San Antonio Culture

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San Antonio Culture
San Antonio is a blend of rich and vibrant cultures. Home to the River Walk, Spanish missions, German communities, and an impressive art scene, the city has a distinct character that cannot 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
    San Antonio has many plazas and squares that stem from its Spanish colonial heritage; Market Square and La Villita Historic Arts Village are two of the oldest. Traditionally the hub of commerce, packed with produce stands and vendors, these historic squares are still occupied by bustling boutiques and cafés. Market Square, or El Mercado, is the largest Mexican market in the U.S. and offers a vast array of souvenirs and crafts. La Villita specializes in folk and fine art, with galleries selling unique works by regional and residential artists that range from jewelry to paintings and sculptures.
    Photo courtesy of J. Leet/San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Tejano Heritage
    Tejanos are the descendants of the first Spanish, Mexican, and indigenous settlers of the Texas frontier. Tejano culture has spanned over three centuries and is part of the complex mosaic that makes up the heart of San Antonio. Its influence is seen in the large concentration of Spanish colonial architecture that encompasses the Alamo and the missions. It can be tasted in the spicy flavors of Tex-Mex cuisine, and it can be heard in the heartfelt sound of Tejano music. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in the Westside offers a deeper understanding of Tejano traditions through special educational programs, exhibits, performances, and events like the Tejano Conjunto Festival.
    Photo by S. Heap/age fotostock
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    Charming Historic Districts
    San Antonio often conjures images of Spanish colonial buildings, but few visitors realize that the city holds more architectural treasures just a few blocks south in the King William Historic District. In the 1870s, German immigrants settled this neighborhood and built impressive houses designed in a mix of Victorian, beaux arts, and neoclassical styles. One of the grandest mansions, the Edward Steves Homestead Museum, is open to the public and provides great insight into upper-class life at the end of the 19th century. A couple of blocks away, the Guenther House serves breakfast and lunch in an art nouveau restaurant overlooking the river. Discover more architecture from the same era in the Monte Vista and Alamo Heights districts.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Live Music
    San Antonio is a great destination for live music. The 3000 block of North Saint Mary’s Street, also known as The Strip, is home to some of the city’s best live entertainment. The close proximity of bars and clubs on The Strip makes it easy to hop between venues and experience a range of musical genres, including rock, metal, country, Latin, and R&B. Paper Tiger is a larger venue where concert-goers can hear regional and national rock bands. The Mix offers a more intimate setting with a bar and pool tables where customers can unwind to local acts. For a less raucous vibe, Luna spotlights soul, blues, and classic music in a lounge atmosphere.
    Photo by Michal Bednarek/age fotostock
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    A Thriving Art Scene
    Southtown and South Flores have had an influx of artistic interest over the past decade that has spurred a thriving art scene. The early 20th–century spaces in these funky neighborhoods convert perfectly into studios, galleries, and performance venues. The Blue Star Arts Complex in Southtown is the incubator of San Antonio’s contemporary art scene. Once an industrial warehouse, this large facility now houses resident artists, a museum, and cafés. On the first Friday of every month, the complex becomes the center of a pedestrian art walk and street festival. Art lovers can also gallery-hop through South Flores on the second Saturday of each month and attend openings at studios like Fl!ght Gallery and Gallista Gallery.
    Photo courtesy of Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum
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    Festivals and Parades
    San Antonio is known as the Fiesta City, and for good reason—it hosts more than 25 major festivals a year. With strong Southern, Western, Hispanic, and German roots, the city is predisposed to partying. The most popular event is Fiesta San Antonio, known simply as Fiesta. This giant bash has been held annually since 1891 and runs for more than a week in April. Fiesta first began as a way to commemorate the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, but over the past century it has grown to also celebrate San Antonio’s diverse cultures. Fiesta brims with colorful activity that includes highlights like the Battle of the Flowers Parade, Fiesta Oyster Bake, Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade, and the Chili Queens Chili Cook-Off.
    Photo by Richard Levine/age fotostock
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    Beautifully Restored Theaters
    Take a step back in time and enjoy a symphony, musical performance, or show in gilded glamour. The Majestic, located in the heart of downtown, is one of the most ornate and atmospheric theaters in the country and hosts some of the most impressive acts in town. This former vaudeville and film palace was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and has been restored to its full splendor, with decorative details like gold leafing, colorful glass windows, elaborate railings, and vaulted ceilings. The elegant Empire Theatre down the block is another historic venue where similar acts can be experienced in a more intimate setting.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Birthplace of the American Cowboy
    Texans are very proud of their Western roots. Throughout the world, the American cowboy is an iconic symbol of independent spirit and courage. Early Spanish settlers originally brought longhorn cattle to San Antonio. After the Civil War, demand for beef increased. Ranchers flocked to the area, and so the cowboy was born. Though not many real cowboys remain, their influence lingers everywhere: from fashion to food to music. Head into Hill Country to Bandera, the Cowboy Capital of the World, to witness cowboys ride down Main Street and show off their roping techniques every Saturday. In February, the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is a must-visit.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Military History
    San Antonio is nicknamed Military City U.S.A. due to one of the largest active and retired military populations in the nation. There has been a continuous military presence in the city for nearly 300 years. Due to its strategic location, the city has been occupied by conquistadors, Texas Rangers, and Confederate and Union troops; it is now home to many U.S. military installations. History buffs will find several military-themed museums at Brooks Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston, and Lackland Air Force Base. Located near the Museum Reach of River Walk, VFW Post 76 is the oldest post in Texas. The Victorian-style mansion is open to the public and serves cheap drinks where tourists can mingle with the locals and veterans.
    Photo by Sandy Felsenthal/age fotostock
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    A Stroll on River Walk
    The River Walk is a famous 15-mile network of verdant, tree-lined paths along the banks of the San Antonio River. It gently winds through the city center and connects major tourist draws. River Square and South Bank in downtown are the most popular sections, filled with festive sidewalk cafés, bars, hotels, and shopping. Museum Reach is a quieter stretch north of downtown where pedestrians will encounter terraced landscapes, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the historic Pearl Brewery, and public works of art. To the south, the Mission Reach segment extends eight miles through pleasant parks and neighborhoods that connect four of the Spanish colonial missions: Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau