Travel

5 Things to do in San Antonio

Over the kids’ Spring Break, we headed down to San Antonio.  It was such a fantastic way to spend their break.  The parks, the food, the culture, it was all so amazing. Bear with me here because there is so much good stuff that it was hard to narrow it down to 5 things.

This was sort of a girls’ trip with kids.  I met my bestie in San Antonio for 5 days with our collective 5 kids.  It was a serious undertaking to make it all happen, but so worth it.  I hadn’t seen my friend in 4 years ( her hubby’s military postings and my hubby’s diplomatic postings = parallel lives so to speak, but never intersecting) so it could have been twice the cost, travel time, etc. and I still would have made it happen while we are both actually in the same country.

We arrived bright and early on Saturday morning (I mean early, like we left Dulles at 6:30 am) and thank goodness for my uncle and his wonderful wife. They grabbed us from the airport and made me another cup of coffee while my kids changed into summer clothes.  The warm, humid weather was a wonderful reprieve from the freezing temps in DC.

My aunt and uncle are residents of San Antonio and were so gracious to show us around the city and give us a real taste of the local flavor.  I feel like San Antonio is kind of underrated, but I also think the people who live there want to keep it that way.  They are working hard to improve and grow their city in ways that will benefit its residents, not just to attract tourists or even new residents.  It’s really a great vibe. The city is not at all pretentious even though it probably has every right to be. It just has a whole lot of heart.

1. Pearl: Pearl is a fantastic area of San Antonio.  It is a revitalized industrial area that was home to the Pearl Brewing Company.  Now, it is a beautiful area combining wonderful restaurants, luxury condos, the amazing Hotel Emma, boutiques of all sorts, an amphitheater, the Culinary Institute of America, public art installations, and green space all along a beautiful section of the River Walk.  There’s a river ferry that makes several stops along the River Walk and is really affordable if you aren’t up for walking miles along the river.

PEARLRiverwalk @ PEARLHotel Emma @ PEARL

I highly recommend grabbing ice cream at LICK. We pretty much went everyday. I mean, it was just around the corner from our AirBnB and it kept the kids happy.  Besides, vacation calories don’t count, right? The flavors range from vanilla bean to cilantro lime with seasonal flavors, vegan choices, and delicious sandwich combinations in between.  There’s even a window into a kitchen at the Culinary Institute of America so you can watch the chefs at work while you enjoy your creamy deliciousness.

Texas Sheet Cake ice cream @ Lick, San Antonio

We had the most delicious lunch at La Gloria.  The whole restaurant is open air on nice days and the outdoor seating area has plenty of shade. The food is delicious, super fresh, and beautifully plated.  The margaritas were fantastic! The whole experience was quite possibly the perfect bestie lunch.  We had margaritas, yummy food, and plenty of space to let the kids play near the riverside while we chatted, all within walking distance of our rental.

Al Pastor tacos @ La Gloria, San AntonioEnsalada de Casa @ La Gloria, San Antonio

There’s literally not a bad restaurant at Pearl.  Anywhere we ate, it was absolutely delicious! The most kid friendly option available (besides La Gloria) was the food court. I know what you are thinking, food court, like at the mall.  NOT. AT. ALL. The Bottling Department is a classy food court with delicious options. Our group pretty much tried every offering during our our trip, but our favorites were Bud’s Southern Rotisserie, Fletcher’s Hamburgers, and Maybelle’s Donuts. So yummy! And, there’s a splash pad right outside.

Maybelle's Donuts, San Antonio

2. The RiverwalkThe Riverwalk is a must on any San Antonio itinerary, but I’m not just talking about the part everyone knows, full of bars, restaurants, and tourists.  The Riverwalk is actually 15 miles of paths and sidewalks stretching the city.  There are 3 main sections: the Museum Reach, the Downtown Reach, and the Mission Reach.  Each has it’s own flavor.  Pearl is sort of between the Museum Reach and the Downtown Reach. Along the walk from Pearl towards the Downtown Reach are some “hidden” art installments and the really wonderful San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA).

The grotto along the Riverwalk, San Antoniofish installation under the overpass

SAMA has some really wonderful collections.  I was so surprised at the breadth of the collections.  They have everything from Ancient Mediterranean sculptures and pottery to portraiture to Chinese vases and tapestries to canoes and masks from Oceana.  We were excited to see some items that we recognized as Maori from New Zealand and then to see beautiful art from China.  My daughter enjoyed the portrait gallery and our friends loved the Mediterranean pottery. The entrance fee is really affordable and kids under 12 are free. They also have free admission hours on Tuesdays after 4pm and Sundays 10-12.

SAMASAMA

3. Confluence Park: This park is amazing.  Full disclosure here: my uncle is the Executive Director of the San Antonio River Foundation (SARF) and helped design and bring this park into being.  I could not be more proud of him because it is truly beautiful and such a testament to the work that SARF is doing to protect the river and watershed.  BUT, I would be promoting this park even if I didn’t have a personal connection.

Located in the Mission Reach section of the city, it has given a historically underserved community a beautiful space to enjoy.  And people from all over the city come out to enjoy the park. The Riverwalk doesn’t end in the touristy section of town.  You can walk, bike, or even kayak all the way down here.

Confluence Park, San Antonio, Texas

Map of the San Antonio RiverThe park was designed with educators in mind and was envisioned as a teaching tool. The city now has a park where educators can bring their students to learn many different aspects ecology, conservation, and sustainability.  They can really get hands-on using SARA’s  (San Antonio River Authority) already well-established educational outreach program.  Literally everything about the park has to do with some aspect of STEAM, from the way the pavers line up to the classroom that can be configured as enclosed, open air or any which way in between.  The park is designed to be self sustaining. The classroom is earth bermed- or partially “underground” – to help with temperature control and has solar panels to provide electricity.  The concrete structures in the center of the park aren’t just for shade.  They actually funnel rain water as part of a water catchment system and underground cistern that provide for the park’s irrigation needs. There’s a really cool “secret spot” under the concrete canopy where you can stand and hear the sounds of the river running by; parabolas, geometry, and STEAM turning into magic.  Even the walkways and parking areas are permeable allowing for rain water collection.

Concrete petalPentagonal paver system creates patternsConcrete petal system

The native vegetation throughout the park allows visitors to experience the five ecotypes that occur in the San Antonio region, with descriptive tiles to aid in identification.  It includes rescued mature Live Oak trees. The hillside and riverbank have been planted and restored so that they will grow wild and naturally to restore the ecosystem on a site that was formerly an industrial lay-down yard.  Confluence Park has only been open for a few months and the number of different birds that we saw during our time in the park was astonishing. A habitat has been restored here in a beautiful convergence of metal, concrete, and nature.

identifiersNative vegetaion

4. The Witte Museum:  This one was sort of an accidental favorite.  My aunt and uncle recommended it, but we were going to skip it in favor of the riverwalk and Alamo.  BUT, then on our last day it poured rain.  It was like a waterfall coming from the sky all night and all of the next morning.  I don’t know about you, but I am not all about walking around in that kind of weather so LYFT (use code TTCB for a credit) to the Witte Museum it was.

It is a terrific museum full of everything you could possibly want to know about Texas and so much other stuff! They have both permanent exhibits and rotating exhibits.  My son was really annoyed when he found out we were too early for the new dinosaur exhibit (Opens May 26, 2018), but luckily the entrance hall is full of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures too. He really enjoyed digging up a dinosaur skeleton and seeing fossilized bird ancestors in the Dinosaur Lab.

feathered dinosaursactual size

There were two galleries/exhibits that were enjoyed by all.  First was the Texas Wild Gallery.  Now, taxidermy animals are not everyone’s cup of tea, but this exhibit is so well done that it is like looking at live animals up close.  The entire gallery is full of animals  in different ecosystems from all over Texas displayed in various interactions with one another. The kids loved looking for their favorite animals and seeing all the different hiding places some of the animals were in.

Texas Wild @ the Witte MuseumTexas Wild @ the Witte Museum

The second most loved exhibit was the HEB Body Adventure.  Upon entering you create a profile and get a “power pass”.  The pass gets scanned to activate stations ranging from lifting your own bodyweight to how long will it take you on the stair climber to work off that Frappuccino.  This kids had a fantastic time working at all of the stations and learning about the digestive system at an interactive touch table hosted by Witte staff. We spent the majority of our time in this section.

HEB Body Adventure @ the Witte MuseumHEB Body Adventure @ the Witte Museum

Once we had worked out, we climbed the stairs to the Serenity Floor to enjoy the cool air since the rain had stopped.  It is a lovely experience to sit and enjoy the sounds of the river behind the museum and the wind chimes in the breeze.  The Serenity Floor leads to a tree house the descends back to the riverside on the back side of the museum.  Along the river within the grounds are an artist’s studio and a log cabin for one to explore.  The kids worked together to build their own log cabin which was a lesson in patience for everyone.  Houses of any kind are really difficult to build.

Serenity floor @ the Witte Museumtree house @ the Witte MuseumBuilding a log cabin @ the Witte Museum

5. The Hemisfair & Yanaguana: Under the looming Tower of the Americas lies an amazing space.  Hemisfair is the site of the 1968 World’s Fair and includes a sprawling system of water features, walkways with big, beautiful trees and landscaping, historic buildings and homes, art installations, the Magik Theatre, and Yanaguana Garden.

Hemisfair, San Antonio, TexasHemisfair, San Antonio, TexasHemisfair, San Antonio, Texas

Yanaguana Garden gets its name from the native Papaya Indian village that was in the area that became San Antonio.  Some also say it is what these natives called the river.  We started at Yanaguana and spent most of the afternoon here (only actually meandering through the rest of Hemisfair when it was time to go back to the car).  It is a great space for gathering and this is where I met up with my bestie.  It is a place for anyone to come and enjoy.

Pacific Island dancers teaching in the park for fun

The Garden includes a huge series of play and climbing structures that the kids loved.  There is a splash pad and sand play area with a water feature. Our kids loved playing the giant game of Chess.  There is ample shade from both trees and well thought out pergolas and other structures wrapped with greenery.  There are plenty of places for parents to sit while the kids play.

climbing structures at Yanaguana Gardens, San AntonioGiant Chess at Yanaguana Garden

The grownups and children alike enjoyed the food options.  There are several wonderful options depending on what you are in the mood for.  We chose to grab lunch (and drinks) at Con Safos.  SO. GOOD.  This place is an interesting combination of a beer and wine only bar and a food truck.  Between the members of our group, we pretty much ordered everything that was on the menu that day and it was all equally delicious.  I also highly recommend the mango margarita.   After the kids had run off their lunch, we grabbed popsicles from La Paleteria.  This popsicle shop has the widest range of flavors I have ever seen.  Everything is homemade and absolutely delicious! It was such a refreshing treat for a hot afternoon.  I really enjoyed my pineapple pop, the lime was perfectly tart & sweet, and several of the kids loved the “fruity pebbles” pop.

popsicles from La Paleteria, San Antonio, Texas

And that’s that! I know that everyone thinks the Alamo when they think San Antonio (we didn’t visit, but that was only because we just didn’t get the chance), but this city is so much more than just the touristy spots we all know and love.  If you ever get the chance to visit, I would implore you to really try to branch out.  Talk to the locals, hear what they love about their city, and then explore.  I guarantee that you will love it!

See below for even more of my favorite photos from this trip.

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