A First Timers Guide to San Antonio
(Editor’s Note: It pains me to say that 5 Points Local cafe has closed their doors since I wrote this story. I hope to one day return to San Antonio and find gluten-free pancakes as good as theirs! -Mary)
While I’m on a mission to see all 50 states in the USA, Texas has long been on my radar. I attribute this to an early love of Tim Burton’s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, and Sandy Squirrel from Spongebob. Throw in rumors that everything is bigger and better, as well as sights to see like the Riverwalk and Alamo, and it’s no surprise that San Antonio seemed like a great city to begin in when I headed to the Lone Star state.
Arriving in San Antonio
As I planned my visit to the Texas Hill Country, one of Texas’ very own wine countries, it was an easy decision to fly into San Antonio. Just under 70 miles from Messina Hof Winery in Fredericksburg, where I’d be staying, I found myself deep in the heart of the city and just a few miles from historic landmarks like the Alamo as soon as I landed.
The San Antonio Riverwalk
The Riverwalk is one of the city’s most cherished landmarks. A stone’s throw from the Alamo, the Riverwalk’s fascinating history dates back to 1536 when shipwrecked captive, Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, first saw and described the river. Fast forward a few centuries in 1921, the worst flood in San Antonio’s history killed over 50 people and caused millions of dollars in damage. City planners struggled over what to do and it was soon proposed to turn the area into a beautiful urban park with apartments, dining, shopping, boat rides and walkways lit with old-fashioned street lamps.
The brainchild of architect, Robert H. H. Hugman, he wanted it to be just as if one were walking in Venice, Italy. After convincing city officials and business leaders of the financial benefits of his plan, the dream became a reality and the Riverwalk was eventually sculpted into the masterpiece visitors get to savor and enjoy today.
Not knowing quite what to expect, the Riverwalk was one of the most unique promenades I’ve visited. With its near 3 mile stretch of water situated between shops and restaurants, the Riverwalk was gorgeous yet definitely attracts out of towners which caused it at times to feel a bit impersonal. The surrounding area boasts several familiar favorites like Chipotle and Margaritaville in addition to an AMC theatre and comedy clubs. While I didn’t get a chance, I highly recommend a boat tour along the Riverwalk to fully take in the beauty to be seen. Guests can also enjoy lunch or dinner and drinks during the cruise.
Next up, I paid a visit to the famed Pearl District. A chic neighborhood centered around its brewery complex with shops, cafes, and entertainment, I loved connecting with locals as we gathered to enjoy the popular First Thursday, Pearl’s monthly night market. Boasting local vendors, farmers, artists, and musicians, the anticipation was high as we approached both the kick-off of San Antonio’s Fiesta and the 48th birthday of Selena, the “Dreaming of You” pop star whose life was cut much too short in 1995. Several vendors were selling gorgeous memorabilia for the late singer, as well as shops offering the 2019 Fiesta medal and essentials.
My first stop was to Twig Bookstore. It was a hot day, and chilling out with a good book for a bit sounded heavenly. With cozy chairs and a laid back atmosphere, Twig also has fun bits and baubles you hope to find like notebooks, planners, and local trinkets perfect for the visitor like myself. Los Angeles bookworms will appreciate Twig’s similar vibes to Vroman’s in Pasadena.
If food is on your mind, check out Pearl’s Bottling Food Hall. Little bit cafeteria with a lot of sophistication, Bottling offers up some of the best fast-casual food, drinks, and wine in the area. For a sit-down meal, The Pearl has several restaurants as well as the famed Hotel Emma. Visitors flock to the hotel to spend a romantic evening or pop in for drinks and an exquisite meal at their famed restaurant, Supper.
San Antonio Museum of Art
Since parking is free at Pearl, I decided to take advantage of that (I paid $15 by the Riverwalk) and enjoy a 10-minute stroll over to San Antonio Museum of Art. I admit, the heat and humidity were intense, but that didn’t stop me from taking in the sights. Especially, with glimpses like this as I made my way….
Founded in 1981, the San Antonio Museum of Art offers art lovers a vast collection to observe ranging from American to Islamic and of course, work from Texas artists.
The first exhibit to catch my eyes was Capturing the Moment. A photography exposition spanning 5 decades and events such as the Great Depression and civil rights movement, notable photographers included among the collection are Danny Lyon and Ilse Bing.
How can you visit San Antonio and not make a bee line to the famed Alamo? Centrally located in the heart of downtown and adjacent to the Riverwalk, you can feel the history as you walk the grounds. Stunning architecture and gardens surround you, and docent-led tours are free. Just be ready to wait in a potential long line during the peek seasons. I arrived on a Monday in April and the crowds reminded me a bit of a busy day at Disneyland, no joke.
While I decided against waiting for a tour, I loved walking throughout the gardens. An ideal place for people watching, it was intriguing to hear so many different accents and languages as I enjoyed the Alamo’s 5 acres of history.
Gluten-free in San Antonio
I had some fantastic meals down in Texas. My #1 favorite may be the gluten-free pancakes I enjoyed (or, shall I say, devoured) at 5 Points Local, an eclectic cafe and yoga studio that’s also 100% gluten-free. Breakfast is served all day, as well as lunch and dinner options like steak and paleo bowls. The pancakes were fluffy and thick, resembling much more of a wheat-based flapjack. I was in Texas heaven and even thought of going back before my flight. A common trend throughout the parts I got to see of the city is that everyone is very laid back. This certainly continued at 5 Points Local.
I encountered a few other gluten-friendly menus at Pearl’s Green Vegetarian Cuisine and Rita’s, one of the great choices you’ll have at the Riverwalk for a “Texas sized” margarita, as well as gluten-freindly options!
If your sweet tooth is calling you, slide on into Lick Honest Ice Creams, also at Pearl. Lick offers a handful of ice cream favors daily, with half of them vegan. While the beet ice cream looked interesting, I decided to stay on my dairy-free kick and get a small, 2 scoop of very vegan chocolate and a caramel swirl. Did I notice it was dairy-free? Yes, because I favor coconut-based creams and it tasted like that. Did I think it was delicious? YES. I do still eat dairy based products fairly often, yet overall find I feel better without cows milk. If Lick was local, I would be there all of the time. The staff was also knowledgeable about gluten-free.
You can park for free while enjoying Pearl, and many popular parts of San Antionio have public, paid parking in addition to metered street parking and some offer parking lots. Much like Los Angeles, the city offers rental bikes and scooters throughout the popular areas with inexpensive rates. I had thought of this for my trek over to the art museum, but, we all know I still get nervous riding a bike without supervision (aka, my husband.)
Learn more about San Antonio HERE and let me know if you have any questions about touring this fantastic Texas city! xo