FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

San Antonio: A River Runs Through It

Mar 1, 2006
2006 / March 2006

Though home to the legendary Alamo, San Antonio itself is only just beginning to make a name for itself as a major player in the business world. Sprawling across south-central Texas, San Antonio is home to 1.6 million people. A melting pot of ethnic cultures — almost 60 percent of the population is Latino — it is the eighth largest city in the nation and one of the fastest-growing. Rich in history, the city has preserved the buildings and the flavors of its past while attracting 21st century businesses. Recently, Inc. magazine ranked San Antonio fourth on its “Top U.S. Cities for Doing Business” list.

The job market here is sizzling. This year Toyota will open an $800 million Tundra truck assembly plant, creating an estimated 2,000 jobs. Last summer, Washington Mutual selected San Antonio as the home of its new regional operations center, and plans to add as many as 4,200 jobs in Texas over the next seven years. “San Antonio offers a business-friendly environment, a strong work force, great quality of life, affordable housing for our employees, a central location, and a viable real estate solution to accommodate our growth,” said Benson Porter, Washington Mutual’s chief administrative officer.

San Antonio boasts not only a strong economy, but a diverse one. The financial services industry generates more than $20 billion a year here. Bioscience and health care employ nearly 15 percent of the total work force, with an economic impact of $14 billion. And tourism is a huge business in San Antonio. The city markets itself as a destination and employs more than 86,000 people in the hospitality industry, which pumps more than $7 billion a year into the local economy.

Five of the top tourist attractions in the Lone Star State are located in San Antonio: the Alamo, the River Walk, Fiesta Texas, SeaWorld and the San Antonio Zoo. Some 21.3 million people visited the Alamo City in 2004, according to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau. San Antonio is ranked as one of the top 10 cities for overnight leisure travel in the United States. Of its 9.1 million overnight leisure visitors, 76 percent come from Texas.

In this, one of the most historic cities in the country, the first place to stop is the Alamo. The attraction that draws the biggest number of visitors is often smaller than people expect. What remains of the mission’s original compound are the church and the lower floor of the long barracks, along with an overwhelming sense of history. In 1836, a small band of 189 Texas patriots made the Alamo mission their last stand in a fight to the death against the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. For 13 days, the fierce battle raged. Although the Alamo fell, word of the defenders’ tenacity spread, steeling the resolve of soldiers throughout Texas. Their battle cry, “Remember the Alamo,” may be the most famous in American history.

For Texans, the Alamo is a sacred shrine. Men are asked to remove their hats upon entering, and photography is not permitted inside. Today, the Alamo is known as the “Cradle of Texas Liberty.” Each year, some 2.5 million people come here to pay their respects to a symbol of freedom and independence throughout the world.


LODGING

THE ST. ANTHONY

For almost a century the St. Anthony, branded as a Wyndham historic hotel, has pampered guests in a luxurious setting. The restored 1909 property is a National Historic Landmark filled with French Empire antiques, exquisite bronzes and other works of art from around the world. Through the years, the St. Anthony has played host to presidents and many of celebrities from Hollywood’s golden era. The hotel overlooks Travis Park, in the heart of downtown. Amenities include a rooftop pool, fitness center, restaurant, shuttle service and business center. $$$-$$$$
THE ST. ANTHONY
300 E. Travis St.
tel 210 227 4392, fax 210 222 1896
www.wyndhamstanthony.com

LA MANSIÓN DEL RIO

A former Catholic boys’ school, La Mansión del Rio adapted the mid-19th century building in which it was housed to accommodate a Spanish colonial-style hotel complex. The lobby is furnished with antiques from Mexico and Spain. Las Canarias offers a romantic setting for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and guests dine indoors or alfresco on “Texas-Provence” menu items. Many of the guestrooms have a private balcony overlooking the River Walk. All of the 337 guestrooms feature coffee service and high-speed Internet access. $$$$
LA MANSIÓN DEL RIO
112 College St.
tel 210 518 1000, fax 210 226 0389
www.lamansion.com

HYATT REGENCY SAN ANTONIO

Business and leisure guests alike love this hotel’s proximity to the River Walk and its easy access to downtown. A recently completed $16 million renovation enhances its appeal. The property’s New Orleans–style bar features Dixieland jazz. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, shopping arcade, club-level rooms and Wi-Fi access in the lobby. $$$$
HYATT REGENCY SAN ANTONIO
123 Losoya St.
tel 210 222 1234, fax 210 227 4925
www.sanantonioregency.hyatt.com


DINING

LITTLE RHEIN STEAK HOUSE

Located in the heart of the La Villita area, Little Rhein Steak House is housed in a building that dates back to 1847 and is believed to be the first two-story structure in San Antonio. It was previously an early Texan home, a boarding house, a German saloon, a hangout for desperados and an historical museum. Texan pecan pie and an extensive wine list make this four-dining-room venue a local favorite. $$$$
LITTLE RHEIN STEAK HOUSE
231 S. Alamo St.
tel 210 225 2111s
www.littlerheinsteakhouse.com

MI TIERRA CAFÉ Y PANADERIA

Don’t let the long lines intimidate you: The food here is worth the wait. The 500-seat Mi Tierra is always packed with hometown regulars and tourists. The restaurant’s twinkling Christmas lights are on display year round. Strolling musicians entertain patrons. The family-owned boisterous Tex-Mex restaurant is open 24 hours a day and features a traditional Mexican bakery. After consuming a Mi Tierra platter of fajitas, you won’t have room for any of the sweets on display in the glass case, so order a marranito — a spicy, pig-shaped, soft gingerbread cookie — to go. $
MI TIERRA CAFE Y PANADERÍA
218 Produce Row
tel 210 225 1262, fax 210 222 8566

BIGA ON THE BANKS

Celebrating its fourth year in San Antonio, Biga on the Banks’ airy interior is as much a draw as its expansive river views. Chef Bruce Auden’s menu features a tantalizing blend of contemporary offerings including smoked salmon nachos with chipotle-creamed goat cheese, escabeche vegetables and crème fraîche; Hunan-style BBQ-rubbed natural veal chop with tangy cilantro noodles, bok choi and black bean sauce; and bone-on beef tenderloin with onion rings, potato slices and habanero ketchup. $$$-$$$$
BIGA ON THE BANKS
203 S. St. Mary’s St.
tel 210 225 0722
www.biga.com


DIVERSIONS

The Alamo is located in the heart of downtown, and a tour of the area will uncover centuries of history. Along the banks of the San Antonio River is one of the city’s first neighborhoods, La Villita, “the little village,” which was developed in the mid- to late 18th century. Now a National Historic District, the remaining buildings are a haven for crafters and artists selling jewelry, blown glass, paintings and pottery.

Near City Hall is the Spanish Governor’s Palace, the seat of government when San Antonio was the capital of the Spanish Province of Texas. Nearby is San Fernando Cathedral, which was founded by 15 families from the Canary Islands in 1731. The Texas hero James Bowie married his wife in the sanctuary; later, Santa Anna used it as a lookout.

The first zoned historic district in Texas is the King William, so designated in 1967. The 25-square-block area is south of downtown. During the latter half of the 19th century, the fashionable neighborhood was popular with German immigrants. King William Street was originally named for Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia.

El Mercado, “Market Square,” is the largest Mexican marketplace outside Mexico and dates back to 1840. Visitors will enjoy a festive combination of Tex-Mex cuisine, music and entertainment; products ranging from pearls to piñatas; and the Museo Americano Smithsonian, currently under construction.

Twenty feet below street level, the San Antonio River meanders through two miles of the downtown business district. The flagstone and cobblestone paths that line the river make up Paseo del Rio, better known as the River Walk. Some stretches are serene escapes, while others are bustling with patrons dining at European-style sidewalk cafes, shoppers indulging themselves at specialty boutiques, and hotel bell captains greeting guests at check-in.

Sightseeing is easily done from a river cruise. Hop off for an afternoon of shopping at the Rivercenter, a three-level mall. Catch an outdoor performance at the Arneson River Theatre, where events range from a mariachi festival to the Halloween celebration Coffins on Parade. Two annual river “parades” — the Fiesta River Parade and the Holiday River Parade — fill every inch of the River Walk with people, celebrating the season.

Fiestas are an international smorgasbord of traditional American and Mexican holidays, as well as German, Irish, French, African American, Greek, Jewish, Asian and Lebanese. A sampling of San Antonio’s major events and festivals includes Fiesta San Antonio, Cinco de Mayo, the Tejano Conjunto Festival, the Texas Folklife Festival, Diez y Seis de Septiembre, FotoSeptiembre, Oktoberfest, the International Accordion Festival and the New World Wine and Food Festival.

Visitors to San Antonio also have a variety of spectator sports to enjoy. The San Antonio Spurs of the NBA play at the SBC Center, also the home of the WNBA’s San Antonio Silver Stars. The San Antonio Rampage of the Central Hockey League play at the SBC Center as well, while the San Antonio Missions play at Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Baseball Stadium. Action-packed thoroughbred and quarter-horse racing seasons are presented at Retama Park from May through November, with televised simulcast races from the best tracks in the country every day of the year.


At Home with Tony Cherone
General manager of the Westin La Cantera Resort

Originally from Chicago, Tony Cherone, a 33-year Westin/Starwood employee, moved to the San Antonio area to participate in the planning, construction and design implementation of the Westin La Cantera Resort, which opened in 1999.

Global Traveler: Tell us a little about the Westin La Cantera Resort.
Tony Cherone: The resort sits on a hill overlooking the city of San Antonio to the south and the Texas hill country to the north. The architecture and design is influenced by King Ranch, the Texas ranch generally recognized today as the birthplace of the American ranching industry. Features include a white stucco exterior, red barrel roof and blue slate tile flooring throughout the entrance and lobby areas. The culture and history of Texas are manifested throughout the building and courtyards.

GT: What are some of the amenities of the property?
TC: The Westin La Cantera offers some wonderful activities. We have two 18-hole golf courses: the Resort Course, home to the PGA Tour Valero Texas Open, and the Palmer Course, designed by Arnold Palmer and opened in 2001. Additionally, we have the Academy at La Cantera for individualized instruction complemented by our on-site sports psychologist, Dr. David Cook. Other amenities include six swimming pools, three hot tubs, two tennis courts and the Enchanted Rock Health Club and Spa, a 7,500-square-foot health club complete with the Westin Workout by Reebok and eight treatment rooms.

GT: What are some of your favorite San Antonio restaurants and why?
TC: I may be biased, but I have found the most wonderful dining experience — including cuisine, service and ambience — at our own Francesca’s at Sunset. Mark Miller of Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe is the consulting chef and has been associated with the restaurant since its opening in 1999. He visits about three times a year and has become a wonderful friend of the resort and the visitors to Francesca’s.

GT: San Antonio seems to have a fiesta every month. What is your favorite?
TC: Fiesta San Antonio in April is the mother lode of all fiestas. The spirit, food and pageantry of the weeklong celebration must be experienced to be appreciated. This city knows a fiesta when it sees one. San Antonio closes down on Friday of fiesta week to allow everyone to enjoy.


INFO TO GO

Approximately eight miles from downtown, the San Antonio International Airport (SAT) is located in north-central San Antonio and is easily accessible from the major highways in and around the city. Although not a hub, the airport is an important link to the southwestern United States, offering nonstop flights to and from major domestic and international destinations.

San Antonio’s metropolitan transit system (www.viainfo.net) comprises an extensive bus network, a five-route trolley system and 106 regular bus routes.

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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