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10 facts about San Antonio that will surprise you

1. San Antonio is big. Like, really big.

In fact, it’s the second-biggest city in Texas. By area, it’s twice the size of Chicago. With a population of over 1.4 million, it’s the seventh-largest city-proper in the country and is gaining on all six above it. This isn’t some second-tier cowboy outpost — it’s a major metropolitan hub.

2. We’re home to the first modern art museum in the Southwest.

The McNay Art Museum brought modern art to Texas in 1954, when Marion Koogler McNay, an art teacher and heiress to an oil fortune, donated her San Antonio mansion to the art cause. These days, it’s home to works from some of the best artists of all time, like Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. Then there’s the awesome local art — which you probably won’t find at MoMA — like the contemporary Latino prints and Southwest art collections. All in all, there are now some 20,000 works at the McNay.

3. We really know how to keep it cool.

San Antonians know a thing or two about heat…which prompted us to learn about cold. In 1928, the 21-story Milam Building in downtown San Antonio became the first air-conditioned high-rise in the US. The AC system kept temperatures to 80 degrees, a welcome relief for all those workers doing…whatever people did in offices decades before the first desktop computers. But we didn’t stop with office buildings — San Antonio is home to country’s first air-conditioned bank, hotel, and Catholic Church. And did we mention the creator of Gatorade was from San Antonio?

4. San Antonio holds a world record for tamale making.

If you’ve been to South Texas, you’re probably familiar with our thing for tamales. Yes, they’re a staple Mexican food, and yes, we’re totally obsessed with them. So obsessed, in fact, that a local high school made 17,106 tamales — that’s 2,420 pounds — in 10 hours during a tamalada. This put the Alamo City in the pages of the Guinness World Records,… though the officials did have to create a new category: “Most Tamales Made in a 12-hour Period.”

5. You can thank us for Shaq.

Shaquille O’Neal, star of Kazaam (oh right, and also 15-time NBA All-Star), went to Robert G. Cole High School in San Antonio. There, the skinny, nearly 7-foottall teenager led his team to a 36-0 state championship record in 1989 (they had a 68-1 record over two years). He also still holds the state record for number of rebounds in a season, with 791. In 2014, Shaq came back to the Texas state basketball tournament for a reunion with his former high school teammates, still towering over them like he did 25 years ago.

6. We’re home to one of the top-ranked theaters in the world.

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and its state-of-the art sound system and design attract the big names — think Paul McCartney and Meghan Trainor. With its main 1,738-seat performance hall, an intimate studio theater, and an awesome outdoor performance plaza, the Tobin has been ranked as one of the top 100 theaters in the world of its size.

7. The San Antonio Missions are the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is home to four of the city’s five Spanish missions — outposts that date back to the 17th century. Along with the iconic Alamo, they were selected for UNESCO designation in 2015 after a successful campaign by city and state officials. The Missions were chosen for their “interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures.” Today, they’re pretty much at the top of any San Antonio visitor’s to-do list — the Alamo alone attracts over 2.5 millions visitors every year.

8. We’re home to the first historic district in Texas.

Originally built up by German immigrants in the 1860s, the King William Historic District is 25 blocks of style clearly influenced by its European founders. It’s seen its ups and downs, but after being designated the first historic district in the state, it’s been rebuilt and reborn. Now you can spend an evening here exploring local art, gawking at opulent mansions, and sipping a cold one at Blue Star Brewing on South Alamo.

9. The Alamo City has the nation’s first all-digital library.

Accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the Bexar County BiblioTech was the first library in the US to offer an exclusively digital collection — and is still the only one to do so. The golden age of the paperback has ended, so why not borrow e-readers from the library and attend book club meetings streamed online? Bonus: Its “computer lab” comes with iPads and Xboxes. Way to up the bar, San Antonio.

10. The Witte Museum raised money for its first collection by selling flowers.

In 1923, local high school teacher Ellen Schultz wanted to start a museum in San Antonio, but was short on cash. Schultz and her students sold flowers (bluebonnets, to be specific), baked cakes, and put on small plays to raise enough money to get started. Today, the Witte Museum is super legit as well as super popular, with exhibits ranging from Texas art, to dinosaur bones, to one of the world’s largest collections of circus artifacts and memorabilia. It’s also currently undergoing a $100 million redevelopment — not bad for a bake sale project.

Come and check it out.

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