A Beginner’s Guide to San Antonio: City of the Alamo

By: Janis Turk

January 13, 2014

San Antonio sizzles with ingredients borrowed from the colourful cultures of Mexico and Spain and is seasoned by the influence of German settlers in the 1800s””making the City of the Alamo a diverse community with a hotter-than-jalapeo flavour. Everything is bigger in Texas, and San Antonio is no exception. As the 7th largest city in the U.S., today it’s a sprawling metropolis with highways laid upon the routes of old Texas cattle trails. Here in warm, sunny South Texas, cold margaritas, Lone Star longnecks and iced tea are the drinks of choice, and enchiladas, tacos, menudo and more are on menus all over town, making this one of America’s spiciest cities.


Shopping | A Beginner's Guide to San Antonio

Shopping in San Antonio © Janis Turk

You don’t have to speak Spanish, but you do have to know some local lingo to make the most of your visit. For instance, ever heard of an icehouse? Miss that titbit and you’ll forfeit a pit stop at some of the city’s finest beer-and-taco-type watering holes. Know what The Alamo Quarry is? No, it’s not a gravel pit: It’s a modern centre for shopping, dining, entertainment and golf built on the site of an old quarry. Heard of Shrimp Paesano? If there were an official San Antonio dish, it wouldn’t be a taco; it’d be this rich buttery shrimp creation at Paesanos Restaurant at Lincoln Heights. Want to know where to find the best German fare? Polka on over to Schilo’s Delicatessen, but you’ll want to pronounce it right: Shee-Lo’s. It’s been a San Antonio institution since 1917.


Schilo's Delicatessen | A Beginner's Guide to San Antonio

Schilo’s Delicatessen is a San Antonian institution © Janis Turk

In many ways, San Antonio still feels like a small town, and here the Spanish expression “mi casa es su casa “ applies. You’re going to feel right at home the moment you sip your first margarita.


Paseo del Rio | A Beginner's Guide to San Antonio

Don’t forget to visit the famous Paseo del Rio © Janis Turk

Of course, you can’t go to San Antonio without visiting its famous River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, a popular Spanish-style promenade along the San Antonio River and a great place to find great restaurants and hot clubs. There, enjoy the lively Irish pub, Durty Nelly’s, or try a margarita at Casa Rio.Then enjoy a leisurely boat ride with Rio San Antonio Cruises.


Tower of the Americas | A Beginner's Guide to San Antonio

Tower of the Americas on the San Antonian skyline © Janis Turk

Not far from The River Walkis an all-night restaurant featuring strolling mariachi bands, Mi Tierra Café and Bakery at El Mercado in Market Square. And while downtown, take the glass elevator to the top of the Tower of the Americas at HemisFair Park, a 750-foot tower built for the 1968 World’s Fair.


The Alamo | A Beginner's Guide to San Antonio

The historic shrine of the Alamo © Janis Turk

No trip to San Antonio would be complete without a visit to The Alamo. Built in the early 1700s as a Spanish mission, it’s now a shrine to the heroes of those who died there in a historic 1836 battle for Texas independence from Mexico.


So go ahead””remember the Alamo, and never forget your first time in San Antonio.


Header photo: Reconstruction of the 1836 battle for Texas independence from Mexico © Janis Turk


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Have you visited the Alamo City? Share your favourite San Antonio spots with us in the comments below.

Written by Janis Turk


Janis Turk

Janis Turk is an award-winning travel writer and photographer and the author of the popular travel guide book, Frommer’s San Antonio & Austin Day by Day. Turk’s travel writing and photography have appeared in magazines such as Hemispheres (United Airlines), Spirit (Southwest Airlines), Pontiac Performance, Chile Pepper, New York City Resident, AAA Texas Journey, and more, as well as popular newspapers such as The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle and others. She also scribes online pieces for popular travel sites such as Frommer’s and GoNOMAD. Turk divides her time between New Orleans, Louisiana, and her home in Seguin, Texas.

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