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Destination Guide: San Antonio

With the Alamo and the River Walk, San Antonio has always been a Texas tourist destination. But in the past two or three decades, the city has added so much more, including great golf, to draw visitors from all over the world as well as the Lone Star State.

Since the 1980s, San Antonio has added SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, as well as expanded and developed the River Walk. The city has also become the home to several world-class golf resorts, including the new home of the PGA Tour's Texas Open and the Champions Tour's AT&T Championship, the TPC San Antonio. The Alamo City also is now the home of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, which reopened in 2010 at "Old Brack," the city's municipal jewel otherwise known as Brackenridge Park G.C.

Of course, San Antonio is also known for the Alamo, its outstanding Tex-Mex restaurants, the Tower of the Americas, its unique arts and nightlife scene and the aforementioned River Walk, which is better than ever following a recent ongoing expansion.

Top places to stay in San Antonio

Whether you're talking about the largest JW Marriott in the world or one of San Antonio's old standards, accommodations in the Alamo City are as diverse as the city itself.

For golf enthusiasts it doesn't get much better than the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, which opened in 2010. With more than 1,000 rooms, a large water park, world-class spa and bars and restaurants, the JW Marriott is the perfect resting spot for professional golfers and golf fans alike.

Near SeaWorld, you'll find another great golf resort in the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa. It, too, has a water park (though not as big as the one at JW Marriott) as well as 27 holes of golf, outstanding dining and rugged Texas Hill Country surroundings.

Closer to the center of the city, discover the 1,003-room Grand Hyatt San Antonio perched above the River Walk. Located near all the downtown attractions, the Grand Hyatt is luxury and culture combined into one.

Also on the River Walk, you'll find the Hotel Contessa, Hotel Valencia and Hotel Havana. The Hotel Contessa is a Four-Diamond property with 265 suites, a rooftop pool, spa and atrium overlooking the River Walk. The Hotel Valencia, located on the quiet part of the River Walk, boasts 213 chic guest rooms, blending old world palazzo with modern conceptual design. And the Hotel Havana, which reopened in 2010 under new management, is San Antonio with a Cuban flair. This historic 27-room boutique hotel features one of downtown San Antonio's longtime favorite bars, offering a selection of rum, mescal, desserts and coffees.

San Antonio attractions

If you're looking for fun and interesting things to see and do, San Antonio is your destination. From theme parks, such as Sea World and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, to shopping and dining on the River Walk, few cities can match what the Alamo City offers.

Speaking of the Alamo, this historic monument, located downtown, is a must-see for any first-time visitors. Site of the famous 1836 battle, where 189 defenders of Texas independence held the old mission against some 4,000 Mexican troops for 13 days, the Alamo is actually one of five old Spanish missions scattered throughout the city.

Of course, San Antonio's famed River Walk is also a must. It recently underwent a $345 million improvement project to lengthen it from two miles to 13 miles -- making it the nation's largest linear park. Along its banks you'll find countless old stone arches, cafes, restaurants, bars and historic hotels, all backed up with the sound of mariachis. The new southern extension, or Mission Reach, is an additional eight miles that extends south of downtown to Mission Espada. And the two-mile stretch known as the Museum Reach meanders past the San Antonio Museum of Art and completes its turn at the old Pearl Brewery multi-use complex.

Other downtown attractions include the San Antonio Botanical Garden, a 33-acre living museum featuring plant life from all over the world; Becker Vineyards, an authentic Texas Hill Country winery that also features a bed and breakfast; and the city's Market Square, where you can shop, eat and see local art and performances that reflect the spirit of the city.

And you'll also want to take a trip to the Tower of the Americas, which has a revolving restaurant as well as a lounge that affords panoramic views of the entire city.

And if you like heights, you'll love the rides at SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Open daily during the late spring, summer and early fall and on select weekends over the winter, SeaWorld San Antonio is the world's largest marine park. Besides Shamu and other marine exhibits and entertainment, the park also has a couple of roller coasters and an expansive water park.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas, with its thrill rides as well as tamer attractions, is designed around five themed areas: the Mexican town of Los Festivales, the German village of Spassburg, the Fiesta Bay Boardwalk, the 1920s cowboy boomtown of Crackaxle Canyon and the small Texas town of Rockville, which includes a 1950s and '60s seaside boardwalk. It, too, features a separate water park.

Best places to dine in San Antonio

There's no place in Texas that can rival San Antonio's Tex-Mex restaurants, although the city offers a variety of dining options for every taste.

For example, if gourmet is more your style, you might want to check out the Culinary Institute of America, a great stop for food enthusiasts. Located in the old Pearl Brewery, visitors can sign up for a "boot camp" of cooking lessons or simply taste the samplings.

For something that really screams San Antonio, there's the river barge experience at Boudro's, which combines a cruise and a meal on a river barge floating down San Antonio's River Walk.

If Texas barbecue is what you're craving, check out one of the many Rudy's locations. And, of course, you can't visit San Antonio without sampling the authentic Mexican restaurants, many of which go back generations.

Some examples of San Antonio Mexican flavor include La Gloria-Street Foods of Mexico. And just as its name implies, this unique venue delivers the "heavenly" flavors of authentic street food of interior Mexico.

Tex-Mex is, of course, is a category all its own. Examples include old standards such as Mi Tierra, a Cortez family tradition that goes back to 1941. Or for something a little more contemporary, try Aldaco's at Stone Oak, located on one of the highest points in the city. Known for its excellent food, Aldaco's takes the science of margaritas to a whole new level.

Other options include The Monterey, a hip spot on the south side, where you'll find dishes such as crispy pig’s head with coleslaw. Or if you're looking for Italian, check out II Sogno, which has a location at the old Pearl Brewery. Favorites include the antipasti bar, wild boar pizza and lamb ragu.

Arts and nightlife

San Antonio also has a wide selection of entertainment and cultural options, including museums, art galleries and nightclubs.

The Museo Alameda, for example, is the nation's largest Latino museum and first Smithsonian affiliate. Located in Market Square, it combines art, cultural education and live performances to tell the story of the region's Hispanic population.

The San Antonio Museum of Art, which reclaimed the historic Lone Star Brewery built in 1884, has one of the most impressive art collections in Texas. Other art museums/studios include the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, Gini Garcia Art Glass Studios and McNay Art Museum. Also be sure to visit Southtown, a thriving Bohemian collection of overlapping neighborhoods with art galleries, coffee shops, dive bars and other underground establishments.

Of course, you'll find all kinds of nightlife around the River Walk and downtown and plenty of hot spots around the rest of the town as well. In the Quarry Village, between the Quarry Golf Club and the Quarry Market, is Max's Wine Dive, a laid-back establishment that blends "gourmet comfort food" with wines from around the world.

If live music is what you're after, check out the sounds of Salute International Bar, open Wednesday through Saturday nights. This small club features local and regional bands.

Or if you simply want to see live sports on the latest in audio-visual, head over to the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa and the High Velocity Sports Bar, which features a 120-foot-long, high-definition video wall, private booths with personal TV screens as well as 24 local craft beers on tap.

San Antonio's golf scene

The PGA Tour and Champions Tour got new digs in 2010 and 2011 respectively, moving to the TPC San Antonio and JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. The Texas Open is now played at the difficult AT&T Oaks Course, designed by Greg Norman with player consultant Sergio Garcia. The other course at the TPC San Antonio, the AT&T Canyons Course, was designed by Pete Dye with Bruce Lietzke. Perhaps a little more scenic and forgiving than the Oaks Course, the Canyon Course hosts the AT&T Championship on the Champions Tour. Both courses are open for resort guests and members only.

What's open for everyone, though, is Brackenridge Park, which got a facelift from the Colligan Design Group of Arlington, Texas, is 2008. Brackenridge Park is an A.W Tillinghast classic that hosted the Texas Open for more than four decades, and now it's better than ever with new greens, bunkers, grasses and shaping that brings back the old style.

The city's municipal gem is also the site of the revamped Texas Golf Hall of Fame, featuring shrines to Texas golf legends such as Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson as well as hundreds of artifacts depicting Texas' rich golf history.

Perched high above the city and built on the site of an abandoned limestone quarry is the old site of the Texas Open, the Westin La Cantera Resort. It features the original Resort Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, as well as the more recent Palmer Course. Both courses feature several tees a hundred feet or more above the landing area as well plenty of brooks, doglegs and undulating greens.

The Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, set among 300 meadow acres, has three Arthur Hills-designed nines that blend seamlessly into the rugged countryside. And for one of the most unique golf experiences in the Lone Star State, check out the Quarry Golf Club, a Keith Foster gem laid along the natural stone quarry walls that were once the former Alamo Cement Plant. Other good to outstanding daily fee courses include Canyon Springs Golf Club, historic Pecan Valley Golf Club (which hosted the 1968 PGA Championship), the Republic Golf Club and Silverhorn Golf Club.

All of these courses offer lesson programs and clinics, while many of the resort courses, such as the TPC San Antonio, the Westin La Cantera and Hyatt Hill Country Resort, also feature top-notch golf schools.

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