Usually, when “best” lists are published, they resemble high-school superlatives – a round-up of the usual suspects with very few surprises. But Forbes recently published a list of “America’s Coolest Cities 2014” and while the heavy-hitters are there, a few surprises managed to grab a seat at the cool table, as well.
For example, wedged between powerhouses Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Jose is a new kid on the block: San Antonio. Considered a city that is up-and-coming, San Antonio is hip and cool, to be sure – but there’s another factor that makes this city so appealing: affordability. When combined with a strong economy and terrific outdoor attractions, San Antonio is attracting young adults who find the combination of cool and affordable irresistible.
The “River City” has a fascinating history that involves the Texas Revolution and a famous battle-cry: “Remember the Alamo!” The Alamo was the site of a battle that would become legendary. In 1836, about 189 “Texian” (a resident of Mexican Texas) soldiers established a garrison at the Alamo Mission. The Mexican President assembled roughly 1,800 troops to attack the soldiers at the Alamo. Over the next 13 days, the Texians were able to fend off two attacks, but the Mexican soldiers scaled the walls on the third attempt and were successful, brutally killing all of the “Texian” defenders (the Mexican President, Santa Anna, had declared all of those who fought on behalf of the Texians “pirates” so they would be immediately killed rather than taken as prisoners of war). With the rally cry in honor of the Alamo, the Texians, led by General Sam Houston, went on to defeat General Santa Anna in 1836.
Today, the Alamo is a National Historic Landmark and is a wildly popular tourist destination. The Alamo was founded in 1718 and is now a museum in San Antonio’s downtown Alamo Plaza Historic District. But while visitors may come to downtown San Antonio to see the Alamo, the city’s other cool features, such as River Walk, will entice them to stay.
Colorful market umbrellas line the riverbank like nonpareils in a scene as sweet as a staged Main Street in a theme park. A passenger boat cruises along, complete with a tour guide and filled with eager-faced tourists enchanted by the lights from the shops and restaurants dancing on the surface of the river. They pass beneath arched stone bridges and a canopy of cypress trees as they explore this unique and beautiful city center.
The San Antonio River Walk is a public park – but this park features hotels, bistros, restaurants, shops, cafes, and attractions that create a downtown strip like no other. Set below street level, the series of walkways that stretch for miles are ideal for walking and bicycling. Events held at River Walk include Fiesta San Antonio, river parades, musical productions, concerts, and more. Attractions include Rivercenter Mall, Dinosaur-Quest, Aztec Theater, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and Woodlawn Theater.
While River Walk may resemble a theme park attraction, there are real ones here, as well. Sea World San Antonio has been entertaining visitors for 50 years and includes attractions, shows, and the Aquatica waterpark – home to Roa’s Aviary and the must-do ride, Stingray Falls. Six Flags Fiesta Texas features exciting roller coasters with Texas-inspired names such as the Iron Rattler, the Road Runner Express, and the Goliath. Fiesta Texas includes a waterpark, White Water Bay, where you’ll find the world’s steepest waterslide: the Bahama Blaster. This six-story ride features a launching capsule that drops riders into a free-fall, followed by a series of loops and twists at about 40 mph.
Of course, everyone’s definition of “cool” is different. Much of San Antonio’s appeal is in its wide range of attractions and activities that appeals to every definition – whether it’s catching a show at the historic Majestic Theatre, a beautiful Art Deco theater that opened in 1929; cheering on the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center; touring the amazing Natural Bridge Caverns or enjoying the San Antonio Zoo; spending the weekend at one of the country’s largest flea markets, Trader Village; trying world-famous Tex-Mex cuisine in the city that invented chili; attending the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo; ghost tours and wine tours; golf courses, beautiful parks, historic sites, and 136 miles of bike lanes and trails; and, of course, the variety of cafes, pubs, nightclubs, dance halls, and bars that create a one-of-a-kind nightlife.
San Antonio is home to 31 colleges and universities, including the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas A&M University-San Antonio. It is also home to Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, providing a strong military presence as well as a robust student population.
San Antonio apartments are hip, trendy, and affordable. This growing city’s diverse economy ranks 4th among Texas cities and includes tourism, military, and oil and gas. It is a city that is bicycle-friendly (award-winningly so) and pedestrian-friendly. It is home to the Tower of Americas (a 750-foot observation tower with restaurant), the San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Enchanted Springs Ranch (home of Old West Town and Pistol Packin’ Paula, a two-time World Champion Gun Twirler) and North Star Mall – the only place you’ll see 40-foot cowboy boots.
Because this is the in-crowd … San Antonio style.