15 Things You Didn’t Know About San Antonio

San Antonio is having a birthday. A big one!  The city might seem timeless, but it’s turning 300 years old. While we’re celebrating it’s tricentennial with margaritas and tres leches on the Riverwalk, here’s a few facts you probably don’t know about the Mission City:

The Only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas is in….(drum roll)… San Antonio-

Besides the Alamo, San Antonio has four other historical missions: Mission San Juan, Mission San Jose, Mission Espada,and Mission Concepcion. In 2015, these sites were given UNESCO status, making them collectively one of only 23 in the US as well as  the only one in Texas. All four missions  offer weekly Catholic services and can be visited throughout the week for free. Looking for some history with your workout? The missions are connected by trails, so you can hike or ride your bike to them. You can also drive if you prefer.

An Abandoned Quarry Became a Beautiful Japanese…er….Chinese Tea Garden- A section of land near what is now Brackenridge zoo was used by German masons in the 19th century to provide stone for many of San Antonio’s buildings such as the Menger Hotel. The area later  became a cement company in 1880 and to this day has some of it’s kilns still standing on the property. In 1918 the quarry was turned into an innovative Japanese tea garden using a prison labor force to construct the walkways and bridges and a Japanese immigrant family as live-in caretakers. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese sentiment was so high, the name was changed to Chinese Tea Gardens and the Japanese caretakers were evicted from the gardens to prevent vandalism. Eventually the name was changed back in the 80s, but the Chinese Tea Gardens sign still remains. The grounds and stone bridges are so beautifully maintained that even the koi fish look content. 

Phil Collins Loves the Alamo So Much He’s Helped Create a Museum

Rather than spending his rock-star money on what rock-stars normally spend money on, musician Phil Collins was so intrigued by the history of the Alamo, he started collecting memorabilia: almost anything he could get his hands on until he amassed  a collection of 204 items valued at over $15 million. He then donated the entire lot of it to the Alamo, where you’ll be able to visit it in the near future. The collection includes a leather musket ball pouch and gun used by Davy Crockett as well as an original Bowie knife used by Jesse Robinson.

There’s Ghosts in Them Thar Hills- 

“Alamo City” has been listed as one of the most haunted places in the United States. Haunted Hotels like the Menger and Crockett are part of every ghost tour as well as The Alamo itself, where according to some reports, victims of the siege moan from their mass graves. There are urban legends that include ghostly sightings at the state hospital, a section of the railroad tracks and even the Alamo and Majestic theaters. Although such statistics are very subjective, San Antonio ranks as the  5th most haunted city in America. You can take a haunted ghost tour or DIY.

There IS a Basement in the Alamo

Pee Wee Herman’s search for his missing bicycle in the film Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure brought him to the famed mission where he was informed that no basement existed. In reality, the Alamo has  two basements that have been added in recent years: one below the gift shop that is used as an employee break room, media library and storage as well as another under Alamo Hall, which is also used for storage. Neither are open to the public.  Pee Wee’s  bicycle, can however be found in Pittsburgh at “Bicycle Heaven”.

Johnny Cash’s Vandalism is in the Witte Museum

When a non-famous Johnny Cash met his first wife, Vivian, he carved “Johnny loves Vivian” on a park bench on the river walk to immortalize his passion for his soon-to-be-bride. The bench was eventually relocated to the Witte Museum where you can witness the Man in Black’s “benchmark achievement” firsthand. 

Ozzy Osborne Was Banned from San Antonio for 10 Years– Most Texans are familiar with Ozzy’s well- documented public urination at Texas’ most famous landmark, the Alamo. What you may not know is that The Prince of Darkness was wearing a dress, drunk out of his mind and actually didn’t relieve himself on the mission, itself, but a commemorative marker he allegedly mistook for a wall. As a result, he was banned from the city for a decade. 

Fiesta San Antonio is the Second Largest Parade in the US-

Mardi Gras wins first prize but Texas’ colossal lineup is the runner up and is organized completely by women. It’s humble beginnings go back to 1891 when it started as a flower fight. Visitors arrived in their decorated buggies and rather than use weapons to reenact the battle of the Alamo, blossoms were thrown at one another. As the  “war of the roses” became more popular, the parade grew and  carnivals, balls and other parties were added to the festivities. This mega-event even spills into neighboring towns and is a great time to visit.

Sea World San Antonio is the Largest Marine Life Park in the World-

Everything’s bigger in Texas including Sea World. Out of the three parks in the US, San Antonio is the largest at 250 acres. If dolphin, killer whale and sea lion shows aren’t enough to keep you entertained, there’s roller coasters and lots of action packed shows to keep you and your family busy. There are plans to phase out the popular killer whale show due to animal activist pressure, so if seeing an orca is on your bucket list,  you don’t want to wait too long to visit the park.

A Beer Brewery Was Turned Into A World Class Museum- 

What happens when you mix art with beer? Either a horrible accident or The San Antonio Museum of Art. The museum acquired the former Lone Star Brewery and opened it’s doors in March 1981. In it’s beginnings, the focus was on art from the Americas. With the 2005 opening of the Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing, the museum gained the largest collection of Asian art in the US.  SAMA also has a respectable assemblage of Egyptian Greek and Roman items in their 30,000 objets d’art. That’s 100 pieces for each year of San Antonio’s history.

Pancho Villa May Have Planned a Revolution From The Buckhorn Saloon.

Good old Pancho. Love him or hate him, he was using media to support his cause when few people even knew what media was. The Buckhorn Saloon, in addition to having a vast collection of animal horns, was a popular gathering spot for many notables, including Senor Villa. By some accounts, Pancho organized the 1910 Mexican revolution from inside the establishment’s walls. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were also regular customers and reportedly gathered their forces together over a cold one in this historic saloon.

Mark Twain Considered San Antonio to Be One of the Four Most Unique Cities in America.

America’s greatest humorist once penned “There are only four unique cities in America: Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco and San Antonio.”  Mark Twain should know. He traveled by covered wagon to the west coast, sailed up and down the Mississippi River and traveled by ship to Europe and the Middle East. With the addition of Las Vegas and other cities like New York  that were different during Twain’s time, the list might be a little longer. However, San Antonio definitely has it’s own vibe and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyplace else like it.

Shaquille O’Neal Learned to Play Basketball at Cole High School

Shaq grew up in Newark, NJ, and practiced shooting hoops with the Boys and Girls Club there. When he moved to San Antonio, he started playing with a team for the first time and set records that remain unchallenged to this day. He helped Cole High School win the state championship in his senior year before moving again to Louisiana State University and becoming an international star.

Tower of America is the Second Tallest Observation Tower in the US.

You might have thought that Seattle had the record for the tallest free standing tower, but the winner is the Las Vegas Stratosphere. San Antonio is next on the list at 750 feet. Seattle comes in fourth behind the Gateway Arch, which technically isn’t a tower. Surprisingly enough, the San Antonio tower, built in 1968, is only about 310 feet shorter than the Eiffel Tower. You can enjoy stunning views as well as great food and drink from the revolving Chart House Restaurant.

San Antonio is named after a Portuguese Saint with an Italian Name

San Antonio takes it’s name from the San Antonio river which was discovered 27 years before the city was settled. Spanish explorers arrived in the area on the Feast day of St. Anthony, and the Spanish-ized name seemed like a logical choice to name a river. Who exactly is St. Anthony of Padua?  None other than Portuguese born Fernando Martins de Bulhões. How Fernando of Lisbon ended up being St. Anthony of Padua is a longer story than how San Antonio got it’s name.