. It's collection of prints and drawings is one of the finest in the Southwest. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Little Flower Shrine

    This Roman Catholic Church, is dedicated to Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux of the Child Jesus, and bears her nickname, 'The Little Flower' of Jesus. It is distinguished as one of only a handful of church buildings in North America (and one of only three in the state of Texas) bearing the papal designation of 'basilica' - a treasury of art, master craftsmanship and relics. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Torch of Friendship

    Urban monumental sculptor Sebastian was commissioned by the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs of San Antonio to create this 50-ton red steel structure. Created in Mexico, it was shipped to San Antonio in six pieces and was presented to the City of San Antonio as a gift from the Association. (San Antonio CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
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