We have just arrived back from a nine day trip to San Antonio in Texas. I am somewhat sleep deprived (nothing new on that front) but very grateful to have been able to travel to this lovely Texan city. Sometimes I feel I have travelled so much that I should be writing these blogs with a far greater insight or wisdom than appears. Really though, I can only tell you of my experience and of my time spent in any one place.
So, what can I say about Texas! Well, its BIG!!! The ‘Lone Star State’ as Texas is affectionately known, is nearly 1,000 miles across and even longer north to south. And Texas is full of real cowboys and real cowgirls along with being home to: long horns, Giant (okay, 1956 movie with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean – if you’ve never seen it, rent it), epic cattle drives, cattle ranches, margaritas, cowpokes, the Alamo, Davy Crockett, cowboy hats, brisket, hand tooled leather goods, chilli, beautiful mosaics and colourful pottery and Texan honky tonks. It is also the state where it is illegal for children to have unusual haircuts and believe it or not, more wool comes out of Texas than any other state in the US.
San Antonio is one of Texas’s most historic cities. It was once home to the mighty Comanche and Apache Indians and is also home to the Alamo – The Alamo being one of the greatest icons of the American southwest. Spanish missionaries founded this area so there is a distinctly beautiful Hispanic and Mexican influence to the architecture and surrounds.
I found San Antonio to be a lovely clean city with vibrant urban neighbourhoods within easy walking distance. This city is so much more than just Mexican food and you can easily spend your days lost in history, art galleries, gardens, museums, food, ghost stories, green space, markets and little villages. Curiously, this town also allowed me the pleasure of entertaining two of my favourite passions – an Elvis impersonator and John Wayne.
Travel Tips: also known as ‘great things to do in San Antonio’
* Use a local map and get out and about on foot. There is an awful lot to see in San Antonio itself plus there are five beautiful and serene missions to explore. One of the missions, The Alamo, is located in the heart of San Antonio city itself. Take your time at the missions as exploring each one will take well over two hours. Guided tours are available and they are free as is your admission into the National Mission Parks.
* Chat with local San Antonian’s – locals always have great insight to the best places (be those not well known to tourists) to eat/drink and visit. I prefer not to rely on sites such as Trip Advisor so locals (and the fun and adventurous ones who have travelled there before hand) become a great source of information. San Antonian’s are also friendly, generous and happy souls but how could you be anything but happy when residing in this city.
* Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum – a definite visit for a little Texan quirk at its best. This registered museum is also the smallest in the world. Call first because as 90+ year old Barney says ‘It takes me fifteen minutes to quit what I’m doing and then I have to get my shoes on’. And ironically, this quaint little museum has no toilet (restroom).
* The River Walk – an urban oasis that meanders alongside the San Antonio river. Parts of the River Walk are very touristy however there are refreshingly remote stretches of the walk where the food and beer and atmosphere is great and the ‘tourist’ is scarce. Best experienced on foot however there are boats (small barge like vessels) that run continually.
* The Alamo – an amazing piece of history right in the centre of San Antonio. No doubt the Alamo is remembered more for what it symbolises – heroism and the ultimate sacrifice for freedom in the most overwhelming of odds.
* Op shops – San Antonio also has some of the best ‘sammy’ stores around (‘sammy’s’ are what I call Good Samaritan/op shops) and in the US they are known as ‘thrift’ stores. I had time to skulk around a couple of these wonderful stores and the following I can happily recommend should you ever find yourself in San Antonio: ‘Boysville’ 307 W Olmos Drive SA. As much as I would like to keep this little gem to myself I can’t, and that is purely because it would just not be fair to those who don’t already know of its existence. This store is probably one of the best op shops (big call on my part I know) I have been to since arriving in the US. The ‘Community Thrift Store’ 1047 SE Military Drive SA – a great store, very neat and clean with a good range of items.
* The zoo – set on approximately 56 acres the San Antonio zoo is ranked as one of the top zoo’s in the nation. It is also the 100th birthday of the zoo this year.
A Roo at the Zoo
* The Japanese Tea Gardens – set on an historic site which dates back to 1917 these gardens of year round beauty, including a koi pond, are located just down from the zoo (or up depending on which way you are travelling).
* Historic Market Square – colourful shopping and dining all in one spot combining the cultural and artistic influences of Mexico.
* King William Historic District – this is a really pretty 19th century Texas neighbourhood with beautifully restored homes. Definitely worth a stroll upon its quiet streets.
* Six Flags – I love these sorts of places and ‘Six Flags Fiesta Texas’ was great with some of the fastest, tallest, wildest, craziest, bone rattling rides and roller coasters around. Lured by a somewhat misleading promise (I can be very persuasive at times) Steve humoured my eagerness for air-time and stomach dropping sensations for about half of the day.
* The San Antonio Botanical Gardens – if you are a garden lover as I am then this lovely living museum is a must.
* You will find trailer fare to upmarket cuisine in San Antonio and it is certainly the place to occupy the often cultural void of the Warner Robins chain food stores. A word of warning though: the ‘Mexican’ food served at the larger bars/restaurants around the busier parts of the River Walk are less than average.
Happily recommended: also known as ‘some of my favourite picks for eating and drinking in San Antonio’
* ‘The owl and the monkey’. Okay, this place doesn’t actually exist so don’t look for it. What you will need to look for is a place called ‘Howl at the Moon’. Piano bar…perhaps! but a lot of fun with live music by very talented musicians. Note: It is only affectionately known to me as ‘the owl and the monkey’ so if you mention the venue by that name not one single person in SA will know what you are talking about.
The very charming French-Canadian Paul Lefebvre at ‘Howl at the Moon’
* The Menger Bar – drink like a rough rider in this fab old world bar situated right across from The Alamo. It was in this actual bar that Teddy Roosevelt recruited volunteers for the Spanish-American War. I loved the history and the dark cherrywood, the French mirrors and the old sepia photographs in this very memorable place.
* Delores Del Rio – a hole in the wall on the River Walk. I love it just because of the name and believe it or not it serves Italian fare. I am currently thinking of changing my name by deed poll to Delores Del Rio!
* Blue Star Brewing Company – great food and medal winning beers. Another place to indulge my current beer affection and San Antonio does have some very impressive independent breweries.
* The Granary ‘Cue and Brew’ – this is great. Handcrafted beer and traditional Texas barbecue. Do try the slow smoked brisket which begs the question – can you live your life feasting entirely on brisket? Located at the Pearl Brewery, this is a little gem.
* The Farmers Markets (Pearl Brewery) – Saturday from 9am to 1pm. They may be small in size but they deliver big with a wealth of amazing fresh local produce, freshly handpicked flowers, breads and handmade goods.
The perfect Farmers Market breakfast – iced coffee and a freshly baked empanada
* Saltgrass Steak House – recommended by Paul. Very good steaks and if you can, grab a table on the open verandah at the front of house. It is the perfect place to enjoy your meal, enjoy good company and enjoy the art of ‘people watching’ from.
* The Luxury – The venue is outside, it’s clever, it’s by the river, they give you dinosaur and alligator table markers, the food is good and the selection of beer and wine is great so what’s not to love…..and I do love it here. On impossibly sunny San Antonio days it is one of the best places to be.
* Good coffee I am finding is difficult to come by so if in SA head down to a little place called ‘Fearless Brew Local Coffee’. They served a perfect affogato – rich double espresso and very creamy ice-cream.
* Italian restaurants x 2 – forgive me for not remembering the names of two very good Italian restaurants we dined at however we were in very good company and those evenings are what has remained in my memory rather than the restaurant names…..if someone does know them however, please feel free to jog my memory.
* I have saved the best till last – Alamo Street Eat Bar. This is a fab urban gourmet food truck park and a great spot to enjoy some very impressive ‘street food’. I really have a weakness (and passion) for these sorts of places. Nothing fancy and basic in concept – simple and straightforward bar, communal picnic tables, clever choice of music spinning and open-minded conversations with complete strangers. Try the ‘chicka chicka bang bang’ and at the end of the evening, a plate of beignets.
I loved my time in San Antonio. It is a place where bonds and friendships have been for me, forged. It is a place that I have a longing to one day return. It is a place of beauty and history and it has evoked sentiment, something I have not paid much mind to of late. Most importantly though, it is a place where any excuse to re-visit will be a good one x