"You can go to hell ... I'm going to Texas," Davy Crockett said.
It's a sentiment shared by anyone fleeing rut and routine for the romance and myth of the Lone Star State. The legendary frontiersman made that statement after he decided to give up politics and its problems.
For him, that decision meant going from the frying pan into the fire. He ended up losing his life while defending the Alamo, a former Catholic mission built to convert local American Indians in the 1700s, in what is now San Antonio.
It was the devastating massacre by Gen. Santa Anna's army that created a thirst for revenge and gave birth to the battle cry "Remember the Alamo!"
And there couldn't be a better time to do it.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo, where approximately 200 Texans fought off more then 2,000 of Santa Anna's soldiers for 13 days in 1836. All of the defenders died making their last stand in the former chapel.
It is that building's limestone facade that comes to mind when one thinks of the Alamo. Operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas since 1905, the site is considered hallowed ground. Crockett, David Bowie and William Travis were among those who died there. Santa Anna had the bodies stacked and burned.
Today, between 2.5 million and 4 million visitors walk the grounds of the Alamo, which played a part in the tangled history of Texas, Mexico and the United States. Located on Alamo Plaza in downtown San Antonio, it faces souvenir shops and fast-food restaurants across the street.
The temperatures in the summer months reach the triple digits, which is why the perfect time to visit is now through March. Comfortable strolling weather makes exploring beyond the walls of the Alamo delightful. Horse-drawn carriages line up for riders alongside the historic Menger Hotel. The cherry-wood-paneled ceiling, French mirrors and solid cherry bar, a replica of the taproom in the House of Lords Club in London, is said to be the place Teddy Roosevelt came to enlist Rough Riders in 1898. His visage is everywhere.
If you nip in for a late afternoon sip, your eyes will have to adjust after resting in its very dim environs. Once outside, your options are many. La Villita, San Antonio's oldest neighborhood, was where Spanish soldiers manned the cannon line that bombarded the Alamo. Now you can stroll in and out of the restored buildings, which are filled with galleries, arts and crafts. It is one of many places in San Antonio on the National Register of Historic Places.
Another is San Fernando, one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States. It was built by Canary Islanders between 1738 and 1750. On the way, you may pass the privately owned Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum. It's a sideshow of horns, hides and the occasional sea creatures with colorful characters to greet and meet. One day, Wild Bill might be saying "Howdy," and on another it could be Teddy Roosevelt. Housed in the old Lone Star Brewery, it used to be another of the Rough Rider hangouts.
The River Walk
Beyond that is the historic King William District, a residential area where many of the homes are marked with plaques describing their origins.
You can reach it by riverboat taxi or, if you are up for it, strolling the famous River Walk, which is one of the most popular attractions in San Antonio. It's crisscrossed with pedestrian bridges as well as one major traffic bridge, which divides the shops from the residential path of the river. The River Walk's main loop is lined with hotels, restaurants, bars and shops so that during the day visitors on the banks and those taking the riverboat tours feel like they're in the midst of a perpetual party.
Inevitably, you will spot the 65-foot Torch of Friendship as you wander this very walkable city. The bright orange and red abstract sculpture is at the intersection of Losoyo, Alamo and Commerce streets, said to be the place where the Spanish executed prisoners captured during the battle of the Alamo. It was a gift from Mexico to the people of San Antonio.
Nearby is Hemisfair Park, where the 1968 World's Fair was held. Visitors who don't suffer from vertigo will enjoy a ride to the top of the Tower of the Americas.
Finally, for a reprieve from hustle and bustle, take a cab or hop in your car and ride out to the McNay Art Museum. The Spanish Colonial revival mansion was once the home of Marion Koogler McNay. Born in Ohio, she came to call San Antonio home. After her death in 1950 she left her home and considerable art collection as an endowment to open the first modern art museum in Texas. Works by Modigliani, Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin are just some of the treasures housed in the former home of the oil heiress. Like a sanctuary, it sits on 23 acres of landscaped lawns, gardens and fountains. You'll find the gift shop in the contemporary addition.
Also outside of the city center is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower. St. Therese is known as "the little flower" because it is said when she answers your prayer you will know by either seeing roses or smelling a rose. One of only two basilicas dedicated to St. Theresa the Little Flower in the United States, it is not easy to get to, and many locals within blocks of it didn't know where it was. But it is worth the visit. Getting there feels like a pilgrimage. If you are in time for Mass, go up to the choir loft. The local choir and band are happy to have you, but be prepared to sing or pray. They won't ask. That would be a miracle.
So go for the Alamo, but stay for all of San Antonio.
IF YOU GO
There are many great hotels, but the Hyatt, located on the River Walk with some rooms overlooking the Alamo, is a favorite. Easy access to everything. Breakfast is included, and the price is reasonable. Park the car yourself across the street. It is considerably cheaper.
Make sure to have a meal at Schilo's, a German deli at 424 E. Commerce St. It has a great breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. The decor seems pretty much as it must have been when it opened in 1917. They make their own root beer, and the cherry cheesecake is a favorite.
Fly into San Antonio International Airport and rent a car. It is an easy 10- to 15-minute drive to downtown San Antonio, depending on traffic.