Remember San Antonio (and the other Sweet 16s)

ico_orbitzSan Antonio travel: Hotel | Flight | Sweet 16 tix | Spurs | City Guide

Named after Spanish explorers who came upon the river on the feast day of St. Anthony on June 13, 1691, San Antonio has endured as Texas' landmark city for its diverse culture and rich history. Like they say, "Remember the Alamo."

From its humble beginnings, San Antonio, now at 1.2 million residents, is the eighth-largest city in the country; nearly 20 million visitors come to the Alamo City each year.

The old Tanya Tucker song "San Antonio Stroll" aptly describes the easy access and vibrant atmosphere of the popular downtown. San Antonio is considered one of America's best walking cities; many of its historic, cultural and modern venues are within a short walk of each other.

Starting with the men's Final Four in 1998, San Antonio has quickly become a destination for major events, evidenced in short order afterward with the Spurs winning three NBA titles (1999, 2003, 2005).

The first Final Four was such a hit with its hotels, restaurants and shops in close proximity of the Alamodome, in fact, the NCAA jokingly considered having San Antonio be its permanent championship setting. It settled, instead, for giving Alamo City the Final Four again in 2004.

One of sports' all-time rally cries also reportedly started in San Antonio when writer and broadcaster Dan Cook blurted, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings," during a Spurs-Washington Bullets playoff series in 1978.

So with that growing legacy the weekend of March 22-24 provides a doozy for hoopaholics, and that's where we'll start:

The Alamodome (100 Montana St., Web site) is where the two Thursday NCAA South Regional semifinals and Saturday's championship will be played. Consult StubHub! for tickets. (Know that, for long-term planning purposes, the Alamodome will host its third men's Final Four, in 2008, and the women's Final Four for the second time in 2010. Meanwhile, for all things March Madness '07, see our Men's & Women's tourney guides.)

After San Antonio's Elite 8 teams are determined on March 22, the evening of March 23 features the Spurs hosting the Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m. at the AT&T Center (1 AT&T Center Parkway, Web site, tickets).

This will be the Pistons' only visit to San Antonio, and the teams have combined for two of the last three NBA titles. (The Spurs also are home to the Indiana Pacers on March 21, if you plan to get into town early. Click for tix.)

While this weekend will concentrate on hoops, San Antonio offers a plethora of options for visitors. Best yet, you barely have to break a sweat to see most of them.

The Alamodome is centrally located in downtown San Antonio, less than a 10-minute walk from Paseo Del Rio or River Walk (Web site), the most famous of the city's walks.

River Walk, situated some 20 feet below street level, stretches about 2½ miles along the San Antonio River from the Municipal Auditorium and Conference Center (100 Auditorium Circle, Web site) on the north end to the King William Historic District (Web site) on the south.

This is the beehive of San Antonio's activity with myriad restaurants, specialty shops and businesses on both sides of its cobblestone paths, and chances are you will spend considerable time here before and after the NCAA games. Tired feet? You can also try a water taxi or tour boat.

The River Walk is less than a quarter-mile from San Antonio's most famous landmark, The Alamo (300 Alamo Plaza, Web site).

The symbol of Texas' battle for independence in 1836 is surrounded by shops and office buildings. But you can conjure up images of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie and their 200 men holding Santa Ana's massive army at bay for 13 days.

All of that walking can work up an appetite. If you are in the mood to splurge or for a romantic dinner, try downtown's Le Reve (152 E. Pecan St., Web site) in the historic Exchange Building (Web site). This French restaurant has been voted as one of the country's best. Reservations are required.

At the other extreme is Taco Cabana (Web site), often cited as the locals' best choice for inexpensive food. There are many locations throughout San Antonio.

Every imaginable type of food is available in San Antonio, especially along the River Walk and downtown. Some of the more popular destinations include: Boudros (421 E. Commerce St., Web site); Little Red Barn (1836 S. Hackberry St.) and Lulu's Bakery & Cafe (918 N. Main Ave., Web site). Taco Taco Cafe (145 E. Hildebrand Ave.), serves some of the city's best Tex-Mex cuisine.

For your favorite libations and to watch the other regional games, Champions Sports Bar (849 E. Commerce St.) in Rivercenter Mall, Tex's Sports Bar & Grill (200 S. Alamo St.) along the River Walk in the Hilton Palacio del Rio and TKO's Round 2 Sports Bar (123 E. Travis St., Web site) figure to be popular spots.

If you want to venture away from downtown, try Fatso's Sports Garden (1704 Bandera Road, Web site), which has often won awards as the city's best sports bar.

Two museums are excellent options for tourists. Visit the San Antonio Museum of Art (200 W. Jones Ave., Web site) and Fort Sam Houston Museum (1210 Stanley Road, Building 123).

If you desire to see some action on the ice, catch the San Antonio Rampage . The Rampage, of the American Hockey League, plays Rochester at 7 p.m. March 24 at AT&T Center and Omaha at 5 p.m. March 25. (Buy tickets.)

For golfers, San Antonio is quickly becoming one of the top spots in the country, and you can shoot a round right by the AT&T Center at Willow Springs Golf Course (202 Coliseum Road). Opened in 1923, the course has hosted the likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. Willow Springs also has the longest hole in the city, the par-5 663-yard No. 2.

For a more scenic round, try the La Cantera Golf Club (17865 Babcock Road, Web site) with its top-rated Palmer and Resort courses. Designed by Arnold Palmer and opened six years ago, the Palmer course plays out over 225 acres set on 370 acres of rugged, natural terrain.

Outdoor enthusiasts also might try mountain biking at McAllister Park
(13102 Jones Maltsberger Road, Web site)
or jogging at Brackenridge Park (3910 N. St. Mary's St., Web site), a 433-acre refuge in the heart of the city.

The San Antonio Zoo (3903 N. St Mary's St., Web site) is ranked as one of the best in the country and open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Meanwhile, SeaWorld (10500 Sea World Drive, Web site) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas (17000 IH-10 West, Web site) also are great spots for family entertainment.

Rivers in the Texas Hill Country, on the northern edge of San Antonio, provide venues for canoeing and white-water rafting.

But more likely, you'll be along the San Antonio River, traveling back centuries and you won't have to walk more than a few blocks to do so.

More Sweet 16

If you're planning a trip to any of the other three Men's NCAA Regional host cities, here's Power Weekend overview of other sports options during your visit.

Arena: HP Pavilion
Address: 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose, Calif. (Web site)
More: Sweet 16 Guide | Buy tickets

Other events:
• Washington Wizards at Golden State Warriors, 7:30 p.m. March 23. (Buy tickets)
• San Jose State's baseball team hosts New Mexico State at 6 p.m. March 23, 1 p.m. March 24, and 11 a.m. March 25.
• San Jose State softball hosts New Mexico State, with a double-header starting at 1 p.m. March 23, and at noon March 24.
• Cal baseball hosts Oral Roberts, 2 p.m. March 22, 2 p.m. March 23 and 1 p.m. March 24.

ico_orbitzSan Jose travel: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight | Tourney tix

Arena: Continental Airlines Arena
Address: 50 State Route 120, East Rutherford, N.J. (Web site)
More: Sweet 16 Guide | New York City Guide | Buy tickets

Other events:
• New York Knicks host Portland Trail Blazers, 7:30 p.m. March 22
(buy tickets); Knicks at home vs. Orlando Magic, 7:30 p.m. March 26 (buy tickets).
• New York Islanders host Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. March 22
(buy tickets); Islanders at home New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. March 25 (buy tickets).

If you didn't get tickets to the NCAA Regional, maybe you can snag them for Christina Aguilera on March 22 or for Elton John's 60th Birthday concert March 25, both at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

ico_orbitzNew York City travel: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight | Tourney tix

Arena: Edward Jones Dome
Address: 701 Convention Plaza, St. Louis, Mo. (Web site)
More: Sweet 16 Guide | St. Louis City Guide | Buy tickets

Other events:
• College baseball, Saint Louis Billikens host UNC-Charlotte, 7 p.m. March 23, 1 p.m. March 24 and noon March 25.
• The Cardinals will still be in spring training in Florida, but you can tour Busch Stadium, home of the 2006 World Series champions. For more information: stadiumtours@stlcardinals.com. Get an excellent view from the Gateway Arch.
• BJC SportsWorks (5050 Oakland Ave., Web site) at the St. Louis Science Center is an interactive sports exhibition featuring exhibits, screenings and health related activities.

ico_orbitzSt. Louis travel: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight | Tourney tix

Tony Guadagnoli is free-lance writer from western Washington.