In Alamo City, Odd Is the Norm For the Spurs

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Odd is the new norm for the Spurs. For if it's an odd-numbered year, San Antonio must be in the NBA Finals. Champions in 1999, 2003, 2005, Tim Duncan and his posse have their sights set on a grand slam of titles.

And by now, Alamo City knows how to host a party when it comes to championships. Starting with the NCAA Men's Final Four in 1998, San Antonio has quickly become a destination for major events, evidenced in short order by the Spurs earning their triumvirate of rings.

The first Final Four was such a hit with area hotels, restaurants and shops, 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.

And now the Spurs are at it again, in the NBA championship series, again, at the AT&T Center (One AT&T Center Parkway, Web site), but this time against a first-time Finals participant in the LeBron James-powered Cleveland Cavaliers. (Buy NBA Finals tickets)

While you'll be in town concentrating on the hardwood action, San Antonio offers a plethora of other options for visitors.

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.

Paseo Del Rio or River Walk (Web site), is 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 Finals 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 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, Champions Sports Bar (849 E. Commerce St.) in Rivercenter Mall 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).

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.

Most of this article has been reprised from a profile on the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional penned by western Washington free-lancer writer Tony Guadagnoli.