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.
11. Flour power
Carl Hilmar Guenther moved his Pioneer Flour Mills from Fredericksburg, Texas, to San Antonio in 1859, lured by the reliable waterpower provided by the river. Today it's the oldest family-owned and operated mill in the country. The Guenthers' former home--on the same property--has been turned into a restaurant. Naturally, all the buttermilk pancakes and gravy-covered biscuits are made with Pioneer flour. 205 E. Guenther St., 210/227-1061, guentherhouse.com, biscuits $4.
12. Teddy bar
When Spain declared war on the U.S. in April 1898, Theodore Roosevelt quit his job as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and cofounded the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry regiment, a.k.a. the Rough Riders. Roosevelt, who hardly drank, hung out at the Menger Hotel bar, where he attempted to recruit cowboys and Texas Rangers to join his charge up the San Juan Heights in Cuba. The Menger seems little changed today, save for a display case of Rough Rider uniforms by the front door and a portrait of Teddy that hangs over the bar. 204 Alamo Plaza, 210/223-4361, cocktails $5.
13. Craft class
The Southwest School of Art & Craft began offering classes in 1971 at what was once San Antonio's first school for girls. An old dormitory became retail space for handicrafts from across the country, including wall hangings made from old traffic signs and riveted silver jewelry, and the dorm cafeteria is now a café. When asked why the building's clock tower was built without a face on its north side, docent Joan Kay laughs. "Some say that since there was nobody living in that direction but the damn Yankees, why would we give them the time of day?" 300 Augusta St., 210/224-1848, swschool.org.
14. Getting piggy with it
Headquartered in San Antonio, the Pig Stand chain of diners boasts both the world's first drive-in restaurant (1921) and drive-through window (1928). Neither of San Antonio's two Pig Stands employs carhops anymore, but that doesn't stop classic car owners from congregating at the Broadway Street location on Friday nights. They talk horsepower over Pig Stand's signature sandwich--slices of barbecued pork, crunchy pickle relish, and a sweet tomato "secret sauce" on a soft bun. 1508 Broadway St., 210/222-2794, sandwich $5.
15. Complex art
The Blue Star Arts Complex combines 25 studios and galleries, a theater company, and a community youth arts organization in 137,000 square feet of former railroad warehouses. On the first Friday of every month, businesses in the complex and along South Alamo Street host an Art Walk late into the night. 1414 S. Alamo St., bluestarcomplex.com.
16. The river mild
San Antonio's biggest draw these days isn't the Alamo, but rather River Walk. Stone steps lead from street level down to the footpaths, gardens, and restaurant patios that line the banks of the San Antonio River, where tour barges float lazily along a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of water. Now imitated all over the world, River Walk almost didn't exist. The city tried twice to pave over the river in order to control flooding, but community organizations fought back. In 1939, the Works Projects Administration stepped in and built River Walk according to the designs of local architect Robert H. H. Hugman, who had fond memories of fishing the river as a child. Rio San Antonio Cruises, 800/417-4139, riosanantonio.com, $6.50.
17. Mi Tierra es su tierra
The Cortez family opened Mi Tierra Café y Panadería in 1941 based on the principle that more is better when it comes to decorating (think piñatas, Christmas lights, and metallic streamers) and portion size (margaritas are sold by the liter, and the pork tacos del mercado are nestled alongside mountains of beans and rice). Reservations are recommended on weekends, though there are certainly worse places to bide one's time than at the ornately carved oak bar. 218 Produce Row, 210/225-1262, tacos del mercado $9.
18. Mission statement
The Alamo is just one of five missions built by Spanish Franciscan monks in San Antonio; the other four extend south along the eight-mile Mission Trail. A visitors center adjacent to Mission San José includes a film detailing the monks' brutal treatment of the Native Americans they converted and then virtually enslaved. Descendants of the Native Americans still live in the area. 6701 San José Dr., nps.gov/saan, free.