Let me start by saying my day in San Antonio, Texas was an utter whirlwind. I added the city to Kevin’s and my central Texan itinerary thanks to a singular text from my uncle, who lived in the Lone Star state for the better part of the last decade. “You guys should check out San Antonio! It’s a favorite of mine,” he texted. Given that Kevin and I didn’t have any plans for the next day of our vacation, his recommendation came at a good time.
“Want to visit San Antonio tomorrow?” I asked Kevin over dinner.
He shrugged. “Sure.” I wasn’t able to answer his question about what we’d do in San Antonio, but we agreed we appreciate the last-minute sense of adventure.
Our jaunt to Texas in March 2015 marked Kevin’s first time in the state, and I’d only visited once before; as a fourteen-year-old, I visited my uncle, aunt, and cousins in their suburban Houston home. Therefore, every experience was completely new to the both of us and I approached the trip with an unusual degree of spontaneity. Typically, I’m the obnoxious Type-A individual who prints out itineraries and coordinates each day’s driving in advance.
En route to San Antonio, I texted my aforementioned uncle, inquiring about what San Antonio has to offer out-of-towners. He suggested the “River Walk,” and a quick Internet image search revealed a spectacular urban setting I couldn’t wait to explore.
Kevin and I parked at an outdoor lot about ten minutes from the River Walk, and en route to the city’s premier attraction, we stumbled upon a Mexican cultural festival inside the kitschy but fun Historic Market Square, home to an array of shops, artisans, and food stands expressly celebrating San Antonio’s rich Hispanic heritage.
I’m not typically one for crowded interior spaces with loud music, but even I had to admit the energy at this celebration was infectious. While I’ve visited cultural centers less oriented towards tourism, Historic Market Square is worth popping by if you find yourself in the area. There’s also a pleasant array of parks and green spaces nearby if you need a breath of fresh air.
Coincidentally, our visit happened to fall on Palm Sunday, the Catholic holiday celebrating the start of Holy Week. San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio’s premier place of worship, was packed for the occasion; even so, Kevin and I were able to appreciate the lovely Spanish-inspired architecture. One of the oldest cathedrals in the entire country, San Fernando Cathedral enjoys a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and pays homage to its namesake, King Ferdinand III of Castile, who governed the Spanish kingdom in the thirteenth century.
After forty-five minutes of detours, Kevin and I finally made it to the famed River Walk, a network of planned pathways along the San Antonio River. I didn’t realize this until visiting, but the River Walk actually sits one story below the city’s downtown, giving the attraction a sort of sunken-grotto feel.
There are numerous entrances and exits to the River Walk all over town, so travelers can come and go as they wish. I found it most budget-friendly to search for lunch off the River Walk; most restaurants on the main drag are unaffordable to travelers hoping to watch the spending. We did, however, binge on dessert at Ben and Jerry’s, conveniently located at the heart of the River Walk. San Antonio is hot and humid throughout most of the year, so the ice cream was much-needed – I definitely recommend those who visit make a concerted effort to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
Heat exhaustion and dehydration are real, y’all.
Those who have a larger travel budget might want to splurge for one of the boat rides that take travelers down the river, similar to a gondola in Venice, Italy. Does this scene look familiar? You’re busted: the River Walk was featured in a 2015 episode of The Bachelorette.
One could spend an entire day exploring the River Walk, which certainly has come a long way since its infancy in the mid-twentieth century. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything else like the River Walk in all of North America.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: yes, we did, in fact, remember the Alamo. Since I spent three years living in D.C., I’m no stranger to U.S. military forts, outposts, and battlefields – but the Spanish-style Alamo is incredible unique. The birthplace of American exceptionalism and symbol of the largely illegal (or, at the very least, unethical) Mexican-American War offers a deep, unsettling contrast to the vibrantly Hispanic, Catholic city – but this contrast is well worth exploring and pondering.
The Alamo is located in downtown San Antonio, making all of the attractions discussed in this article within walking distance of one another. San Antonio’s easy geography and pedestrian-friendly tourism make this an incredible city to plan a day or weekend trip to; also, thanks to the flat terrain, is perfect for travelers with disabilities or families. Kids will undoubtedly love riding in a boat along the River Walk or munching in a churro at Historic Market Square.
I know, Kevin’s legs are cut off, but I wanted to show as little of this ridiculous outfit as possible. Here’s a pro travel tip: pack clothes that all match each other. Think solids in shades of blue, grey, and black. (Kevin, I love you. But I don’t love those shorts, which I think were “lost” in our move to Denver).
For more information about the shops, restaurants, and history of the River Walk, please check out the attraction’s official website here.