Deep in the heart of Texas lies San Antonio, the 2nd largest city in Texas and the nation’s 7th largest. I recently took a break from my business travel lifestyle and switched into vacation mode, visiting both downtown San Antonio and the surrounding area. I crammed a lot into a few short days, but if you can experience the city like I did, then your trip will be just as memorable as mine.
What To Do
The first stop on any trip to San Antonio, and one could say the gem in it’s crown, is the River Walk. Winding it’s way through the heart of downtown, the River Walk includes shops, restaurants, venues, and more to take in. The best way to tour the River Walk is to, well … walk, but if you are not looking for a self guided tour, then you can hop in a boat. The guided boat tours are popular, but not your only option. Water taxis aren’t as busy and you’ll still get a bit of history, or a dinner cruise offers up a fine dining as you take a few laps around downtown (more on that later).
The River Walk started as irrigation and flood control for the area over a hundred years ago. Inside the city limits, the San Antonio River encompasses 3 parts: Museum Reach to the north, Downtown Reach, and Mission Reach to the south. The 13-mile stretch were first improved upon in the 1930’s and 40’s, with the goal of bringing the natural habitat back to the irrigation channels and drainage ditches. With help from federal, local, and private funding, the San Antonio River Improvements Project is a continuous effort to restore nature and provide a seamless blend between the city and it’s national parks.
In Mission Reach, alongside 8 miles of public space, walking paths and more, you’ll find Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo. Mission San José, the largest mission in town, offers a visitor’s center, as well as a walking tour of this historic site. Inside the visitor’s center, make sure to view the 10+ minute video on the history of the mission first to give you some perspective on the rest of the property. The church still has Catholic masses in Spanish, and is a sight to behold. Behind the church, make it a point to see the mission’s gristmill, still operational and dating all the way back to 1794.
For a bird’s eye view of the city, make sure to stop by Alamo Helicopter Tours. Departing from Stinson Airport, just 15 minutes south of downtown, Alamo offers up a range of tours of different areas and of different lengths. I took in their downtown tour, though you can also head over the Hill Country, have dinner in Driftwood, or tour the Serengeti resort.
The San Antonio Museum of Art houses a world class collection of art, both modern and from antiquity. Built in the old Lone Star Brewery, the SAMA is extensive and could easily take a whole day to see all it has to offer. Their permanent art from the Mediterranean was my favorite. Their current travelling collection is Aphrodite and The Gods of Love, which lasts until February 17th.
The Witte Museum offers an interactive view of natural history, science, and South Texas heritage. From dinosaur bones to old photographs of real Texans, the Witte is a great place for the whole family. Their next travelling exhibit, “Dinosaurs Unearthed: Bigger. Better. Feathered…”, opens on February 23rd.
What visit to San Antonio would be complete without a tour of The Alamo? Take a tour of the historic mission and experience where Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, and the Alamo Defenders held back General Santa Anna’s forces for 13 days. There is more to The Alamo than the famous battle in 1836; every flag ever flown is still on display, showcasing over 300 years of Texas history. It’s a definite that my next time to San Antonio, my husband is coming with. Seeing the Alamo has been on his list for a very long time and it’s time to get a checkmark next to this site.
San Antonio is also home to two great theme parks – SeaWorld San Antonio (open on February 2nd) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas (open on March 2nd) are both just outside of the city. For the sports fan, seeing the Spurs play at the AT&T Center is a must. They have a great outdoor area with local food trucks, a large outdoor screen that broadcasts the game, and a stage for bands to play during halftime. On a personal note, their traffic control after the game is also the best I have ever seen; I have never exited a sporting event that quickly before.
Where To Eat
Part restaurant, part bar, and part bakery, Mi Tierra is a San Antonio landmark worth visiting. Started in 1941 as a three table cafe in the mercado, Mi Tierra is now more of an experience than a restaurant. Don’t get me wrong – the food is still great – but the decor, bakery, and atmosphere are worth the visit alone. You can’t go wrong with a traditional pastry from the Panaderia, a song from the travelling mariachis, or a Tecate while catching the big game at the bar. I’m typically a wine and margarita girl, but here, the Tecate was just right!
My favorite meal in San Antonio is served at the Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden. Newly opened and located in the historic and revitalized Pearl Brewery, Boiler House focuses on Texas-ranch style grilled cuisine, local ingredients, and a vast selection of wine & beer to enjoy. The restaurant is actually housed in the old Pearl Brewery boiler house, preserving as many of the original elements of the building as possible during it’s construction. I thoroughly enjoyed the brussel sprouts (served with grilled lemon and country ham), the 32 oz. Tomahawk Ribeye (with bone marrow butter) and the Campfire S’mores for dessert.
And as previously mentioned, dining on a boat while getting a tour of the River Walk is an option. There are a handfull of restaurants that cater your guided boat tour, which can be found here. Boats can be rented for a flat rate, so they are perfect for either a romantic dinner cruise for two or a large family meal. Our captain took us all over San Antonio and gave us a very personal tour of the River Walk and it’s history. The river boat dining is best enjoyed at night, where the lights and beauty of the River Walk really shine.
Where To Stay
If you’re looking for a great hotel right on the River Walk, then you can’t do better than the San Antonio Westin. The room overlooked the outdoor heated pool and the river, came with a beautiful marble tiled bathroom, and all the amenities needed to still get some work done. The property houses a large workout studio, a 24-hour business center, The Woodhouse Day Spa, and Zocca – a wonderful casual Italian restaurant and bar right on the river. You could even rub elbows with visiting NBA teams in the lobby (the visiting Memphis Grizzlies towered over the other guests while waiting for their bus).
I want to thank the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting me on this trip. For help with your trip, go to VisitSanAntonio.com or call 800.447.3372.
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