As many of y’all know, I recently earned the opportunity to be a Texas Traveller! Alas, after a family illness, we weren’t able to take the trip. So, I did the next best thing – I enlisted fellow fabulous #FamilyTravelCA member Andrea Traynor from Mommy Gearest to experience Texas on my behalf! Take it away Andrea!
I can’t say that San Antonio was on my bucket list. But having recently spent three days there, standing in for Lena, it should have been. And it should have been way up there on the list, too.
Because San Antonio, Texas is simply, fabulous. Rich in history, it boasts world-class restaurants that even the most discerning foodies will appreciate, is a retail-therapy dream and caters to just about any kind of traveller (doing well in both the romance and action-packed activity departments).
There’s a lot to love about this city in the southwest, y’all. Here are 17 things that’ll make you want to book your own bucket-list visit.
River Walk. Hands down, this is San Antonio’s crown jewel. Considered a public park, it’s actually a winding, miles-long network of walkways curved around the San Antonio River, which has had a city built around it on both sides—with enough restaurants, shops, water features, museums, bars, cafés and hotels to keep you busy for days. It’s just below street-level, and offers shade and access to river taxis. If you’re a jogger, bring your trainers because this is probably the prettiest run you’ll ever have.
Bliss. It’s rated the No. 1 restaurant in San Antonio on Trip Advisor, and with very good reason. This intimate gem, hiding about an $8 cab ride from the downtown core, is worth the hype. Think Manhattan-quality food with prices like you’d see at The Keg. The eclectic menu changes frequently, but if you have the opportunity to try the bone marrow and beef tenderloin tartare appetizer, it’s jaw-droppingly good. And the food is trumped only by impeccable service that was the perfect blend of formal presentation and casual familiarity.
Hyatt Regency San Antonio. There’s nothing better than waking up in a beautiful city well-rested and nestled between crisp sheets with your head on a comfy pillow, then throwing open your curtains to see mile upon mile (er, kilometre upon kilometre doesn’t have quite the same ring to it) of San Antonio’s awesome cityscape. Outfitted with one of the most spectacular lobbies anywhere, the Hyatt Regency is at the centre of it all—and it won’t break your wallet. Head over to Q-bar for a midday cocktail (you’re on vacation, after all) or slip up to the rooftop pool for a carefree afternoon.
The Alamo. One of San Antonio’s five missions, the Alamo is probably the only one you’ve heard of. And since it’s located just steps from so many of the city’s downtown hotels, it’s easy to get there. Bonus? It’s free to get in. Grab an audio tour for just $7 to learn about the Alamo’s importance in what was once part of Mexico, but be sure to arrive early (and midweek, if you can) to avoid the massive lineups that form by lunchtime. Watch out for Bella, the official Alamo cat, who wanders the grounds freely most of the day (when she’s not checking her Twitter handle, of course). If ever you have the opportunity to take a guided tour with Dr. Bruce Winders, the Alamo’s historian and curator, you must—it’ll make you want to major in U.S. history.
Natural Bridge Caverns. If you don’t rent a car, be prepared for about $150 in return cab fare to make it all the way to the caverns. But it was such a huge highlight of our San Antonio trip that it was worth every penny. The once-a-day handheld lantern tour at 9 a.m. was impossibly cool; you get to take much the same path that explorers took in the 1960s when the caverns were first discovered, during which you’ll temporarily experience total darkness nearly a hundred feet underground. The guide reads journal entries by gas-lit lamp and reminds you of the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. There’s also a zip line onsite that’s ideal for first-timers and kids, and be sure to grab a freshly squeezed lemonade!
Pearl Brewery. If you’re familiar with Toronto’s historic Distillery District, this is the San Antonio version. But, dare I say better? (Sorry, Toronto.) There’s a distinct hipster vibe, and if you’re a dog lover you’ll be in heaven. Local is the name of the game here, and it’s even the name of popular coffee shop, Local, where you really should have your morning latté—just be sure to add some Mexican vanilla. Handmade soap, cheese, all things artisan; you name it, it’s here. If you’re into indie retail that showcases local talent, check out the wares at LeeLee, Leighelena and The Tiny Finch. This was hands down my favourite shopping area.
Mixtli. Easily one of the most fascinating dining experiences you may ever have. Picture a single converted railway car that houses a kitchen, communal dining table for 12 and a washroom. Then imagine a nine-course flavour journey through old-world Mexican cuisine that will take your palate for a ride—complete with drink pairings. Only 12 guests per night can say they’ve dined at Mixtli, and to ensure that you’re one of them, you need to buy tickets online in advance.
Alamo Trolley Tour. Should you only be touching down in San Antonio for a day or two, you’ll want to maximize your tourist time with an Alamo Trolley tour, which is an hour-long tour that starts and ends in Alamo Plaza. Our driver-guide was almost Shakespearian in his approach to storytelling, and he helped give us a clearer picture of San Antonio’s beginnings. We loved seeing a couple of the city’s other missions, the newer stretch of River Walk that will soon connect to the main River Walk, and the German residential area with its mini-mansions was surprising and exquisite.
San Antonio Rio Cruises. You shouldn’t do the River Walk without doing a tour by boat, even if it just helps orient you and provide an opportunity to ask a local about some of the best restaurants along the river. Don’t be daunted by lineups to get on a river cruise—they’re frequent and can handle a deceiving number of passengers. It’s only about $8 per person and at about 30 to 40 minutes long, even restless little ones should be able to manage.
Ostra. After you step off your river cruise, take a quick walk over to the Mokara Hotel & Spa and grab a River Walk-side table at Ostra where you’ll enjoy the creations of Chef Ben Knack who commands much higher prices just across the river at Las Canarias. Indulge in the carefully edited wine list and nosh on appetizers as you people-watch. If nothing else, pop in for dessert and have the warm bread pudding with whiskey anglaise—it’s a foodie winner.
The locals. Listen, y’all: you can’t go to San Antonio and miss the southern charm. It’s not a slow drawl at all; men and women alike here have a sexy, smoky kind of accent that’ll make you woozy if the margaritas didn’t. We encountered nothing but genuinely warm, helpful people from the moment we arrived to the moment we left. It’s the kind of friendliness you’re familiar with if you live in the Great White North, except it comes wrapped up in y’alls.
CURED. Do you love meat as much as I do? Then CURED best be at the top of your must-dine list when you get to San Antonio. In the heart of the Pearl Brewery district (see No. 6), you’ll find charcuterie heaven. The vibe is edgy, the service is outstanding and the food is, well, food porn come to life. Come hungry and ready to share because you’ll want to try more than just a couple of dishes on this eclectic menu. No matter what you order, be sure a charcuterie platter makes its way to your table (with the smoked duck ham on it). And I also strongly recommend the New Orleans barbecue shrimp. It’s wow.
River Taxis. Navigating San Antonio is fairly straightforward by foot or taxi, but for a real treat, take a water taxi to your destination – as long as you don’t need to be there quickly. There are stops all along River Walk, and once you see a boat, just holler. Your scenic ride isn’t over when the boat stops, either, because the $15 ticket is good for 24 hours, which means you can hop on and off and do as much (or as little) as you’d like. Since the river cruise doesn’t travel nearly as far as the river taxis, you’ll see much more of the River Walk this way, including beautiful mosaics and interesting bridges. Go far enough and you’ll also go through a lock!
Semi-precious gemstone shopping. All I wanted to buy in San Antonio was something made of turquoise. I ended up with a pair of shoes, a dress, a T-shirt and two necklaces (aside from all the stuff I got for my kids). Because did I mention how good the shopping is here? But one thing’s for sure: if you want semi-precious jewelry, like turquoise or coral, there are plenty of shops and there are deals to be had. For example, my gorgeous statement necklace in a bold, red coral was just $40 in a little store at Alamo Plaza; while that turquoise necklace of mine was 50 per cent off in the Pearl Brewery. If you want to splurge, that’s easy to do, too, as evidenced by the $1,400 multi-strand turquoise necklace I was coveting in the jewelry store beneath the Hyatt Regency.
Häagen-Dazs in Alamo Plaza (214 Alamo Plaza South). An entire storefront filled with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, sundaes and milkshakes. ‘Nuf said.
Tower of the Americas. For those of us who can boast that the CN Tower in our backyards, it’s hard not to take skyline views for granted. But if you’ve never been up to an observation deck, this one is pretty spectacular at night and really showcases how vast the greater San Antonio area is – beyond the downtown core. Grab a cocktail in the revolving bar and watch the night sky go by. Try the 4D ride if you’re with little kids.
Downtown walkability. There’s no underground transit system to speak of, and that’s because there’s truly no need. There’s just so much happening right along the River Walk that you don’t need to branch too much farther outside of downtown San Antonio; it’s definitely a walker’s paradise. We took very few taxis overall and never felt like we should have rented a car. The way the city is designed around the river lends itself to feeling very encased, very safe and very accessible. So bring some comfortable shoes – because you don’t want to miss all that beautiful San Antonio has to offer.
Looks like you had an amazing time, Andrea! Special thanks to Texas Tourism and SheBlogs for arranging this San Antonio getaway. Yee-Haw!