Visiting San Antonio: The Alamo and More!

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We spent our Spring Break exploring San Antonio. In my last post, I talked about the many attractions in the area around the Alamo. Our second day in San Antonio was all about the Alamo and other historical sites! My kids are really interested in history and I think presenting it interactively is always more fun than just reading it in a book (and I am a bookworm, so that is saying a lot!)

One of the fourth grade teachers at the kidlings’ elementary school recommended that we watch the IMAX film “Alamo – The Price of Freedom” before we walked the actual site, particularly since the city now surrounds what remains of the Alamo;  she thought it would be easier to understand the importance if we knew the history, the back story, if you will, and could imagine what it was like in the 1800’s as we walked around.

It was an excellent suggestion, and we all enjoyed the 45 minute film immensely! The battle scenes were a bit intense and my 9-year-old had a tight grip on my hand, but afterwards she said it wasn’t too scary for her, and the docu-drama was an excellent brush up on those 13 days leading into the final battle at the Alamo.

San Antonio Imax Theater Rivercenter, 849 East Commerce. Shows run every 1:15 in the morning and hourly in the afternoon.

Having the story fresh in our heads, we crossed the street where a quick-moving line had formed and wound its way to the entrance of the mission building.

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If you have some extra change in your pocket (and FYI, entry to the Alamo itself is free!), pick up a guided tour handset. My kids are HUGE fans of these, and I have found that the handset can engage them in a way that just wandering the exhibits does not. Case in point: my 10-year-old had a bad case of HANGRY going on as we waited in line. He didn’t want to be there, he didn’t want to stand in line and he sure didn’t want that stupid handset. We told him we appreciated how he felt but we were still going to walk around, and then pressed the next button on the handset. (The first six numbers on the handset were to be listened to before you entered the main building.)  Pretty soon he caved and started listening…and soon he too was hooked on the story of the history around him.

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This girl loves a good self-guided tour!

That said, there is much information to be gleaned from all the displays, so make sure to take time to read them.

The long building displays were the most interesting and presented a LOT of info using different media.  I think my favorite display was that which contained personal artifacts that had made their way back to the Alamo, including the ring and the book of poetry that belonged to William B. Travis. (If you watch the movie, you will understand the significance of the ring. The audio tour adds more commentary to the history of it as well.)

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The architecture of the long buildings was so pretty.

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Taking a break from the displays to investigate a cannon.

 Tip: Rent a guided tour handset whenever you see one available – and inquire if they have a “family” or “children’s” option, which will present the information to your younger ones in a more age-appropriate manner. It will engage your child more deeply – and slow down the child who usually races from exhibit to exhibit!

When we finished our tour of the Alamo (complete with a begrudging admission from my son that he really enjoyed the morning) we grabbed a quick sandwich and then hopped aboard a City Sightseeing Tours open top double-decker bus with the intention of riding for a while and hopping off at the Market Square.

The bus left from Alamo Plaza and took us to the Museum of Art and then the Pearl Brewery (which we will need to go back and explore), past the San Antonio VFW – the oldest post in Texas and one that is open to the public. I think my Dad would have enjoyed a quick visit there!

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We rode past the lovely Empire Theater as well as the Majestic, and then around to the San Fernando Cathedral and Spanish Governor’s Palace.

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The bus provided a recorded tour of the places we were passing, with classic George Straight piped in between locations and giving passengers plenty of time to hop on or off at designated stops.

We didn’t make it around the full circuit on this go, although we also would have had stops in the King William Historic District  and the Tower of the Americas.  (We have SO much left to explore, now that I think about it!)

Instead of riding on to Market Square, we hopped off at the Spanish Governor’s Palace. I think growing up around Colonial Williamsburg influenced my husband’s interest in colonial buildings. It is a National Historic Landmark that once housed officials of the Spanish Province. Some of the rooms were rebuilt or added on to but all were furnished according to the period. My son found it funny that many of the doorways were quite low, and the walls thick (it was quite cool in the building, so I imagine it must feel quite lovely in the Texas summer heat.)

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You never see people smiling in historic pictures, correct?

We took a break in the quite courtyard as the kids chased each other around the garden paths.   Spanish Governor’s Palace, 105 Military Plaza

With my husband’s curiosity sated, we walked over to San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in Texas. It’s also the location of the tomb which holds the remains of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William B Travis. It is a lovely old cathedral and was built by settlers from the  Canary Islands – in the sacristy, across from a statue of the Virgin of Guadeloupe is the Virgin of Candelabra, the patron saint of the Canary Islands.  (I have no pictures because I don’t like taking them when others are in prayer, but she really was a vision.)

If you can get there at night, “San Antonio – the Saga” is a 24 minute light show that is projected onto the face of the Cathedral on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 9, 9:30 and 10 pm.

San Fernando Cathedral, 115 Main Plaza

From there we walked to Market Square, considered the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico. We wandered through the shops as Miss M had decided she wanted a pretty fan as a souvenir. We also found a stand selling personalized bracelets, and given the untraditional spelling of Miss M’s name, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get something with her name on it! Boo found one in his favorite colors and quickly let the vendor tie it on his wrist as well.

Market Square, 514 West Commerce Street

Hungry, we popped into Mi Tierra, which proved to be a delight to even my non-Tex-Mex loving girl. (Seriously? We are in heart of Texas and she said “more Tex-Mex”? She can’t be my child.)

Between the cheery decorations, the roving musicians, the fantastic giant margaritas (we weren’t driving, after all) and a delicious meal, we were happy! (And so hungry that, looking through my photos, I realized I hadn’t taken a one! The restaurant itself is a delight to look at, and also known for their bakery which had some pretty amazing treats.

photo from sanantoniomararitas.com

Mi Tierra, Market Square www.mitierracafe.com

Dinner finished, they kindly rang us a taxi and by the time we ventured outside it was waiting to take us back to the hotel – where despite all the walking (my FitBit chalked up a tidy 15,000 steps that day) we decided that with the early dinner, we still had some energy left.

Still, we were pretty full from that lovely dinner, so we opted to take a ride on a Rio San Antonio cruise – the kids had been asking since we arrived on Sunday evening and they spotted them as we dined on the River Walk. We boarded at the Rivercenter Mall lagoon and our boat captain provided us with a funny and interesting narrative of the sights along the River Walk, along with the history of the San Antonio river.

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My daughter thought the gargoyles on one of the buildings were quite creepy.

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However, the views were as lovely from the boat as they were from walking the River Walk.

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We learned the history of the river (and it’s flooding), stories about some of the buildings we saw, and spied a lot of fun looking restaurants and other places to explore. It was a relaxing ride and a lot of fun.

San Antonio River Cruises: Clearwater Station at River Walk Mall Lagoon,  Historia Ticket Station (across from the Hilton Palacio del Rio at River Walk Level) and Aztec Theater Station (at Crocket & St. Mary’s, River Walk level.) www.riosanantonio.com

Here’s an interesting tidbit –  in all the tours we listened to, there was really very little overlap of information, historical or otherwise – proving that there is much to be learned about the city, and much left to explore!

(And we would. Because the next day we would take a break from history: we were going to Sea World!)

More information on San Antonio restaurants and attractions can be found on Visit San Antonio – the website for the San Antonio Convention and Visitors  Bureau. They have links to good deals and a planning guide as well.

Disclosure: Visit San Antonio kindly provide my family with a VIP pass to explore some of these attractions, but all thoughts and comments are my own.

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