To San Antonio
Over the years we’ve heard so much about Austin – the lakes! the music! the Longhorns! – that neighboring San Antonio has gotten little to no play. But lately everyone is realizing there’s more to this Hill Country town than the Alamo.
Why drive the 2.5 hours (make that 3 if you stop at Buc-ee’s) out I-10?
Ceci Goldstone, who left Houston and moved to San Antonio with her husband Michael and two now-teenaged boys six years ago, says, “San Antonio is getting ever hipper. [The city] is doing its darndest to catch up with [Houston’s] arts scene…, more of which I discover daily.”
Josh Zeller, who grew up in Houston and moved to San Antonio with his wife Allison in 2001 (they now have three children) agrees. “The San Antonio Museum of Art; houses the largest collection of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Asian art in the southern United States] always has great exhibits, and The Witte has a great new expansion as well. The new children’s museum, called The DoSeum, is very hands-on and fantastic for kids.”
Robin Wayne, who, with her husband Donald, grew up in San Antonio and moved to Houston 15 years ago, adds, “If you have kids [they have two teenaged girls], the Witte has a big treehouse that’s like a kids’ museum. It’s a great family museum.
“And you have to go to the McNay. All the brides take their pictures there.” That’s because the collections, comprising the first modern-art museum in Texas, are housed in a 1920s Spanish Colonial-Revival manse, which not only makes for a great photo backdrop but also allows museum-goers to view the art as they would in a residence.
Beyond museums, check out Pearl, a 16-block retail-dining-residential neighborhood off the River Walk that was home to the Pearl Brewery until it closed in 2001. Here, coffee shops and pop-up outdoor yoga classes coalesce with restaurants rated as some of the best in Texas. “There seem to be new restaurants and bars opening weekly,” Josh says.
Ceci’s favorite Pearl shops: “The Tiny Finch, owned by Houston native Courtney Beauchamp, has wonderful gifts. Dos Carolinas for San Antonio’s own custom guayaberas [there’s also an outpost in Houston]. The Sporting District is a very Garden & Gun-type establishment with wonderful southern … leather goods, apparel and artisan knives. Local Coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up, accompanied by beautifully boxed macarons from Bakery Lorraine.
“And the restaurants. A bar seat at Cured is one of our favorite spots,” Ceci says. “And if you are young and hip, a beer at Southerleigh is not to be missed Galvestonian Jeff Balfour is the chef and owner here].” Ceci also recommends walking to the San Antonio Museum of Art [SAMA] from Pearl: “The walk is a treat,” she says.
Another option: rent bikes at the Pearl outpost of Bike World, where staff will map out a ride along the immaculately maintained River Walk’s Museum Reach. You’ll ride past SAMA and several public art displays, including Philadelphia artist Donald Lipski’s F.I.S.H. installation: 25 giant, anatomically correct, lit-from-within sunfish hanging from an I-35 underpass outside the museum.
Veering from Pearl, Robin suggests visiting Market Square: “My friends always want me to bring home Mexican dresses, and I’ll get them there. Go to Mi Tierra for Mexican food and La Margarita for really good margaritas,” she says.
In the Alamo Heights neighborhood, Ceci says, “The Bird Bakery is not to be missed for sweets like the delicious mini-cupcakes [in flavors like Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coconut Candy Bar and St. Germaine] or a quick salad for lunch.”
Native Houstonian Meg Culp moved to San Antonio 11 years ago with her husband John. They live there today with their children, who are 12 and 10. In and around Alamo Heights, Meg likes the San Antonio Botanical Garden and the Sunken Garden (or Japanese Tea Garden). “I think both are spectacular,” she says. “They’re beautiful green spaces that you can go wander, and there’s always a special exhibit going on at the Botanical Gardens that will change season to season.
“The Sunken Gardens are on sort of the same grounds as the zoo. You know we have a great zoo. You can park wherever, take the train and do it all: the zoo, then get off at the Witte and then at the Sunken Gardens, where you could be for 10 minutes or two hours. It’s really a hidden treasure.”
In the same neighborhood, Meg likes Cappy’s for dinner – “Old San Antonio,” she says – and Cappyccino’s for lunch. At either, do not miss the Sticky Toffee Pudding or Coconut Cream Pie. Meg also recommends Tre Trattoria for pizza and Italian. And for Mexican in Alamo Heights, she likes Paloma Blanca.
Ceci says everyone should take time to visit the missions. “Yes, even the Alamo,” she says. “The missions really shaped this city.” In 2015, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated San Antonio’s missions as a World Heritage site – one of only 10 designations in the U.S., including the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall. Meg specifically suggests going to Mission Concepción. “I think it’s the prettiest mission, and it’s easy to take a picnic and wander through.”
Ceci adds, “I would be remiss if I didn’t include a walk around the King William District. I was sad to have missed [its] grandeur and grace for my first three years here. Lots of up-and-coming restaurants there. Bliss and Hot Joy are our favorites.” King William is Texas’ first officially zoned historic district and encompasses 25 downtown blocks filled with grand 19th-century residences, many of which have been restored as residences, restaurants, galleries and shops.
Where to stay? “The best spot for a couple would have to be the Emma in Pearl,” Josh says. “It is over the top in luxury and very well done. As for a family, the JW Marriott [San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa] is fantastic. They just added new waterslides and have so much for a family to do.
“And Westin La Cantera is fantastic if you really like eating, shopping and golf.”
“San Antonio always seems to have something going on,” Josh says. “Whether it’s something large like Fiesta and the rodeo, or something a little more toned-down like a paella festival or farmer’s market, you can always find something to celebrate.”
See a list of upcoming San Antonio happenings.
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