Texas is another state that we have not had an opportunity to explore, except for a few pre-RV visits to a company office in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area many, many years ago when we were working. This year our goal was to change that.
But first we had to make a stop at our dealer National Indoor RV Center (NIRVC), for some minor coach repairs. Conveniently, NIRVC has a large location in Lewisville, TX north of Dallas. We had little time and less desire to sight see which was just as well due to the ridiculous traffic and seemingly unending road construction in this area. We thought Atlanta was bad from a traffic perspective, but this seemed even worse!
After our brief stay in Lewisville, we were on the road again, headed to Traveler’s World RV Park in San Antonio (our review). Yes, another city but we were keeping our fingers crossed that even though it was the seventh most populated city in the US, it would be a little less hectic than Atlanta and Dallas. The good news was that it is! At least on the south side where our campground was located. We found it exceedingly easy to get around, even to the touristy parts of downtown which were only about 10 minutes away.
Within a few days of our arrival we were thoroughly enthralled with San Antonio, and eagerly extended our stay from a 12 nights to 19. Sure we knew about the two most famous attractions found here, the Alamo and the Riverwalk, but we didn’t have any idea the extent of the Riverwalk or of everything else that San Antonio had to offer.
Located underneath downtown San Antonio and spanning 15 miles, the Riverwalk or Paseo del Rio borders the San Antonio River where it blends the sights, sounds and flavors of Native America, Old Mexico and the Wild West with the hustle and bustle of a modern city. Although we had heard a lot about it over the years, we weren’t prepared for how truly magical it is, especially after Thanksgiving when it was aglow with colorful shimmering Christmas lights hanging from the many tall, hundred year old Cypress and Live Oak trees lining the river.
Our campground, Traveler’s World even has direct access to the Riverwalk about 5 miles south of downtown! Rob rode his bike into town a couple of times. So cool!
On our first visit to the downtown Riverwalk, the first order of business was to get acclimated by taking a Rio San Antonio Barge Tour which provided us with a 35 minute long narrative of the rich history of the Riverwalk and San Antonio. Despite the rather uncomfortable seating on the boat, it was an interesting tour.
After that (and on subsequent days) we spent hours taking leisurely strolls along the tree lined banks past restaurants, shops, bars, museums and other entertainment spots. During the morning and afternoons, it was relatively quiet but around dinner time, the walkways became crowded as hungry visitors made their way to the many restaurants.
When our feet screamed for a much needed rest, we purchased a three day pass so we could hop on and off the Rio River Taxi. Great way (but not necessarily the quickest) to cruise to some of the attractions located further afield such as the Tower of the Americas and the Pearl Brewery Shopping Mall.
Learn more about getting to and from the city, parking, the Barge Tour, the Rio Taxi and other information on our Tips For Visiting San Antonio post. But more about our sightseeing…..
The Tower of the Americas, a 750 foot observation restaurant tower, was built as the theme structure of the 1968 World’s Fair, HemisFair ’68 and is another must see attraction. Tickets which include unlimited access to the Flags Over Texas Observation Deck & the 4D Skies over Texas Theater Ride are $12, $10 for senior or military, and 9$ for children. The ride was good but if you have neck or back problems, you might want to forego the ride as the motion is not very smooth (Disney it isn’t). No tickets needed for a visit to the revolving restaurant or Bar 601 for cocktails or happy hour. We happily watched a sunset, had cocktails and appetizers during happy hour while enjoying gorgeous after dark views of the city. More about our visit there in our San Antonio Eatin’! post.
Be sure to catch the stupendous (and free) 7000 sq. ft. laser light show projection called The Saga, at the San Fernando Cathedral – it is totally amazing! This 24-minute show narrates the historical discovery, settlement and development of San Antonio. Produced by French artist, Xavier De Richemont the show is projected onto the cathedral accompanied by custom choreographed music in surround sound. If you visit San Antonio this is a must see!
Show times are 9, 9:30 and 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Photos don’t do it justice so check out this YouTube video of the entire show recorded by someone else. Unfortunately it was done in July so it wasn’t totally dark but it will give you an idea of what the show was like. For a shorter version, check the YouTube video that Rob created.
No visit would be complete to this city without seeing the top Texas tourist attraction, the Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero). Best known for its critical role in the Texas Revolution in 1835 when Texians and Tejano volunteers battled Mexican troops and where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie as well as hundreds of others made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
Located in the middle of downtown San Antonio, we were surprised at how small it looked from the outside, but what is commonly shown as “The Alamo” in the popular press is actually just the San Antonio Mission building, the compound was originally much, much larger. Once inside, we learned that over the years much of the original mission land was re-populated with other modern structures and some of the surviving mission outbuildings were sold and used for other purposes. Thank goodness the Daughters of the Republic of Texas purchased the property in 1905 and saved as much as they could from total demolition. How devastating it would have been to lose this historic “Remember the Alamo” landmark. A lot of activities, a film, a museum and numerous exhibits are available here as shown on their website. If a trip here is not in your future, then take a virtual tour of the grounds.
The Alamo, along with the four other missions (Espada, Concepción, San Juan Capistrano and San Jose) located here, collectively form the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America. Because they are managed by the National Park Service, they are all free and open to the public, and all are accessible from the Riverwalk (although 8 miles separates the farthest two). Hard to imagine what life was like living in these mission communities back in the 1700’s especially for the Native Americans.
When the Spaniards “converted” them to Catholicism, they lost much of their freedom and were forced to endure a more rigid lifestyle. Although each mission was beautiful and unique, our favorite was the San Jose Mission known as the “Queen of Missions” because it is the largest of the missions and one of the best preserved. Most of the missions also continue to operate as active parishes of the Catholic Church, holding Mass and various other ceremonies (funerals, weddings, etc.) during the hours when the missions are open to the public.
At the nearby SAS Shoe Factory, we had an opportunity to take a free tour which are given three times a day Monday through
Thursday at 9:15 AM, 12:30 PM, and 2:05 PM (darn, no pictures allowed). Even without taking a tour, a visit to their General Store is worthwhile. Beautifully restored vintage automobiles along side handmade soaps and jellies, jewelry and accessories, leather handbags, wallets, and belts, and plenty of toys, games, and books for the children and of course lots of shoes!
While browsing enjoy a bag of buttery popcorn for 5 cents! As we waited for the bus to arrive to take us on the tour, I looked at the price tags of some of their shoes and handbags. Yikes, nothing under $90 here! Why are they so expensive we wondered. Well, after taking the tour, we could understand why. As stated on their website “each pair of shoes can go through up to 100 different steps, performed by approximately 80 different pairs of skilled hands, before they are declared SAS quality.” An interesting mix of modern technology coupled with manual labor with workers even stitching together the leather pieces of the shoes by hand. All are 100% USA made and sourced. Now we can understand why the prices are so high! Understand it but not quite willing to buy a pair!
San Antonio is also home to Market Square or El Mercado, which has over 100 locally owned shops and stalls making it the largest Mexican market in the U.S. and, according to Frommer’s, one of America’s top ten outdoor markets. Occupying a three block outdoor plaza, the market is lined with restaurants and shops selling everything from hand-embroidered dresses to leather goods to authentic Talavera pottery, exotic curios and handcrafted works of art.
Also located here is Mi Tierra Cafe, a landmark San Antonio restaurant that was founded in 1941, that not only has a 500 seat restaurant but also includes a full bar and active panaderia (bakery). Mi Tierra’s motto is we never close – the restaurant is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year! We met friends, Pam and Roy, here for breakfast but more about that in our San Antonio Eatin’! post.
Speaking of restaurants, there are a myriad of restaurants and cuisines to choose from, Tex Mex or authentic Mexican being the most prevalent. With so many restaurants it was tough making a decision on where to eat. Needless to say, we tried quite a few more about that in our San Antonio Eatin’! post.
We had more sightseeing that we wanted to do, a trip to the nearby historic town of Gruene and a visit to Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Museum (yes you read that right, a museum of handmade toilet seats) but unfortunately our last weekend of sightseeing was thwarted by torrential rains (December 2nd).
Our sightseeing plans were also partly curtailed by the Rock N Roll Marathon being held that weekend, how soggy that must have been. Five inches of rain were dumped on San Antonio causing a lot of flooding (even the campground was flooded) and a massive sink hole which killed one person when their car fell into it. Due to the road flooding and poor driving conditions, we delayed our departure by one day.
We originally planned to head over to Fredericksburg in Texas Hill Country but at the last minute we had a change of plans. Stay tuned to find out where we went next.