A picturesque river winds through historic downtown. Adventurous sorts explore ancient Spanish missions - and spicy Mexican food. Margaritas and mariachi music abound.

It's all part of the appeal of San Antonio, a place of history and romance, where diversions are many.From its quaint restaurants and pubs along the popular River Walk to the museums of the nearby Alamo, this city of a million people - the nation's ninth-largest - fascinates all ages. And the friendly, relaxed mood is instantly pleasing.

By far the most popular destination is the Alamo, site of a 1836 battle in which 189 Texas patriots died at the hands of the Mexican army of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

Established in 1718, the Alamo, or Mission San Antonio de Valero, was one of a chain of Spanish missions built by Franciscan friars trying to introduce Christianity to the Indians. The Texans later used the Alamo as a fort in the war for independence from Mexico.

Missions San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan Capistrano and Espada also dot the city as part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Each of the missions has an active parish church. They are popular spots for traditional San Antonio weddings.

La Villita is another must-see attraction for history-lovers. This downtown village is nestled along the San Antonio River and houses shops and art galleries in its old buildings.

The Menger Hotel, built in the 19th century next to the Alamo, has gone through several restorations to preserve its historic atmosphere. The hotel's bar, where Theodore Roosevelt recruited his "Rough Riders," is filled with folklore.

Across downtown, a literal taste of San Antonio awaits at Market Square, patterned after a traditional Mexican market. The famous Mi Tierra and La Margarita restaurants serve up sizzling fajitas, savory enchiladas and other favorite Mexican foods and beverages. Jovial mariachi musicians provide the entertainment.

Just as popular are the market's assortment of gift shops and its dozens of trinket-selling vendors in the huge El Mercado.

The ultimate San Antonio event takes place each spring when the entire city lets loose for "Fiesta." Dozens of festivals, parades and other special events take over the city during the wild three-week party.

Festivals also are part of San Antonio's charm the rest of the year.

A festival of lights illuminates the River Walk at Christmas. A 10-day St. Patrick's Day celebration - featuring the river dyed green - takes place in March. Various other art and music festivals occur throughout the year.

For visitors who like amusement parks or animals, San Antonio has at least two major attractions.

At Sea World of Texas, killer whales, dolphins and sea lions perform shows, and sharks, penguins and other sea creatures are exhibited in natural settings.

The internationally known San Antonio Zoo has 3,612 animals, representing 674 species. Its African antelope collection is one of the largest and most varied in the world. It's the only zoo exhibiting an endangered whooping crane.

In 1992, the city will greet its newest attraction, a musical theme park called "Fiesta Texas." Park developers, who also created Opryland in Nashville, say Fiesta Texas will feature the music and culture of Texas and the Southwest.