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Wanderings: San Antonia, Texas
Come for a spring fling and enjoy museums, festivals and shopping
Kathy Chin Leong
February | March 2014
Spring. San Antonio’s best-kept secret and the city’s most vibrant season. With comfortable temps in the mid-70s, this is when culture-seeking adventurers toss winter trappings. They arm themselves with GPS devices and embark on safari for museums, galleries, architecture and festivals distinctly Texan. By the end of their trek, all are giddy with their spoils.
The country’s seventh largest city, San Antonio is located in southern Texas, two hours from the Mexican border. The 1.3 million residents thrive in this mixed salad bowl of Hispanic, Native American, American military and cowboy culture, all of which are celebrated throughout San Antonio as evidenced in expertly curated museums. Witte Museum brings to life Texas stories based on art and natural relics. Not far, the San Antonio Museum of Art features a stellar collection of American paintings. McNay Art Museum, meanwhile, stirs hearts with Impressionist works.
The newest, unveiled at the end of 2013 with a stunning addition by San Antonio’s own Lake|Flato Architects, is the Briscoe Western Art Museum touting nine galleries filled with historic and contemporary masterpieces by Maynard Dixon, Howard Terpning and Z.S. Liang, among others, in addition to a beautiful riverfront sculpture garden.
History buffs go back in time at The Alamo Mission, where the 1836 Battle of the Alamo took place. Further south is a grouping of four missions, all within walking distance in the Mission Reach district. These 17th-century San Antonio missions reflect the city’s significant concentration of Spanish Colonial architecture.
To witness San Antonio in its glory is to celebrate at Fiesta San Antonio, with more than 100 events, April 10 through 27. Performances, eats, parades — you name it, there’s a Viva Fiesta! tagline attached to everything. Started in 1891, Fiesta has gained rock-star status. All schools in San Antonio close on the Friday before it concludes. Says Fiesta San Antonio CEO John R. Melleky, “The entire city gets into it with camaraderie and a good-natured spirit.”
During Fiesta traditions run rampant. Festival royalty reigns with queens and kings. Young and old exchange event medals. “Total strangers will come up to you to give you a medal,” says Melleky. “Everyone wears lots of bling.” In May, it’s time to pull on your stretchy pants at Culinaria, a wine-and-food extravaganza slated for the week of May 14. Foodies learn the art of sniffing and savoring at wine dinners and tequila talks. Newbies watch cooking demos and sample Texas produce. Food trucks and burger tastings are only a tip of the yummy iceberg. Who would have thought San Antonians were such gourmet hounds? Dining options are plentiful enough here to be nearly dizzying. In addition to legendary Texas steaks cooked over a mesquite grill, Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood boasts such confections as Duck Confit Eggrolls, Chef Mark’s Famous Tortilla Soup and Hawaiian Big Eye Ahi Tuna, all served in white linen ambience. When you want to hunker down with ease, visit Cheesy Jane’s, a ’50s diner with an irresistible spate of milkshake flavors. For fabulous Mexican fare al fresco, locals head to La Fogata. Finally, the riverfront Biga on the Banks is your ticket to new American cuisine with menus that change daily to take advantage of the freshest local ingredients. No matter when you go, don’t miss the Sticky Toffee Pudding.
As delightful as it is to pack them in, torching calories in San Antonio can be equally fun. Jog the River Walk, the nation’s most enchanting urban trail spanning more than 15 miles, with hanging flower baskets and European- inspired bridges hugging the San Antonio River. A writer once called it “the American Venice.” If your goal is to tread the entire length, taking time to eat and shop along every stretch, stay downtown at one of the riverfront hotels. Each property possesses a unique character. Named for the lush, riverfront surroundings, the elegant 1914 Hotel Havana has 27 unique rooms and a fabulous restaurant and lounge. Meanwhile, the Hotel Valencia boasts Zen- like interiors, not to mention killer river views. Spa lovers revitalize at Mokara Hotel & Spa, a regular award-winner on all the top lists. The Omni La Mansion del Rio draws romantics with opulent decor and outdoor dining. As with the others, it is just steps away from the city’s best attractions.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the city — but not far — the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa offers Texan hospitality with timeless ranch charm, plus a world-class spa, a 27-hole championship golf course and a 4-acre water playground that is every kid’s dream come true.
Back in the city, you can hoof it from one end to the other on the River Walk connecting downtown, Museum Reach and the Mission Reach. For a real adventure, rent a bicycle to ride on River Walk from one of more than 30 outdoor bike kiosks with B-Cycle.
The River Walk gives access points to Historic Market Square, a three-block outdoor plaza with working artists, eateries and galleries. Be sure to take a break at Mi Tierra, an absolute San Antonio landmark. Open 24 hours a day, this funky and wonderful place is famous for its Christmas lights year round and a vast bakery counter of Mexican sweets.
Close by is La Villita Historic Arts Village, a former army garrison filled with more than 20 galleries and shops. Despite the fact that there is no single gallery district in San Antonio, wonderful art and a lively gallery scene are indeed part of the culture here. Greenhouse Gallery of Fine Art represents more than 30 artists, 20th-and 21st-century masters in a variety of media, and an impressive lineup of exhibitions. The eclectic Nanette Richardson Fine Art has an excellent assortment of fine art and collectibles, and Parchman Stremmel Galleries features contemporary American and Latin American art.
For more eye candy, head to the Pearl Complex, a hip shopping and dining enclave, once a brewery. Go early to grab a steaming croissant at the Culinary institute of America Bakery Cafe. Another shopping option, if you haven’t exhausted yourself yet, is the Alamo Quarry Market, which boasts more than 70 stores, including one of this country’s original luxury brands, Lucchese, a phenomenal bootmaker since 1883. This is Texas, after all.
If friends told you The Alamo was the only thing to see in San Antonio, you can set them straight. This southern Texas town is burgeoning with food emporiums, art havens and culture fests. Sojourners looking for a spring fling will be surprised that in San Antonio, the Old West is new once more.