Earlier this year, I wrote a News@ASOR post extolling the virtues of spending several days in San Antonio at a world-class resort attending the presentation of world-class papers by world-class scholars. I said it before and I will say it again—if there ever was an ASOR Annual Meeting to attend, this is the one. And bring the family. There is much to see and do.
By definition, anyone reading this post enjoys studying peoples, places, cultures, and old stuff. San Antonio was founded in the early 18th century, so there is plenty of old stuff (and new stuff) to experience. This city is squarely within this group’s wheelhouse.
Everyone has their own list of favorite activities and attractions. As a native Texan, I have spent a considerable amount of time in San Antonio. Here are my Top Ten:
Truthfully, regardless of where I am, shopping is No. 150 on my list. But since this is a family-oriented Top Ten list, shopping gets a bump to No. 10. Shopping apparently is big in San Antonio as there is lots of it. The good news for shoppers is that the two premier San Antonio shopping districts are within a stone’s throw of the resort. I understand the Shops at La Cantera, anchored by Dillard’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus, is an award-winning open-air shopping center with over 170 shops and restaurants. Less than five minutes down the hill from the resort, ASOR members may travel to the Shops via a free resort shuttle. The Rim, offering shopping, dining, and entertainment for the entire family, is less than five minutes down the hill from the resort in the opposite direction. I understand there are over 100 boutiques, shops, and stores, including an IMAX movie theater. Again, I have no personal knowledge. I am placing my faith and trust in the Chamber of Commerce.
Theme parks used to be higher on my list, but I am an empty nester now. Fiesta Texas, a Six Flags theme park, is a few minutes down the hill from the resort, and SeaWorld is a short drive away. Our daughter enjoyed both as a child. But then she grew up and graduated to the next level of theme parks—the Shops at La Cantera and the Rim. See No. 10. The free resort shuttle also runs to the front gate of Fiesta Texas. Discount tickets for Fiesta Texas are available to ASOR members at Henrietta’s Market near the main lobby of the resort.
The Pearl Brewery, established in 1883 and once home to the Pearl and Pabst beer brands, has recently been transformed into a multi-use community with apartments, restaurants, cafes, an outpost of the Culinary Institute of America, and—you guessed it—shops for shopping. There also is a popular twice-weekly Farmers Market. It’s a hip neighborhood situated next to the recent River Walk expansion, so you can catch a tour boat back downtown. Or walk.
More shopping. A three-block outdoor plaza lined with restaurants, shops, and produce stands near San Antonio’s city center, El Mercado is the largest Old Mexico-style marketplace outside of Old Mexico. I understand there are over 30 shops in El Mercado and 80 specialty shops in the nearby Farmers Market Plaza selling hand-embroidered dresses, glassware, leather goods, vanilla, and other stuff. I, however, only go to El Mercado to eat at Mi Tierra or La Margarita—the dueling Tex-Mex restaurants. See below. El Mercado is walkable from the River Walk—where the free shuttles are headed Saturday night.
The KWD, an elegant historic neighborhood adjacent to downtown, is home to numerous impressive 19th-century residences shaded by mature pecan and cypress trees. Originally settled by prominent German merchants, it was the state’s first historic district. The main entry street was named in honor of King Wilhelm I of Prussia. During World War I, when America was at war with Germany, the name was changed to Pershing Avenue. A few years after the war ended, the English version of the original name was restored—King William. Southtown, San Antonio’s arts district, abuts the KWD. The Blue Star Arts Complex is the centerpiece. Southtown is chock full of restaurants, bars, theatres, galleries—and more shops for shopping. The KWD + Southtown are accessible from the River Walk.
There are many. Here are the big four. The Institute of Texan Cultures, located downtown in HemisFair Park, is dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of Texas and Texans. Who could ask for more? The San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery on the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk, is known for its collections of ancient Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin American art. Mention you are with ASOR and receive a $2 discount on admission. The McNay Art Museum, the first museum of modern art in Texas, is home to a world-class collection of late 19th and early 20th century European and American works by, among others, Gauguin, van Gogh, Hopper, O’Keeffe, Picasso, Pollock, and Renoir. Although primarily devoted to science and natural history, the Witte Museum houses the best collection of early Texas art in the state. It also is the best San Antonio museum for children’s exhibits.
Really old stuff alert. The San Antonio Missions, a group of five frontier mission complexes built in the early 18th century, are situated along a 7.7-mile stretch of the San Antonio River. The Mission Trail, starting with the Alamo (see below), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The Missions evidence Spain’s efforts to colonize, evangelize, and defend its northern frontier in the Americas. Their physical remains comprise a range of architectural and archaeological structures, including farmlands (labores), cattle grounds (ranchos), residences, churches, granaries, workshops, kilns, wells, perimeter walls, and water distribution systems.
The River Walk (also known as Paseo del Río), the centerpiece of downtown San Antonio, is an open air network of walkways along both banks of the San Antonio River one story below street level. Lined by bars, restaurants, and yep, more shops for shopping, the River Walk also connects the major San Antonio sites and attractions—from the Alamo to Rivercenter Mall to HemisFair Park to the King William District to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Pearl Brewery, among others. While it can be brutally hot in the summer, the River Walk is very pleasant in November. You can ride on a River Boat or simply walk the shops and restaurants with thousands of your closest ASOR and SBL friends. A complimentary round-trip shuttle will ferry ASOR members from the resort to the River Walk and downtown San Antonio on Saturday evening.
Food is an event in San Antonio. But as a general rule, stick to Tex-Mex and BBQ. It’s cheap, tasty, and plentiful. Tex-Mex. My personal favorites are Rosario’s (best overall), La Fogata (best old school), Mi Tierra and La Margarita (the dueling titans in El Mercado), and Pappasito’s and Chuy’s (best chains, from Houston and Austin, respectively). BBQ. Too many great restaurants, too little time. The Granary, Two Brothers, Q on the River Walk, Smoke Shack, and County Line (an Austin import also on the River Walk) are all standouts. But my local origin favorite is Rudy’s. The original location is in Leon Springs, just a ten-minute drive north of the resort. And even though Rudy’s is now a chain with locations from Texas to Arizona, it has stayed true to its roots. Go for the BBQ and the creamed corn. It’s outstanding.
It’s a historic shrine. It’s iconic. It’s Texas. It’s downtown just off the River Walk. And it should not be missed. Don’t be put off by how small it may seem compared to the John Wayne movie set (which, incidentally, is 125 miles west in Brackettville). Time (180 years) and Santa Anna had something to do with that. Rather, savor what it means to Texas and the United States. Check out the Rules of Reverence here. All of you archaeologist types will be interested to know that archaeologists conducted a four-week dig in Alamo Plaza this summer searching for the location of the main gate. Among the 1700 artifacts recovered were the broken tip of a French-manufactured briquet sword (probably used by a Mexican infantryman during the 1836 battle) and mission-era ceramic pieces known as Goliad ware.
Bonus recommendation. If you get thirsty, visit the bar in the Menger Hotel across the street from the Alamo. Opened in 1859, it is the oldest continuously operating saloon in San Antonio in the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi. Theodore Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders there before departing for Cuba and the Spanish-American War. Check out the bullet holes by the bar.
Best of the rest: Quadrangle and Museum at Fort Sam Houston, golf, Tower of the Americas at HemisFair Park, weekend rodeo at Bulverde, Texas, Japanese Tea Garden, and the Botanical Garden.
These are my suggestions. Google them for more information. Then choose wisely.
See you in San Antonio!
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