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The spirit of Texas

The spirit of Texas:  Experience Wild West charm in Texas' most popular city - San Antonio.
Facade of The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.
Facade of The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.Getty Images file
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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 , 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 . 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 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 , 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 , 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 . 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 , 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 , which books top Mexican bands for raucous nights of music and dancing. If country’s more your style, head instead to 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; Open daily 7 a.m. - 2 p.m.

The Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, phone 210/225-1391; 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; 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; 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 are free to visit and open daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Go to 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;

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

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

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