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Built around the Alamo, the famous fort that withstood the onslaught of the Mexican troops for 13 days, San Antonio offers more historic architecture than cities like Dallas and Houston. A strong influence of Tejano (Spanish for "Texan", persons of Hispanic descent born and living in the state of Texas) gives the city an almost Latin American feel, especially in the mostly Tejano El Mercado market.
Downtown is home to many districts including the Alamo District, Alamodome District, Central Business District, Convention Center District, Historic Civic District, Houston Street District, King William Historic District, La Villita District, Market Square District, North Downtown, North River District, River Bend District, SoSo (South of Southtown), Southtown, and the University District.
The Central Business District is home to Rivercenter, anchored by Dillard's and Macy's. The five-level Art Deco Dillard's, at the corner of Alamo and Commerce streets, opened in 1887 as Joske's, and changed when Dillard's bought the Joske's chain in 1987. Today, Dillard's only occupies a fraction of the original building.
Originally built as a mission and called San Antonio de Valero, the small stucco building was dubbed the Alamo by the Spanish military who took the site over in the early 1800s after the units home town of Alamo de Parras. The site changed hands between the Spanish, rebels and finally Mexican militias throughout the early 1800s. In 1835, Texas rebels took over the Alamo from the Mexicans, but didn't hold the fort for long. In February of 1836, Santa Anna's army laid siege to the Alamo. The Texan revolutionaries held the Alamo from February 23rd until March 6th, When Santa Anna's forces stages a pre-dawn raid and took the compound.
Among the dead at the Alamo are famous names like James Bowie, David Crockett, and William B. Travis, and a few months later, General Sam Houston shouted "Remember the Alamo!" as it routed Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.
The Alamo is open every day of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Hours of operation are 9:00am to 5:30pm Monday through Saturday and 10:00am to 5:30pm on Sunday. The Alamo remains open on Fridays and Saturdays until 7:00pm during the months of June, July and August. Admission to the Alamo is free.
The Alamo is located at 300 Alamo Plaza in downtown San Antonio, Texas. To Reach the Alamo from U.S. 281/Interstate 37 southbound, exit at Houston Street, turn right, and proceed three blocks to Avenue E, turn left and continue to the intersection of Houston and Alamo Plaza. From Interstate 37 northbound, exit at Commerce Street, turn left on Commerce and proceed ten blocks to Alamo Plaza, turn right and continue on one and one half blocks. Parking is available at several pay lots in the vicinity of the Alamo.
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Built for flood control by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) after the Great Depression, the San Antonio River Walk (also known as Paseo del Rio) is a network of walkways around the San Antonio River linking several major attractions one story below street level downtown. Lined by bars, shops, restaurants, and an amphitheater, the River Walk is an important part of the city's urban fabric and the state's top tourist attraction.
In addition, there are a number of boat cruises and dinner cruises that ply their way along the river in San Antonio. Mexican music can often be heard played by musicians on the barges. The Riverwalk website has specific details on restaurants and bars in the area.
El Mercado is an indoor/outdoor market "patterned" (according to the San Antonio visitors bureau) after an authentic Mexican Market. Lots of bric-a-brac available, and many stalls and restaurants serving good food, cheap (and cold) beer and bands playing Spanish and Mexican music in the main building.
El Mercado is located Santa Rosa and Commerce streets, approximately 2 miles (3 kilometres) to the west from downtown. VIA Red, Purple and Yellow streetcars stop at Market Square and are available from early morning until late evening. Streetcars run throughout downtown and arrive every 10 minutes. The cost is just US$0.80 a ride with discounts for seniors, children, the mobility impaired and Medicare recipients. Check out the Marketsquare website for more details.
In San Antonio during April, you can partake in Fiesta, an annual party celebrating Texas' "Independence and Diversity." The Fiesta includes a water parade, a unique parade of floats that actually float down the river along the river walk. In addition, there are bands and booths set up in downtown and in the Market area.
San Antonio's weather is alternately dry or humid depending on prevailing winds, turning hot in the summer, mild to cool winters subject to descending northern cold fronts in the winter with cool nights, and comfortably warm and rainy in the spring and fall. Only a few days with temperatures below zero (at night) occur each year and snow is very rare. Summers from June to September see average highs of 32-35 °C wiht nights in the 20-23 °C range. The absolute high is 44 °C! Winters from December to February have highs of around 17-20 °C with nights in the 4-6 °C range. Average annual precipitation is around 800 mm with May and June and again October being the wettest months with around 100 mm or a litte more.
The Sunset Limited operated by Amtrak travels between New Orleans and Los Angeles, stopping in San Antonio.
The Texas Eagle travels between Chicago and Los Angeles, stopping San Antonio. It continues three times a week to LA, but travels between Chicago and San Antonio every day.
San Antonio can be reached along the Interstate 10 (to El Paso, Phoenix and Los Angeles), Interstate 35 (south to Laredo, north to Austin, Dallas and into Oklahoma), and Interstate 37. Interstate 410 basically loops around the city.
Greyhound buses operate on a number of routes throughout Texas and beyond.
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
San Antonio's public transit is provided by VIA Metropolitan Transit. It operates buses and streetcars throughout San Antonio city and surroundings.
There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.
See also International Telephone Calls
The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.
The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.
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