In many ways, San Antonio is famous for the wide reach of travel experiences it offers, from the historic – remember The Alamo? – to the beautiful – think strolls along the River Walk – to the thrilling – families flock here for the theme parks alone. The food and cocktail scene is constantly burgeoning here. And there's a bevy of unique ways to get to know this city, too. Read on.
Do the River Walk, But Walk the Extra Mile
If you've been to San Antonio, you know that the walk that hugs the meandering San Antonio River – with its access to shops and restaurants – is a tourist must. But if you haven't been in a few years, you've missed the extra mile that was tacked onto the River Walk in 2009. The new extension is known as the Museum Reach, which you can access from the original River Walk by river taxi. It features visual artworks and terraced landscapes, as well as pedestrian access to the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Go to Boot Camp, Satisfy Your Hunger
The Culinary Institute of America may be the ultimate training ground for the chefs of the future, and San Antonio is home to one of its only three culinary schools (the other two are in St. Helena, California and Hyde Park, New York). As a visitor, you can hone your kitchen skills, too, with a variety of culinary boot camps. The "BBQ Boot Camp" is a two-day grilling extravaganza, where you learn everything from how to grill the perfect steak to how to brine and marinate your favorite foods. Tuition includes an official chef's uniform. Staying longer? Several four- and five-day boot camps are offered, too. And the CIA campus, located in the restored 19th century building of the booming Pearl Brewery complex, also houses two restaurants (run by students).
Go Higher, Enjoy the View
Those walks along the River Walk can offer beautiful views. But it's tough to beat the perspective you get from high above, after ascending the 750 feet that take you to the top of the Tower of the Americas. Built in the late 1960s, the towering structure offers panoramic views day and night, especially from the Flags Over Texas Observation Deck. It's also home to a highly-reviewed rotating restaurant – the Chart House -- and a 4-D theater experience that takes visitors on a bird's-eye flight across Texas.
Go Big, See This Candle
You're probably familiar with Texas' penchant for making everything big. In San Antonio, the most notable claim of largess may belong to this candle. It's a mosaic of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe – a three-dimensional candle set against the side of a building – that soars four stories above the ground. Showcasing remarkable detail, it was unveiled in late 2004 and features an eternal flame on top.
Play Tourist, Hunt for Ghosts
San Antonio's colorful history has led many to believe -- beyond a shadow of a doubt – that things go bump in the night here; places like The Alamo and the legendary Menger Hotel, they say, house other-worldly residents. So, instead of touring the city for landmarks, how about hunting for ghosts? Several tours get high marks, like the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours, which takes visitors on nightly walks to a variety of haunted buildings by candlelight; the tour guides wear period dress. The folks at San Antonio Ghost Tours offer a Haunted Hotel Tour, with stops at paranormal activity hotbeds like the Emily Morgan Hotel and the Hotel Indigo, and the occasional bar for a drink.
See the Lakes, Skip the River
Walks along the San Antonio River are a big draw here. But budding fishermen will want to visit some of the city's lakes, too. At South Side Lions Park and at Miller's Pond, the "Neighborhood Fishin'" program regularly stocks the lakes with fish: channel catfish in the summer and rainbow trout in the winter. There's also the Community Fishing Lakes program, run by Texas Parks and Widlife, which stocks the lakes at Woodlawn, Brackenridge and Wheeler Parks several times a year. You'll need a valid fishing license, which can be obtained at a variety of sporting goods stores and bait-and-tackle shops.
Visit this Wonderland, Get All-Access
Families love the theme park action in San Antonio, from Six Flags Fiesta Texas to SeaWorld San Antonio. But only Morgan's Wonderland can claim to be an ultra-accessible park. That means every attraction at this 25-acre mecca for fun in northeast San Antonio is wheelchair accessible and caters to visitors of all abilities or disabilities. Kids of all ages will find myriad rides, playgrounds and gardens, as well as a 1930s style train depot, an off-road vehicle track and an eight-acre fishing lake.
See the Shopping, Skip the Tax No, Texas doesn't offer tax-free shopping. Unless you time it right that is. Every August, right before school starts, cities like San Antonio will choose one weekend to allow shoppers to buy tax-free. For 2013, the dates are August 16-18, when you'll be able to pay just what's on the tag on any clothing and footwear under $100. And if you're an international traveler, you get any and all taxes refunded to you, in cash, year-round! You'll need your passport or travel documents as proof, but it's as easy as stopping by the official refund center at San Antonio's Macy's store at North Star Mall.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features hotel, airfare and a bevy of local deals in San Antonio at www.travelzoo.com.