Remember The Alamo -- And The Rest of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- In 1836, Col. William Travis called his band of exhausted men together inside the Alamo walls and drew a line in the dirt with his sword.

Their situation was hopeless, he said, fewer than 200 Texans against 4,000 well-equipped Mexican soldiers. Their choice: flee the old mission or cross the line and stay to fight for the freedom of Texas.

Only one man, a mercenary, left. Three days later, the 182 men fought until none were left alive. Davy Crockett died in the Alamo. So did Jim Bowie.

``Remember the Alamo'' became the battle cry of the Texas army and one yelled by underdogs ever since. The Texans had held out for 13 days. Later, commanded by General Sam Houston, the Texas troops won their long-fought independence.

In 1845, Texas joined the United States, but even today many Texans (including my husband) consider their home a separate and special country.

San Antonio was my first choice to give my kids an introduction to their Texas heritage. It's also a kid-friendly city, home to an interactive science museum -- the H-E-B Science Treehouse of the Witte Museum, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Sea World, and all the nachos and tacos your kids can eat. There's also a year-old children's museum, a gargantuan Downtown All-Around Playground that was built by volunteers and a first-rate zoo.

All the while, the kids will get a chance to learn more about a unique part of the country and the many cultures -- cowboy, German, Mexican, Native America -- that have made it. Here's the place for the kids to get cowboy boots and hats, and, at the Market Square, Mexican shirts and pinatas, or learn what TexMex really means. (Aventura three-day two- night vacation packages for a family of four start at $399 including admission to Sea World and Six Flags. Call 800-501-1851.) This is an option for those who couldn't get cruise reservations or plane tickets to Florida this spring.

You're all invited to come to San Antonio's annual 10-day bash later this month when Fiesta Texas kicks off on April 18. Started in 1891 to honor Texas heroes, it now celebrates the city's diverse cultures. (Call the Fiesta Commission at 210-227-5191.) There's a downtown Fiesta Carnival, an Oyster Bake (with more than 90,000 oysters served, along with other TexMex treats), fireworks and an arts fair. Along the way, there are special activities for kids, from a children's craft-making spot at the arts fair, to Clown Alley and a giant Twister game.

There's the Festival de Animales at the San Antonio Zoo, celebrating Latin culture with singing, dancing and food. At the Texas Children's Festival at the University of Texas' Institute of Texan Cultures, kids can visit a frontier dentist's office, a teepee and an old barbershop, among other exhibits designed to show youngsters how different peoples, from the Native Americans to the Mexicans to the frontiersmen have helped build Texas.

The city wants families to visit so much that it has its own ``Just for Kids'' guide. (Call the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-447-3372 and ask for the ``passport'' to several attractions as well as the SAVE brochure of discount coupons.)

The city also serves as a gateway to touring the Texas hill country with its bluebonnets and the LBJ Ranch, small towns like New Braunfels, known for its German heritage and restaurants, dude ranches like the Bald Eagle Ranch or Flying L Ranch in Bandera (Call Old Dude Ranch Vacations at 1-800-444-DUDE.) For those seeking a luxury getaway, there's the Hyatt Hill Country Resort. (Call 1-800-233-1234 and ask about the half-price second-room option for kids).

The problem is you likely won't be able to get the kids out of San Antonio. After they've spent five minutes at the Alamo and slightly longer racing down the 2 1/2-mile San Antonio River Walk (you can opt for an inexpensive boat ride instead), they'll want to head for:

SIX FLAGS FIESTA TEXAS. In between the rides, point out the areas that recognize Texas' heritage. New this year are The Road Runner Express coaster and the Super Heroes Live Show. Call 210-697-5050.

THE ALAMODOME, home of the San Antonio Spurs. Take a tour. Call 210-207-3663.

SEA WORLD OF TEXAS, which this year introduces ``The Great White,'' the only inverted steel roller coaster in Texas. This Sea World is not only a marine animal park, but an amusement and water park complete with a five-story-high water slide. You can eat with Shamu the whale and take a picture with his trainers? Just don't make the mistake of hitting Sea World on a hot summer day, as we did. Wait until evening. Call 800-4ADVENTURE or check out the Web site designed for students and teachers at http://www.seaworld.org. Ask about the shuttle service from San Antonio hotels.

THE H-E-B SCIENCE TREEHOUSE is one museum the kids won't beg to leave early. The 15,000-square-foot building has four levels of hands-on science. Check out the city from the rooftop telescopes or see if you can make it through the maze. Call 210-357-1900.

THE MAGIK THEATRE is San Antonio's professional repertory theater for families. Located near the River Walk, the theater producers original and classic plays such as ``The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe'' and ``Huck Finn's Story.'' Even better, tickets average $2.50.

THE DOWNTOWN ALL-AROUND PLAYGROUND. When the kids can't see sights any longer, take them to the playground at HemisFair Park and let them burn off some energy in the tire tunnel or castle. They might also want to head for Brackenridge Park, the San Antonio Zoo and Eagle Miniature Train that runs around the park.

Eat a freshly-baked tortilla for me.

(Look for Eileen Ogintz's books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')

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