25 Reasons We Love San Antonio
Everything is bigger in Texas: In Alamo City, that means the world's largest cowboy boots and 'ritas by the liter.
1. Recycling with a twist
The bartenders at La Tuna Ice House toss bottle caps into a metal box located behind the counter and then dump the contents into the outdoor seating area every night. Some caps are rusted orange--La Tuna celebrates its 15th anniversary next year--while others still flash their logos. Drinks are ordered inside a corrugated-aluminum shack (pictured) and then taken out to picnic tables beneath shady pecan trees. A fire pit made from a warped manhole cover keeps customers warm on chilly winter nights. 100 Probandt St., 210/224-8862, beer $1.50.
2. Rosy parades
In San Antonio, July Fourth and Texas Independence Day on March 2 have nothing on Fiesta, an annual 10-day festival in April. More than 350,000 people attend the Battle of Flowers Parade, which started in 1891 with women tossing blooms at each other in honor of General Sam Houston's victory over the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. April 20-29, 2007; 877/723-4378, fiesta-sa.org, parade tickets $8.
3. Tacos for breakfast
Many locals jump-start their day with a strong cup of coffee and two soft flour tacos--often with salty chorizo and fried potatoes in one, and mashed pinto beans with melted cheddar in the other. You can't drive a block without passing a taqueria, but aficionados head straight to Taco Haven, where a THIS IS TACO COUNTRY sign is painted near the door. 1032 S. Presa St., 210/533-2171, from 99¢.
4. On the shopping block
La Villita is a charming two-block stretch of adobe and wood buildings that made up the city's first neighborhood, settled by Spanish soldiers and Native Americans at the end of the 18th century. On weekends, couples dance in the public squares, then explore shops like Mustang Grey's, which is stocked with cowboy hats and belt buckles. 303 S. Alamo St., 210/222-1894, buckles from $12.
5. Boots made for gawking
The world's largest pair of cowboy boots stand in the parking lot of the North Star Mall, not far from the airport. Made of concrete, they're 40 feet tall, 20 feet long, and 35 feet wide--and even though they've been there for nearly 30 years, no one seems to know exactly why. 7400 San Pedro Ave., 210/342-2325, northstarmall.com.
6. Films alfresco
One of the city's best-kept secrets is the Mission Drive-In Theatre, where teenagers sprawl on the hoods of their cars to watch the double feature. Bats occasionally flit across the screen, and once an hour, the actors' lines have to compete with the bells tolling at the nearby Mission San José. 3100 Roosevelt Ave., 210/496-2221, santikos.com, $7.
7. Heady drinks
Schilo's Delicatessen opened in 1917 selling schnitzels, split pea soup, and the only kind of beer that was legal during Prohibition. Although the famous root beer isn't made on-site anymore, it's still served in a frosted mug with a two-inch head (the secret is egg whites). Best of all, every order comes with a free refill. 424 E. Commerce St., 210/223-6692, root beer $1.35.
8. Hotel with history
The Riverwalk Vista Inn is housed in the top two floors of a converted 1883 warehouse. Chock-full of original architectural details--including pine floors, brick walls, and high ceilings--each guest room is named for the landmarks visible from the 4-by-10-foot windows. 262 Losoya St., 866/898-4782, riverwalkvista.com, from $110.
9. Remember the Cottonwood!
Inside the Alamo's cool, dimly lit stone church--the site of hand-to-hand combat during a 13-day siege in the spring of 1836--glass cases hold personal effects of the men who died there, including Davy Crockett's buckskin vest. Docents give trivia-filled lectures twice an hour. Few visitors realize, for example, that Spanish soldiers stationed at the Mission San Antonio de Valero in the early 1800s nicknamed it Alamo, or cottonwood, for the trees that grew in abundance nearby. 300 Alamo Plaza, 210/225-1391, thealamo.org, free.
10. Meet and greet (and eat)
Linda Pace, of the Pace salsa family, opened Artpace in a former Hudson automobile showroom in 1995. Every year, the gallery accepts nine artists into a two-month residency program. Each session begins with a potluck dinner, open to all, to introduce the newcomers to the public, and ends with exhibitions of work the artists completed during their stay. 445 N. Main Ave., 210/212-4900, artpace.org.