Spotlight on San Antonio

By | Category: Travel destinations

Saddle up. San Antonio is ready to ride says Kaye Holland


Most visitors to Texas rush to Austin – the world’s self proclaimed “live music capital” that, thanks to new flights from London and the inaugural X Games, is definitely having a moment.

San Antonion Riverwalk


But bohemian Austin isn’t the only Texan city creating a buzz. Don’t overlook the Lone State’s second largest city, San Antonio. The river town – famous for margaritas and mariachi bands – exudes sheer joie de vivre and effortlessly seduces.

San Antonio Riverwalk

Chances are you’ll kick start your vacation on the River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) – a charming 2.5 mile paved footpath below street level that snakes along the San Antonio river. It’s lined with shops, restaurants and hotels and so tends to be heavily touristed but trust Just About Travel: you’ll enjoy the chaos while people watching and drinking strawberry margaritas from glasses the size of goldfish bowls in one of the buzzy bars.


Yet while the riverfront has scores of restaurants and bars, much of true foodie scene is at the new Pearl Brewery.  This former industrial site is fast becoming a destination for all things cool having been converted into into a bunch of new restaurants and shops (there’s also a hotel on the way) that are helping the Pearl Brewery to steal the spotlight from the riverfront.


Where to eat in the renovated Pearl Brewery? That’s a topic close to locals heart. Food is a passion in San Antonio – just ask residents to recommend their favourite spot to start a lively debate! I can vouch for  The Granary – a creative ‘cue and brew’ that’s the brainchild of the Tim (head chef) and Alex (master brew) Rattray.


The brothers spent their formative years in Scotland and confess to missing Monster Munch (so much so that Alex asked if I had any pickled onion bags stashed in my suitcase that I could spare…) What else do the brothers miss about Bonnie Scotland?


Not much it transpires and as San Antonio’s small town vibe and slack pace began to work their subtle, inexorable magic on me after a couple of craft beers, I was able understand why the Rattrays found a way to move here for good. The city’s easy living allure certainly had me checking house prices before I left.

la gloria
La Gloria


The Granary definitely gets my vote but if you’re not a fan of barbecue, Mexican eatery La Gloria and Greens –  a veggie restaurant that’s aiming  to turn San Antonio from one of America’s fattest cities into one of its fittest – also come highly recommended. Make no mistake: the aforementioned restaurants are all reason enough to put San Antonio on top of your Texas itinerary.

the alamo
The Alamo’s rules of reverence


Of course San Antonio isn’t all about gastronomic indulgence. The city’s headline act is The Alamo – you can’t properly see San Antonio without paying your respects to Davey Crockett and comrades who met their death at this Spanish mission while defending San Antonio during the Texas Revolution of 1836. To get the inside story, don’t miss the excellent 17 minute film which is shown in the Alamo’s Long Barrack museum.

The Alamo
The Alamo


The 189 Texan volunteers may have lost the battle but they famously held off Mexican dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his army for 13 days. and The Alamo serves as a shrine to the fallen men and a testimony to the proud spirit of the Lone State. (The famous battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” has been adopted as a badge of honour by the Texans.)

long barrack
The Long Barrack


However if this all sounds a little heavy – you are on your hols after all – make for the remarkable family run Mi Tierra. Founded back in 1941 by Pete and Cruz Cortez as a small cafe, today Mi Tierra is super-sized restaurant and bakery where famous Mexican figures adorn the wall mural. Worried you’ll miss Mi Tierra? Don’t be. The Mexican restaurant is open 24/7, 365 days a year and decorated with Christmas lights!


mi tierra 2

San Antonio’s colourful Mexican history can be felt in every church (check out San Fernando Cathedral), square and shop surrounding Mi Tierra – particularly in Market Square, the largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico. This is where you can snap up sombreros, maracas, rainbow hued pottery and other Mexican wares for a snip.


mi tieraa bakery
Mi Tierra bakery


For more souvenirs of your stay in San Antonio, look to La Villita – a ‘little village’ of stone houses that now contains a collection of cafes, galleries and shops. The ultimate souvenir? Anything sporting Davey Crockett’s famous remark: “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

la villita
La Villita


Crockett was, of course, trying to persuade the Senate to assist Texas in its battle with Mexico but his sentiment sums up how visitors will feel after spending even the smallest amount of time in San Antonio.  The city’s easy going grace marks it as special and happily, for an American metropolis, the most interesting districts for visitors are tightly knit and can easily be negotiated on foot.


Nonetheless I didn’t manage to make it to the historic King William district, aka Texas’s most elegant and oldest neighbourhood, that was built by affluent German merchants at the end of the 19th century . And I missed out on a few of the missions (namely Mission Concepcion and Espada) where  Native American tribes once agreed to convert to Christianity and work for the colonial Spanish priests in exchange for food and water.

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Oh well – I guess I will just have to go back. True, the journey to get there can be something of an odyssey but then the finest things in life are not the easiest to achieve and in my mind there’s nowhere better to start your summer than in San Antonio: a magical city so full of character and infectiously friendly locals that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to move there.




The lobby at The Westin Riverwalk, San Antonio

Where to stay

Situated on a quiet stretch of the riverfront, a stay at The Westin Riverwalk, San Antonio is like being wrapped in the softest most luxurious cashmere blanket. Little wonder then that this where the A list check in when in town ( the LA Lakers were in residence during my sojourn). But while the celeb worthy Westin has plenty of style, it doesn’t forsake substance: staff are attentive, always smiling and well informed (the front of house and concierge team gave me some great suggestions).

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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