Exotic food and drink, the picturesque River Walk and the famous Alamo are sure to amuse basketball fans visiting this weekend for the NCAA Final Four.

Out-of-towners who look beyond typical tourist spots also will discover that San Antonio is a city steeped in history and a place where Hispanic culture is prevalent and growing.

"There's so much richness to San Antonio, and I think that comes across," said Sandra Lopez, executive director of the Final Four Local Organizing Committee.The Final Four semifinals will be held Saturday, with the championship game to follow on Monday in the Alamodome, a downtown stadium where the San Antonio Spurs play.

Most of the seats will be filled by visitors. Approximately 36,000 of the 40,000-plus Final Four ticketholders are from out of town.

Local officials expect those people to spend lots of money, too. The direct economic impact has been estimated at $13.9 million.

Situated 150 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, San Antonio - the nation's eighth-largest city - serves as a shopping, medical and business center for much of south Texas and northern Mexico.

Fifty-five percent of the 1 million residents are Hispanic, a fact evident in everything from the Spanish frequently spoken to the Mexican-American entertainment and cuisine that enliven the city.

"The culture just lives within the people. You're going to get a touch of Mexico," said John Solis, special projects director for the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Much of the city's historic downtown architecture still stands, thanks mostly to the efforts of the San Antonio Conservation Society.

La Villita, a little village on a bend of the San Antonio River, and San Fernando Cathedral on Main Plaza both date to the 1700s. The notable Milam Building was built in 1928, and the imposing and colorful Tower Life Building came a year later.

The best-known structure is the Alamo, a Spanish mission where 189 Texas independence fighters died in an 1836 battle with the Mexican army. Four other missions - Concepcion, Espada, San Jose and San Juan - established in the 1700s by Franciscan friars - are farther south in the city.

San Antonio celebrates its ties to the Texas war for independence along with its multi-ethnic heritage each April during a 10-day citywide party known as Fiesta.

Tourism promoters plan to give Final Four visitors an early taste of Fiesta, hoping that San Antonio will come to mind when they plan future vacations or business trips.

"They find a gem here and the word spreads like wildfire," Solis said. "We can't help but win on this deal."