Dec. 4, 2007
by Jeff Smith
On March 6, 1836, nearly 200 Texan defenders were killed in attacks by Mexican General Santa Anna's army at the Mission San Antonio de Valero. The Republic of Texas fought back for its independence while honoring the fallen soldiers with a rallying cry of "Remember the Alamo." Today, visitors to the city of San Antonio can travel to the site of the historic mission. Yet when their vacation is over, tourists have so much more than the Alamo to remember as the popular Texas town has become quite the destination for people of all ages, including college football fans of the annual Valero Alamo Bowl.
San Antonio is proud of its heritage and remains a city that boasts a population that is 60 percent Latino. However the progress the city has made over the recent years has undoubtedly made San Antonio into a tourist's dream. Fly in, taxi to your hotel downtown, and lace up your shoes, because from here on out, everything is just a short walk away.
Home to 35,000 hotel rooms, San Antonio boasts roughly 12,000 of those rooms amidst a lively and vibrant downtown scene. Sure there are main attractions outside the downtown area such as Sea World, Six Flags, and the popular and historic Mission Trails, but the cluster of culture in the heart of San Antonio is home to the Alamo, the Alamodome, and the renowned River Walk.
Also known as Paseo Del Rio, the River Walk is truly a visitor's destination. Cobblestone walkways line the banks of the town's historic river, with paths leading you to everything from shopping, to great dining, and to nightclubs. Three miles of walkways are lined with unique gardens and ornamental plants, while shaded by mature cypress, oak and willow trees. It is a magical setting that enables visitors to feel the heart and soul of the city, according to Dee Dee Poteete, Director of Communications for the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"It's an urban oasis 20 feet below street level," she said. "It weaves right through the heart of downtown and is mile after mile of beautiful landscaping, foliage, riverside dining, stoned-arch bridges, little cobblestone paths, and beautiful hotels and shops. People just wander from one place to another."
Tourists can take in the famous River Walk by walking alongside on the pathways or by water on one of the city's popular barge tours. The 35-40 minute guided cruises, which cost $7.75 for adults and $5 for seniors, cover two-and-a-half miles of the River Walk and can be accessed from several points along the route.
Poteete especially recommends the boat rides for Alamo Bowl fans, due to the festive setting of 120,000 multi-colored twinkling lights stranded above from trees and bridges, which reflect off the water for a relaxing and soothing sight.
"The real beauty (of the River Walk) is that there are so many different things to do and it's such a fun, clean and safe environment," said Derrick Fox, President/CEO of the Alamo Bowl. "Because there are so many things concentrated downtown, you really get to see all the colors collide when you have fans from two schools in this festive atmosphere."
Just as tourists have made San Antonio a thriving place to visit, fans have had arguably more of an impact on the Alamo Bowl itself. Despite having one of the largest television viewing audiences for a postseason game, the Alamo Bowl has also prided itself on its soaring attendance figures, which have averaged above 60,000 over the past few years. The flood of fans to the Alamodome can also be attributed to the game's partnership with the Big Ten and Big 12 - two of the nation's top college football conferences.
"(The partnership) has been a winning combination on a variety of fronts," Fox said. "Not only do the fans travel here to the city, but they are showing up in the stands and watching it on television."
Fox also points out that since the Big Ten does not have a postseason championship game and ends its regular season prior to Thanksgiving, often times the Alamo Bowl can announce the conference's representative long before the Big 12's.
"We have seen a very strong support of the Big Ten teams in the past," he said. "When we can announce the Big Ten team a little earlier, it gives their fans a chance to start reserving before that 21-day window."
Not only has the game been receptive by fans outside the San Antonio community, but also by citizens inside the historic region, which Fox refers to as "civic pride".
"This is a user-friendly town built for tourism," he said. "We have a very receptive marketplace and a lot of people that want to volunteer. We also have the corporate sector, which realizes the importance of bringing these events to town."
The Alamo Bowl is not the only large sporting event to which the city has played host. San Antonio has been the site of several Dr. Pepper Big 12 Football Championships, as well as the 1999 NBA Finals and 1998 and 2004 NCAA Final Four. Following the 2007 Valero Alamo Bowl, the Alamodome will prepare for the 2008 NCAA Men's Final Four in April.
The proximity of the venue to downtown is something that Fox says has proved beneficial to past bowl teams and their fans.
"It's located right in the heart of downtown," he said. "People will walk from their hotels right to the game. We have even had three or four teams walk from the hotel to the game in the past."
Fox also points out that while other communities may be larger than San Antonio, they are also more spread out. Here you have a concentrated area downtown, which is home to everything including the Alamo.
Should you be in the mood for taking in more of the culture and history after visiting the Alamo, make sure you check out the Mission Trail. The Trail boasts four other missions in addition to the Alamo, including Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. There is no admission fee at any of the missions, however donations are accepted. The Trail begins at the Alamo and extends out nine miles along the San Antonio River. Trail seekers can drive, hike, or bike the route.
Before the game, check out Southtown or Sunset Station, the town's historic train depot located right next to the Alamodome. Take in an authentic Mexican dish at Aldaco's or settle for a filet at Ruth's Chris Steak House, while your eyes wander to the beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture.
If the feet are getting a little tired and you have already opted for a boat cruise, San Antonio's trolley service will virtually take you anywhere. And if you have experienced the town from down below, take your sightseeing to new heights at the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas. Head up to the 360-degree observation desk and experience a Texas-themed 4-D, multi-sensory theater while you are up there. If it's getting close to dinnertime and you're not ready to come down just yet, enjoy the panoramic views and sunset at the Chart House. If of course you are in the mood to splurge!
And with all this fun, why should it end? While the 2007 Alamo Bowl takes place Saturday, Dec. 29, at 7 p.m. CST, San Antonio offers one of the nation's top New Year's Eve celebrations. The centerpiece of the festivities is "Celebrate San Antonio" - a giant street party with music, entertainments and a fireworks show launched from the Tower of the Americas.
It's a unique city with perhaps a more unique atmosphere, highlighted by its history, culture and climate.
"We were Mexico longer than we were Texas," said Poteete, "and the only ice here is on the margaritas."
Welcome to San Antonio! The town where residents still Remember and the visitors never forget.