Big-City Excitement and Small-Town Charm in San Antonio,Texas

Fall provides a good excuse to visit the historic city

Colorful holiday festivals get underway this month in the

Hotel Emma features rooms with terraces that overlook the river. Photograph by Jason Risner.

central Texas city, home to about 1.4 million. Celebrations include the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, the nation’s largest mariachi competition and the longest-running mariachi festival in Texas. Known as Military City, San Antonio has had a military presence for nearly 300 years, and more than 135,000 service people train every year at one of several major military installations here. The historical missions and buildings and the modern River Walk provide a mix of big-city excitement and small-town charm.

Enjoy a boat ride along the River Walk and people-watch as your guide narrates the history of the city ($10). Thousands of lights will be on display at the Ford holiday River Parade on Nov. 24. Transport yourself to 1836 and the Texas Revolution with a self-guided tour through The Alamo, the 300-year-old former Spanish mission. A battlefield tour ($15) and audio tour ($7) are also available. For a panoramic view of the city, visit the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas ($12) at Hemisfair Park.

Make time for a stop at Augie’s Alamo City BBQ Steakhouse. The heaving barbecue plates range from $10 to $13 and include two sides to accompany your choice of brisket, pulled pork, sausage, chicken, or ribs. Leave room for dessert and the slice of heaven that is Eli’s Pecan Pie ($4). Bella on the River is an exquisite taste of the Mediterranean with offerings such as Seafood Paella featuring shrimp, clams, mussels, saffron rice with chicken, Spanish chorizo, and roasted vegetables ($32). This riverfront, Southern European bistro also offers gluten-free and vegetarian options. End your blissful evening with the white chocolate bread pudding ($8) as you listen to the water dance its way through the city.

The River Walk will be illuminated with holiday lights this month.

Established in 1859 and adjacent to The Alamo, the Menger Hotel is the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi. It will transport you back in time with its Victorian architecture and 19th century aura ($145 and up). The St. Anthony Hotel ($200 and up) opened in 1909 and was the city’s first luxury hotel. Drinks served in the hotel’s lounge, Haunt, are named after the ghosts said to inhabit the historic establishment. The lobby wows with Italian marble, crystal chandeliers, and antiques, while rooms are furnished with modern decor. For a luxury stay in a former brewery and San Antonio landmark, head to Hotel Emma ($325 and up). Options include rooms with terraces overlooking the river or the one‑of‑a‑kind Garret room with views of Pearl, a dining and cultural village.

Fun Fact: Mark Twain once said, “There are only four unique cities in the United States. New Orleans, San Antonio, Boston, and San Francisco.”

Nearby: †About 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, you will find Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”), a small town filled with antique markets, art galleries, coffee shops, bakeries, beer gardens, and wine bars.

Getting There: Several airlines fly from John Wayne Airport to San Antonio with one stop. For a nonstop flight, you’ll have to depart from LAX.

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