Since leaving Disney world there have been a few places and moments that have reminded us of a real world version of the Disney experience. San Antonio was one of them.
In one of the first drafts of the road trip plan I had scheduled to stay there for half a day. At some point I decided to change that plan. It may have had to do with one of my best friends, Nathalie, endorsing the beauties of San Antonio and its Riverwalk.
Nat clued us in to the fact that we would be visiting during Fiesta, a multi-week festival that everyone in San Antonio gets really excited about. The idea that locals get excited by a festival that brings in tourists was a little unbelievable to me but I didn't dwell on it too long.
I did a little research on our drive there and it turned out that the night of our arrival would coincide with the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. According to residents this parade is the largest night parade and the third largest parade in the USA (after the Rose Bowl and Macy's Thanksgiving). So needless to say, I was a bit excited.
Since San Antonio was only an hour or so away from Austin, we elected to take the most backroads route there to do a little exploring and see some interesting terrain. (Little did we know that we would see more cacti and dusty plains than we could handle in the coming days.) We had hoped to do an art session on the way but had to put it on the back burner as the explorations pushed our arrival time later and later. We stopped in Lockhart, "the barbecue capitol of Texas" and ate some barbecue that was good... Better than most of the brisket I've had in my life, but not as great as La Barbecue in Austin.
I will also use the Supergeil scale because it makes Sam smile.
Then Sam got out of the car several times to take some pictures as we drove down tiny roads deep in the heart of Texas.
When we finally got to San Antonio we settled into our room at an airbnb. Our host, George, seemed to know everything there was to know about the city and after a lengthy and very informative chat we came up with a rough itinerary for our visit. I am not kidding when I tell you that George could come up with a tourist plan that would require two weeks. Although I was vaguely familiar with San Antonio's beloved Riverwalk, George explained it further for Sam and I. The Riverwalk is a series of walkways lining the San Antonio river one story below street level, though it is open air. (This isn't the ninja turtles!) It stretches for miles and the city is expanding it all the time.
George's enthusiasm for the parade was nonexistent, but he clearly understood why so many people would want to go and he gave us a ride into the historic district while it was still light.
George had mentioned a food truck court in waking distance from San Antonio's River Walk and we decided to eat there rather than the mostly tourist oriented places in that area.
The moment we finished we started to follow the trajectory of every other pedestrian we saw and wound up right above the river walk. The San Antonio Spurs were playing in a playoff round against the Dallas Mavericks at the time and several buildings in San Antonio had banners cheering them on, including the Hilton.
We later learned that this hotel, the Hilton Palacio del Rio (wiki), was a milestone in modular architecture, which meant every room was constructed and furnished eight miles away and then trucked to the site and locked into place, almost like Legos. The bathrooms even had toilet paper in them before they were placed in the building.
Back to the real mission: get a good spot for parade watching. The streets were packed with locals full of hometown pride and everyone seemed very excited about this tradition. We finally found a place where Sam could get a good perspective above the crowd without blocking people and we settled in for the Fiesta Flambeau Parade.
After that we decided to stroll the river walk back to George's place. It took about an hour but we had a chance to really experience it. There were shops, restaurants, hotels, art installations, and gardens, making for an experience that was a cross between the Highline in New York and a boat-based ride at Disney World. Tourists love it (I saw a woman spend $372 on a huge bag of chinzy souvenirs for people back home when I was picking up postcards), but unlike most of the touristy things I've been familiar with in places that I have lived — ahem, Times Square — the locals actually seem to appreciate it and feel proud of it too. I couldn't blame them, it was really well done.
The next morning we thought it would be a great idea to check out the Guenther House because George had dubbed their breakfast "heavenly". It was good food, but the 99 minute wait was unexpected and not a great use of our time. We did manage to pick up a small cake that we enjoyed over two evenings in Marfa, so there's that I guess. Oh, and we compiled the Best/Worst List (see sidebar) and posted it too. We'll call the stop at Guenther House mildly productive.
After that we realized we wouldn't have time to visit the Alamo or do a river tour before meeting Nathalie's little brother, who is a San Antonio resident and also named Sam. Instead we headed over to the Blue Star Art Complex and discovered much of it was closed on Sundays. Luckily the Blue Star Brewing was not and we enjoyed a flight of all of their beers. I drank the majority because we knew Sam Herbig would need to drive.
Other Sam introduced us to Rudy's barbecue and then we went to play giant jenga, cornhole, and hang out at a bar to let the heat of the day get over with as it was in the mid-90s in late April.
While talking to Sam we got to hear his thoughts on living there and he confirmed that San Antonians have a lot of hometown pride, are enthusiastic, family-oriented, and overall very polite. He also pointed out there are 300+ pool days a year. We were glad to see how happy he was there.
Here is the picture of the two Sam's so you can see how easily distinguishable they are aside from their names:
We hightailed it back downtown so we could catch a boat tour of the Riverwalk. As expected, it was a very Disney-like experience. The boat tour we took was shared by a group of more than 30 college girls who were in San Antonio for some dance competition, the boat captain was a very sweet (and patient) lady also named Sam, and the boat stalled out. We did not have to hear "It's a Small World" on repeat throughout though. It was actually a pretty fun time and a cute little tour.
The last stop we knew we needed to make was to The Alamo, a site that was the bloody inspiration for Texan freedom. Davy Crockett (of coonskin cap and wild frontier fame) fought and died there along with many others. Here are some pictures of that, too.
The next morning we said goodbye to George and he gave us some helpful tips about Marfa and it's surrounding attractions, which we put to good use when we got there.
And there you have it: our 36 hours in San Antonio. Festive. Picturesque. Enthusiastic.
Up next, let's go get dusty in Marfa.
Random Facts and Statistics from San Antonio:
We had our first tequila shot of the trip here (with plenty more to come in the following week), a gift from Texas Sam.
According to a teenager at the parade, Sam looks like "that guy from Dexter". Compliment? Suuure, why not.
We saw so many Texas flags driving around here that we decided to do a count on our way to Marfa. That statistic to come next post!