Travel

San Antonio is relaxed – and cosmopolitan

Souvenirs from San Antonio? Head to downtown’s historic Market Square, which is colorful, vibrant and loaded with bargains.
Souvenirs from San Antonio? Head to downtown’s historic Market Square, which is colorful, vibrant and loaded with bargains. Mark Vanek

San Antonio is a large city with a small-town feel that manages to retain its cultural heritage as well. Peel back the city’s macho exterior and you will discover a gallant and gracious community. Slowly unwrap each layer to discover San Antonio’s wild side, the cultural wonders as well as the romantic nuances the city has to offer.

And plan on making a splash: There are myriad waterways, water parks and even at Sea World you’ll get wet. The cypress-lined San Antonio River Walk provides the perfect respite for a romantic stroll, fine dining or great shopping.

Getting around

The easiest method for navigating the San Antonio waterways is on a Rio Water Taxi (www.riosanantonio.com/rio-taxi). There are tons of fun stops, making it a truly exciting way to take in the city’s historic sites and beautiful attractions. There’s a downtown and museum route that will run you a reasonable $15 for a 24-hour pass. You can conveniently purchase tickets on board.

Explore the city in a practical and inexpensive way on the Red or Blue Circulators – a fleet of historic streetcar replicas that stop at virtually every tourist attraction, hotels and restaurants downtown (www.viainfo.net/BusService/Downtown.aspx). These whimsical and seemingly adventuresome trolleys run frequently (around every 20 minutes). A full-day fare, less than $3, includes transfers to/from regular city bus lines. But don’t be fooled by the “hop on hop off” red trolley, which provides a voice tour for a much more expensive rate of travel.

Staying there

Stay at the Hotel Contessa (www.thehotelcontessa.com), the only four-Diamond all-suite hotel directly on the River Walk. This premier property is 10 steps from the famed San Antonio River Walk, with easy access to shops, galleries and (of course) the Alamo. The hotel blends Old World charm with a New World touch, from the stunning brushed-metal chandeliers hand-crafted by Mexican artisans to the atrium’s beautiful design. No amenity is overlooked; there’s even a seasonally heated rooftop pool sauna.

For a touch of class and an ultra-sexy stay, book your suite at the Hotel Valencia River Walk (www.hotelvalencia-riverwalk.com). Centrally located in the posh Theater District, it’s nestled on a serene stretch of the River Walk that accommodates a running path.

This boutique hotel is the place to stay for many celebrities and professional athletes, including J-Lo and Kobe.

See and do

A day trip to the Pearl Brewery District by water taxi will take you through the lock and dam and past moss-covered bridges; tiny waterfalls and a wide esplanade greet you at this mixed-use development minutes north of downtown (www.atpearl.com). It’s home to cutting-edge restaurants, independent boutiques and wide open spaces.

The Alamo (www.thealamo.org), in the heart of the old city, inspires us to draw a line in the sand and dig in a little deeper for beliefs we hold true.

You’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Playa Del Carmen or Cancun at downtown’s historic Market Square, which is colorful, vibrant and loaded with bargains. Two of the city’s best Mexican restaurants are there, and customers stack up while waiting for tables. Merchants offer finely crafted ceramics, handmade leather goods and intricately woven dresses. There’s something for everyone.

Dining

Skip the inauthentic Mexican food on the River Walk. Head to Market Square for the best margaritas and Mexican food San Antonio has to offer. And it won’t cost an arm and a leg. At La Margarita (www.lamargarita.com), entrees are simple but well-prepared. The fajitas melt in your mouth and the enchiladas excite your taste buds.

Or skip the Tex-Mex and get straight to the Mex at La Gloria Ice House (www.chefjohnnyhernandez.com/lagloria). The Pearl District restaurant serves mind-blowingly delicious “street foods of Mexico.” This place is so cool it has caught the eye of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas – which is adding a La Gloria to their casino.

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