A Blend of Cultures Makes for an Interesting Destination
By Marguerite Cleveland
San Antonio is blooming with spring blossoms as the winter chill dissipates. Enjoy alfresco dining along the San Antonio Riverwalk, bike to historic missions or explore Texas Hill Country in this mild season. Viva is the city’s bus and trolley service which has three distinct routes to take you to the most visited sites and attractions at a very economical rate for a day pass.
Where to Stay Make the most of your stay by splitting your visit into two sections. For the first half stay in the Texas Hill Country at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country. This fabulous resort has so many activities and dining venues, you won’t need to leave the grounds. Avid golfers will appreciate the onsite 18-hole course while those looking for a more relaxed experience can Zen out at the Windflower Spa. Kids of all ages will love the landscaped lazy river that looks like you are floating down a stone-strewn stream past waterfalls. Throw in a waterslide and a Flowrider where you can surf, and it is a complete waterpark. The grounds are lovely with plenty of shady trees and a nature trail.
For the second half of your stay, move downtown to the historic Hotel Gibbs, which is so close to the sites you can see the Alamo from your hotel window. The Gibbs is a charming boutique hotel located in the heart of Downtown San Antonio with “The Alamo” just one block down and in sight of the hotel. The hotel has kept all the historic details and is a comfortable place to stay while exploring the downtown area. It is within walking distance of all the major sights including the Riverwalk. Rates include breakfast in the morning and a taco bar in the evening in the Taproom 1909, which offers a nice selection of beer and wine.
Where to Eat The question should be where not to eat, as the rich culinary heritage of San Antonio will make it difficult to choose. In 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated San Antonio a Creative City of Gastronomy. It is the second city in the U.S. to earn this honor—and the first in Texas. It is not a surprise with the cultural influences of Mexican, Spanish, German and French that make for a truly unique culinary experience.
Start at Pearl, located just north of Downtown San Antonio and set on a former brewery that was built in 1883 and continued operating until 2001. The prestigious Culinary Institute of America established its third campus here and offers culinary instruction not only for professionals but for food and wine lovers as well. Consider taking a class on local cuisine. Make sure to visit the restaurant, Savor, for a truly unique experience. Enjoy a three- or four-course gourmet meal for less than $50. Your dinner is prepared and served by senior CIA students under the supervision of the professional faculty. Watch these rising culinary stars hone their craft. Pearl has a variety of shops and restaurants as well as a food hall and weekly farmers market. Well worth a visit.
Culinaria, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit promotes locally sourced food and wine experiences in San Antonio. Their website offers a variety of food trails which will take you all over the area. Although not on their curated lists of food trails, the Chef Trail is a neat way to find a great place to eat. Who would know better than a local chef? These are the places they go when not cooking their own food. The Taco Trail will take you to authentic Mexican food, each stop providing a unique experience with delicious handcrafted tacos.
What to Do San Antonio has a rich history enmeshed in modern amenities. There are so many things to do from exploring the remarkable Spanish Missions to riding an electric boat along the iconic Riverwalk.
Plan to spend a day at SeaWorld and Aquatica, both located less than 1 mile from the Hyatt Regency Hill Country, an official partner hotel. You can book a package online which includes accommodations and tickets to the parks, and you can tailor other add-ons like animal encounters or meals. Some of the animal encounters are surprisingly reasonable in cost, or you can go all out and book a Beluga Whale Swim Experience. A must do is purchasing fish to feed the sea lions. These guys are so funny with their antics to capture your attention so you will toss them a fish. Insider Tip: For just a few dollars more, you can upgrade to up-close parking, an amenity you will appreciate at the end of the day.
The five Spanish colonial missions of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the Alamo are a UNESCO world heritage site. Established in the 18th century by Spanish priests, the five missions are the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. An adventurous way to explore the missions is by bike along the River Walk’s Mission Reach, an 8-mile recreational trail with the missions about 2 ½ miles apart. San Antonio has a well-run bike share program with docking stations at the missions. You can bike the whole route and at the end hop on a VIVA bus on the Mission Route, which stops at all the missions and will bring you back downtown at a stop in front of the Alamo. VIVA is part of the VIA Metropolitan Transit and offers visitors an inexpensive way to tour the area. A day pass is less than $3.
If you only have time for one, make it Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, which celebrates its tricentennial in 2020. It is known as the “Queen of the Missions” and is the largest. It also has the main visitors’ center for the missions with a small museum and a movie about the missions offered throughout the day. The grounds of Mission San Jose are lovely, making for a nice stroll as you explore the mission.
No trip to San Antonio is complete without a visit to the famed River Walk. The 15-mile urban waterway flows through the downtown area just below street level. It includes downtown with attractions like the Alamo. Further out, visit the river’s Museum Reach, where you can access the Pearl mentioned earlier. There is shopping and restaurants and museums all along the route. The best way to see it is by taking a Go Rio Narrated River Cruise, which points out the highlights as well as the history of this area. The boats are all electric, making for an eco-friendly quiet ride. Although not the fastest way to get around, Go Rio also offers a River Shuttle with multiple stops along the river walk and goes out to the Museum Reach.
A visit to San Antonio offers all the possibilities of a big city while imparting a unique historical and cultural experience like no other city in the United States.
The Specifics Where to Stay Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa - Hyatt.com/HillCountry Hotel Gibbs - HotelGibbs.com Where to Eat Pearl - AtPearl.com Culinaria - CulinariaSA.org What to Do SeaWorld San Antonio - SeaWorld.com Visit San Antonio - VisitSanAntonio.com San Antonio Missions National Historical Park - NPS.gov/saan Go Rio Cruises - GoRioCruises.com