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San Antonio Culture

Market Plazas
San Antonio Culture
San Antonio is home to a rich blend of cultures. With everything from Spanish missions and German communities to the River Walk and an impressive art scene, the city has a distinct character that can’t be experienced anywhere else.
By Lara Dalinsky, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of J. Leet/San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Market Plazas
    Market Plazas
    Thanks to its Spanish colonial past, San Antonio is home to several plazas and squares. The historic areas once served as hubs of commerce, packed with produce stands and food vendors, but are now surrounded by bustling cafes and boutiques. The largest Mexican market in the U.S., Market Square (or El Mercado) offers a vast array of souvenirs and crafts. Also worth visiting is La Villita, where galleries sell jewelry, paintings, and sculptures by both resident and regional artists.
    Photo courtesy of J. Leet/San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Tejano Heritage
    Tejano Heritage
    Descendants of the first Spanish, Mexican, and indigenous settlers of the Texas frontier, the Tejano people have a rich heritage that spans three centuries and plays a major part in San Antonio’s vibrant culture. Their influence can be seen everywhere from the large concentration of Spanish colonial architecture, like the Alamo and the San Antonio missions, to the delicious flavors of Tex-Mex cuisine. At the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of Tejano traditions through exhibits, performances, special educational programs, and events like the Tejano Conjunto Festival.
    Photo by S. Heap/age fotostock
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    Festivals and Parades
    Festivals and Parades
    San Antonio is known as the Fiesta City for good reason—it hosts more than 25 major festivals every year. The most popular is Fiesta San Antonio, known simply as Fiesta. Held annually since 1891, the giant bash began as a way to commemorate the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto but, over the past century, has grown to celebrate San Antonio’s diverse cultures. It now runs for more than a week each April and includes colorful activities like the Battle of the Flowers Parade, the Fiesta Oyster Bake, the Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade, and the Chili Queens Chili Cook-Off.
    Photo by Richard Levine/age fotostock
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    Beautifully Restored Theaters
    Beautifully Restored Theaters
    In San Antonio, you can you take a step back in time and enjoy a symphony, concert, or play in gilded glamour. Located in the heart of downtown, the Majestic is one of the country’s most ornate, atmospheric theaters. A former vaudeville and film palace, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and restored to its full splendor, with decorative details like gold leafing, stained-glass windows, elaborate railings, and vaulted ceilings. Down the block, the elegant Empire Theatre is another historic venue, where big-name acts perform in a more intimate setting.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Birthplace of the American Cowboy
    Birthplace of the American Cowboy
    The world recognizes the American cowboy as a symbol of independent spirit and courage, but few know the idea originated around San Antonio. Early Spanish settlers brought longhorn cattle to the area but couldn’t keep up with the demand for beef after the Civil War. Ranchers flocked to the area as a result and, thus, the cowboy was born. Though not many real cowboys remain, their influence lingers in San Antonio’s food, fashion, and music. Head into Hill Country and visit Bandera, the Cowboy Capital of the World, where cowboys ride down Main Street every Saturday, showing off their roping techniques. For more, attend the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in February, or spend the day at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, which stands as a tribute to the Wild West.
    Photo courtesy Briscoe Western Art Museum
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    A Stroll on the River Walk
    A Stroll on the River Walk
    The San Antonio River Walk is a famous, 15-mile network of tree-lined paths, which gently wind through the city center and connect major tourist sites. River Square and South Bank in downtown are the two most popular sections, lined with sidewalk cafes, bars, stores, and hotels. North of downtown, Museum Reach is a quieter stretch, where you’ll find terraced landscapes, public artworks, and the historic Pearl Brewery. To the south, the Mission Reach segment extends eight miles through pleasant parks and neighborhoods, linking the San Antonio missions.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau