If you're looking to go south for a sunny family vacation, you're probably thinking of Orlando, with its countless kid-friendly hotels, restaurants, and amazing theme parks.
But if you're interested in someplace a little more off the beaten path, shift your gaze to the west and consider San Antonio, Texas. This cool little tourist town offers attractions similar to those in Orlando, plus a lot more variety -- at half the cost and with half the crowds. For children, a stay in San Antonio can be a wonderful multicultural experience that's fun and educational. Here are 10 reasons to check out this Texas city.1. Cowboys, Part I
Give your kids a taste of frontier life at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum (buckhornmuseum.com; $15 for adults, $13 for kids 4 to 11, and free under 3). The exhibition features an authentic Western-style bar and restaurant, tons of cowboy paraphernalia, and an eye-popping display of animal antlers and horns. Kids will get a kick out of the quirky tour guides, dressed in leather vests, pointy boots, and ten-gallon hats, who will tell tall tales of Texas outlaws. There's more for little cowpokes at the Institute for Texas Cultures, including costumed ranch hands, Native American tepees, and an old-time chuck wagon (texancultures.com; $7 for adults, $4 for kids 3 to 12).2. No Passports Required
Located 150 miles north of the border, San Antonio is a great place to introduce your kids to Mexican culture -- without having to convert your pennies into pesos. Spanish is widely spoken here, Tejano music plays everywhere, and the streets are lined with shops selling Mexican crafts and cuisine (sink your teeth into some real tacos and tamales for a change). Make sure you stop by El Mercado, a Mexican-style marketplace full of colorful booths. Afterward, grab a memorable meal at the nearby Mi Tierra, a homey restaurant owned and operated by the Cortez family since 1941. Open 24 hours a day -- refried beans for breakfast, anyone? -- it's got a fantastic kids' menu and a mariachi band stops at each table to entertain.3. Remember The Alamo!
Give the kids a painless (we promise!) lesson in American history at The Alamo, an early-18th-century adobe structure originally used to convert Native Americans to Christianity. It's better known as the stronghold where Texas settlers made their last stand to fight off the Mexican "invaders." Don't miss the Davy Crockett exhibit, then let your little ones roam around the park-like complex (thealamo.org; free admission). If your children aren't pooped out, visit the nearby San Antonio Missions National Park to see four more missions and other historical sites (nps.gov/saan/; free admission).