With neither the modern skyline of an oil metropolis, nor the tumbleweed-strewn landscape of the Wild West, attractive and festive SAN ANTONIO looks nothing like the stereotypical image of Texas – despite being pivotal in the state’s history. Standing at a geographical crossroads, it encapsulates the complex social and ethnic mixes of all of Texas. Although the Germans, among others, have made a strong cultural contribution, today’s San Antonio is predominantly Hispanic. Now the seventh largest city in the US, it retains an unhurried, organic feel and is one of the nicest places in Texas to spend a few days.
Founded in 1691 by Spanish missionaries, San Antonio became a military garrison in 1718, and was settled by the Anglos in the 1720s and 1730s under Austin’s colonization programme. It is most famous for the legendary Battle of the Alamo, in 1836, when General Santa Anna wiped out a band of ragtag Texas volunteers seeking independence from Mexico. After the Civil War, it became a hard-drinking, hard-fighting “sin city”, at the heart of the Texas cattle and oil empires. Drastic floods in the 1920s wiped out much of the downtown area, but the sensitive WPA programme that revitalized two of the city’s prettiest sites, La Villita and the River Walk, laid the foundations for its future as a major tourist destination. Recently several massive hotels (think Vegas) have been constructed to accommodate the booming tourism and convention industries. The military has a major presence in San Antonio, too, with four bases in the metropolitan area.