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Special interest sightseeing in San Antonio

Special interest sightseeing in San Antonio: Frommer's picks the best spots for a bit of history, heritage and culture.
/ Source: Frommers.com

For Military History Buffs

San Antonio's military installations are crucial to the city's economy, and testaments to their past abound. Those who aren't satisfied with touring Fort Sam Houston can also visit the Hangar 9/Edward H. White Museum at Brooks Air Force Base, Southeast Military Drive at the junction of I-37 (tel. 210/536-2203; www.brooks.af.mil). The history of flight medicine, among other things, is detailed via exhibits in the oldest aircraft hangar in the Air Force. Admission is free, and it's open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., except the last 2 weeks of December. Lackland Air Force Base (12 miles southwest of downtown off U.S. 90 at Southwest Military Dr. exit; www.lackland.af.mil) is home to the Air Force History and Traditions Museum, 2051 George Ave., Bldg. 5206 (tel. 210/671-3055), which hosts a collection of rare aircraft and components dating back to World War II. Admission is free; it's open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

At the Security Police Museum, about 3 blocks away at Bldg. 10501 (on Femoyer St., corner of Carswell Ave., tel. 210/671-2615), weapons, uniforms, and combat gear dating up to Desert Storm days are among the security police artifacts on display. Admission is free; it's open Mon to Fri 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Inquire at either museum about the 41 static aircraft on view throughout the base. With current security measures in place, the bases are sometimes restricted to retired military, their families, and those sponsored by someone who works at the base. But it's worth phoning the museums or the Public Affairs Office at Brooks (tel.210/536-3234) or the visitor center at Lackland (tel.210/671-6174) to inquire about visitation status. In any case, phone ahead to find out if anyone is permitted on the base on the day you're planning to visit. As may be expected, the museums are closed all national holidays.

For Those Interested in Hispanic Heritage
A Hispanic heritage tour is almost redundant in San Antonio, which is a living testament to the role Hispanics have played in shaping the city. Casa Navarro State Historic Site, La Villita, Market Square, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and the Spanish Governor's Palace, all detailed earlier in this chapter, give visitors a feel for the city's Spanish colonial past, while the Nelson A. Rockefeller wing of the San Antonio Museum of Art, also discussed earlier, hosts this country's largest collection of Latin American art. The sixth floor of the main branch of the San Antonio Public Library hosts an excellent noncirculating Latino collection, featuring books about the Mexican-American experience in Texas and the rest of the Southwest. It's also the place to come to do genealogical research into your family's Hispanic roots.

The city's exploration of its own Hispanic roots is ongoing. The Centro Alameda cultural zone on downtown's west side includes the Museo Americano Smithsonian at the entryway to Market Square. In addition, at 310 W. Houston St., you can see the spectacular 86-foot-high sign (lit by rare cold cathode technology, not neon) of the Alameda Theater, opened in 1949 as one of the last of the grand movie palaces, and the largest ever dedicated to Spanish-language entertainment. Among its many impressive features were private nursemaids for the patrons' children and gorgeous "Deco tropical" tile work hand-created in San Antonio. Described as being "to U.S. Latinos what Harlem's Apollo Theater is to African Americans," the Alameda is scheduled to reopen as a multivenue performance hall -- affiliated with the prestigious Kennedy Center -- and teaching facility for Latino arts and culture by the end of this decade, when its multimillion restoration will be complete. Clearly Latino culture is coming into its own in the U.S. The Alameda National Center of Latino Arts and Culture, as the project is officially known, is the only arts complex to be linked with both the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center. For additional information and progress reports, log on to www.thealameda.org or call tel. 210/299-4300.

Cultural events and blowout festivals, many of them held at Market Square, abound. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center organizes many of them. In HemisFair Park, the Instituto Cultural Mexicano/Casa Mexicana, 600 HemisFair Plaza Way (tel. 210/227-0123), sponsored by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hosts Latin American film series, concerts, conferences, performances, contests, and workshops -- including ones on language, literature, and folklore as well as art. The institute also hosts shifting displays of art and artifacts relating to Mexican history and culture, from pre-Columbian to contemporary (Tues-Fri 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sat-Sun noon-5; free admission).

For information on the various festivals and events, contact the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (tel. 210/225-0462; www.sahcc.org). Another roundup resource for Latin cultura is the "Guide to Puro San Antonio," available from the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 800/447-3372).

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For more on what to see and do in San Antonio, visit our complete guide online at http://www.frommers.com/destinations/sanantonio/.