We love New Orleans…(OK, kind of off topic, right?). It’s usually our first choice for a long weekend away for sooooo many reasons (but that’s a story to come). Point is, we wanted somewhere we hadn’t been. And there’s nothing quite like someplace new. So, off to San Antonio, which we must say, exceeded our expectations…and the bar was set quite high.
Day 1: River Walking – We saved a bit staying at the Hyatt Place on St. Mary’s, just a short, enjoyable walk along the river as opposed to the Hyatt Regency, smack in the heart of the Riverwalk. If you’ve never stayed at a Hyatt Place, we highly recommend it. You give up a bit of luxury for a clean, modern spacious room at a fraction of the price, and a decent breakfast…
We made a beeline (is that a word anymore?) to the Riverwalk. Down a short fight of stairs from street level, an entire world exists. The ‘venice of the west‘ beneath the city’s historic skyscrapers was lined with colorful umbrellas, serving great Mex, Tex-Mex and good ol’ Texas BBQ.
I couldn’t wait for a Marguerita (surprise??), and opted for a beer-rita for the full experience. Our first Lone-Star beer didn’t disappoint either. And the ducks you’re not supposed to feed are obviously being fed, as one practically jumped in my lap. We wandered and explored the winding pathways over stone bridges, beautiful lanscape and bright tour boats.
After a power nap back at our room, we had an amazing dinner at The Esquire, one of the oldest establishments in San Antonio (1933 to be exact, the year after prohibition was lifted). 91 feet of barstools, cozy cool, great Jazz, stamped copper ceilings and a stuffed badger on the cigarette machine. The friendliest mixologists steered us right with awesome Moscow Mules, deviled eggs and beer-battered Shrimp Toast for dinner. It doesn’t get better!
Looking for nightlife, we wound up at howl at the moon, the piano bar chain, which was a ton of fun to sing along with. The light-up carriage rides and an amazing hot dog stand outside wrapped the day.
Day 2: The Mission Trail – Though surrounded by touristy trappings, The Alamo is truly a moving experience. Once inside what remains of the walls, there was a palpable reverence for what took place here. And if you take the time to follow the history tour in the Long Barracks (and we recommend you do), it all unfolds in front of you. The amazing story was further brought to life for us by a passionate history talk given on the battlegrounds.
Our plan was to Uber down to Mission Conception to continue along the Mission trail, seeing all 5 including the Alamo. After a full exploration of the first, we were quite taken by the reverence and beauty of the historic building, not missing any of the open rooms and religious artifacts.
If Carla were a bike rider, I think we would have continued on, but the hot sun and another passing Uber led us back to the Blue Star Brewery, and we are SO glad we didn’t miss this. One of the best meals of the trip. My ‘Pig Pie’ (pulled pork smothered with cheesy mashed potatoes) and Carla’s creamy chicken and biscuits washed down with the local brews was just what the hot afternoon called for.
Once things cooled down, we headed out for the evening. We had to do the obligatory boat tour (as you should), which was actually quite fun, our guide filled us in on the history of the Riverwalk and the many buildings that were only facades until the stories were attached. Plus, they let you bring beer on board…
Once ashore, we actually ascended and walked to what I thought was the best Mexican restaurant in San Antonio – Rosario’s. The funky and fun decor housed a fresh spin on traditional Mexican. Don’t miss the chorizo quesadillas and the best chile relleno I ever had, stuffed with shrimp and fish. Have a prickly pear marguerita to wash it all down.
Day 3 – Road trip: Wanting a bit more Texas, we rented a car for the next two days to head out to the Hill Country (not too far, not too hilly) to nearby Gruene (pronounced ‘green’). Expecting a bit of wild west, it’s actually quite busy with tourists, but authenticity can be found amidst the crowded shops and streets. ??? Antiques was a treasure trove of everything from antique phones, cameras, glass wrought iron, boots, hats…it just went on and on. If we could have shipped any more home, we would have.
The general store, with an authentic soda fountain was a perfect stop for a float, though I loved tasting the local wines at The Grapevine. They were surprisingly good, even for wine snobs like us (that really enjoy a great $12 bottle of wine). With names like Los Pinos Pinky Tuscadero, Fiesta skinny dippin and Salt Lick BBQ white, how can you resist? We enjoyed a glass each outside at the wooden tables and debated how much we could ship back. Including my find of the trip, the Les Paul guitar (not a real guitar, to be clear) shaped out of Texas license plates. Yes, I think its way cool.
Lunch was a highlight, don’t miss the Gristmill River Grill, rustic digs with live music while you wait, great views and a riverside deck. The bacon-wrapped steak is a must-have. Of course, the town’s centerpiece is Gruene Hall, reportedly the country’s oldest running dance hall, and from the outside, you’d believe it. Inside, simple country charm welcomes you, as some of the greats have passed through, including Willie Nelson, George Strait, Lyle Lovett and countless others. We were treated to some authentic country by the ‘Railways’, and enjoyed every minute of their set (even the yodeling…).
That night, having had a lot of Tex-Mex, we opted for a bit of upscale along the river at the Westin Riverwalk. Quiet and romantic, a nice break from the afternoon and evening activity to come. My Texas dream was to whoop it up an authentic country dance hall. Yes, that was my vison, and my ever-patient wife obliged.
After exhaustive research (online, and asking everyone we met, including bartenders and the like) the Westin concierge guaranteed an age-appropriate good time at Midnight Rodeo. And he nailed it. Possible the biggest ‘nightclub/bar/dance hall I’ve ever seen, served up country tunes (occasional pop hits thrown in), Lone Star beers and a nice Bullit Bourbon around a HUGE racetrack dance floor. The people watching was extraordinary. From the outfits to the dancing, we were completely entertained. Mission accomplished!
Day 4 – The view from below: Another excursion outside of town to the Natural Bridge Caverns. Though they did their best to turn it into a theme park, with a safari ride, zip lines, obstacle course…we went for the main attraction – an 1800 foot descent into stunning natural sculptures, formed over ten of thousand of years. We took the standard tour, though the adventure tour (where they lower you on ropes into tiny spaces) really dose sound like and adventure. If anyone out there has ever tried it, please let us know what we missed. But as far as our tour, it was informative and visually spectacular.
We headed back to lunch at Market Square, the largest Mexican Market in the US. Three blocks lined with food stalls, shops and resturants, it was a flood of sound and color.
Lunch at Mi Tierra was no exception. The wall murals taking us through the history of Mexico, and the sheer magnitude of lights, decorations, mariachis and margueritas was close to visual overload, but made it a really fun experience. Traditional Mexican fare with absolute giant beers really helped the festive mood. Open for over 70 years, 24/7…wish we did a late night stop!
Of course we finished our trip where we started it, at the Riverwalk. Casa Rio, the very first established restaurant below street level had a history lesson on the menu, awesome quesadillas, and yes, another prickly pear marguerita. Claiming to be the inventor of Chili (we probably should have tried it), our friendly and chatty waiter made us feel welcome. This is the row of bright umbrellas you see in every postcard, and it is a must-do. Strolling around the Riverwalk, taking in the sounds and colors, a few more eats and drinks on a quieter Monday night brought a perfect 4 days to a perfect close.
We loved San Antonio, where you can have history, culture, music, food and experiences like nowhere else, all outside your hotel door. Just time it right, like we did, when it’s under 100 degrees! Adios…