Wednesday, January 14, 2015

San Antonio

San Antonio
San Antonio is a huge sprawling urban center branching out from the downtown area. While not one of my favorite destinations in the great state of Texas, it has some great highlights that are not to be missed, and a convenient little airport and central location between Austin and Houston.

Stay
Its hard to choose a hotel in the San Antonio area, there are just so many. Identifying what you want to do during your stay can help narrow down some areas and options.
  • Drury Hotels
    • I am a huge fan of Drury Hotels, and San Antonio is home to some of the newer additions to this company. The happy hour, fresh breakfast, and clean rooms are wonderful, as well as the kid friendly atmosphere with pools and workout facilities. Also the price is well within budget, without feeling like it. 
  • Omni Hotels
    • On the pricier end of the world is the Omni Hotel and Resort chain. I have stayed at the Omni at the Colonnade and enjoyed the great workout facilities, indoor and outdoor pool areas as well as the in house bistro. Again, there are multiple Omni Hotels in the area and deciding if most of your activities will take place downtown, or in the outskirts will help you choose the best location. 
  • Resorts 
    • On another hand, there are a plethora of resorts with lazy rivers, day spas and the sort a short drive into the hills from San Antonio. Some of these can be booked relatively cheaply through PriceLines "name your own Price" option. 

Play
Don't cheat yourself out of some great sights while in the area. Most of these are free or inexpensive activities great for a couple, or a family. San Antonio is not know for its nightlife, nor should it be.
  • Historic Mission Trail
  • Mission Conception 
    • Not so much of a park, this trail links four of the remaining missions established by  Spanish colonization of the southern frontier. Established in the 1700's these four missions and the Alamo, formerly known as San Antonio de Valero, make up the surviving medieval outposts of Spanish presence. 
    • As this trail takes you through some sketchy areas and neighborhoods I would recommend traveling by car and stopping at each mission to enjoy its history and beauty. No two missions are alike in style, and each has its own piece of history to share.
    • The Mission Conception is the best preserved of the four, while the Alamo is the most famous and located in downtown San Antonio.
  • The Riverwalk 
    • The San Antonio Riverwalk is an impressively built up region along the canalized San Antonio river featuring a huge number of bars, clubs, restaurants, shops and beautiful sights. 
    • As long as you stay on the riverwalk you can have open containers and drinks. And yes, there are margarita stands right where you enter.
  • The Alamo 
    • The Alamo gets it's own dot here. Yes, it is impressive and its story is unique and integral to the history of Texas independence. A must see landmark and bucket list item. 
  • McNay Art Museum
  • McNay Mansion
    • A treasure of a small museum housing everything from medieval European art to impressionists, modern sculpture, Pablo Picasso, and contemporary video art and photography. They offer an afternoon sized stroll through a wide variety of time periods and styles. Enjoy the newly expanded galleries and don't forget to stroll the grounds.
    • The McNay mansion was originally built in 1927 by Marion McNay, a passionate proponent of the arts. Upon her death, the home was bequeathed to the city of San Antonio to house Texas' first modern art museum. Along with her extensive collection of books, which is the base of the art library housed here, she also dedicated a large portion of her fortune. 
    • Admission is $10 for adults, Kids under 12 are free, $5 for students (13+), active military and seniors (56+). 
    • Closed on Mondays, the museum opens at 10am all other days of the week. 
  • Brackenridge Park 
  • Japanese Tea Gardens
    • Home to the Japanese Tea Gardens, the San Antonio Zoo and the Sunken Garden Theater Breckenridge Park offers a whole day worth of entertainment. 
    • Japanese Tea Gardens. This spot is picturesque no matter the season!
    • San Antonio Zoo. The animals are more active in the cooler weather, moving around and not hiding from the blazing sun in their dens. 


Eat
I love food, you can tell from my Yelp account that I go out a lot, and love to add to the culinary conversation. Cooking and eating are a passion of mine, and here I give you a short list of the places that I am in love with in San Antonio area.
  • Mariscos El Bucanero
  • Maricso Pina
    • Don't be scared. They offer traditional Mexican seafood with live bands, bright decor and great drinks at low prices. The ceviche is fresh, there are tostadas and four sauces instead of chips and salsa (green isn't hot), the drinks are fresh and strong, and they even offer a small number of "American Dishes" for the faint of heart. 
    • Get the Marisco Pina, and love your life. Seafood stew served in a hulled pineapple with fresh chunks of pineapple and broiled to crisp the cheese on top. This beast is easily shareable and served with rice, lettuce and tomatoes on the side. 
    • Guacamole is actually made fresh table side and is a generous, super flavorful portion. 
  • Aldo's Restorante Italiano
  • Beef Carpaccio 
    • Don't get put off by the reviews noting the chilly service. They offer traditional Italian fare (not spaghetti and meatballs) that is worth putting up with a less than ecstatic waiter. 
    • Situated in a converted home, Aldo's is visually pleasing with trees wrapped in lights, a beautify entryway and closed-in wrap around porch seating area. There is a main dinning room, but I preferred the intimacy and unique style of the porch seating areas. 
    • Enjoy fresh bread with oil and garlic as you wait for the beef carpaccio and sip your choice of wine from from the extensive offerings. 
    • The portions are sharable, and there is no extra plate fee here. 
  • Kirby's Steakhouse 
  • Potato crusted calamari 
    • Ranked #4 on about.travel's "Best Steakhouses in San Antonio" you cannot miss this gem if having a steak in Texas is on your bucket list too. 
    • An intimate setting, great atmosphere, private party rooms, even private booths with curtains, full bar and dinning room. This restaurant is the place to go for a nice evening, and some pricey indulgence. 
    • You are going to pay for culinary perfection, BUT they offer a FREE APPETIZER for YELP users (up to $14). I recommend the potato crusted calamari, not its not squid covered in mashed potatoes, they use a potato flour that gives a great crispy outside without imparting any unwanted weight or oily taste. Served with a rich, garlic tomato sauce. 
    • The 18oz mesquite cold smoked ribeye is my favorite item on the menu, an absolute treat  don't pass it up for a more expensive filet minion. Bask in the glory of a professionally prepared, aged, smoked and rested steak. 
    • Desert is also a must, the creme brûlée is to die for.
  • Pho Cong Ly
  • Pho Ga with all the fixin's
    • Feel like something lighter? Looking for lunch? Try my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in San Antonio. This restaurant has been here forever, living quietly in a strip mall, its the place that locals know about and rave about. 
    • Enjoy a hot bowl of pho (soup), or a fresh vermicelli dish (thin noodles). Ordering by the numbers is perfectly acceptable and encouraged. The waiters will chat with you if you ask them how to pronounce the Vietnamese words, but don't worry, the menu is in English too. 
    • They also offer Chinese food for the less adventurous in your party.