Postcards from San Antonio

Last month I took what will  probably be my last trip to San Antonio, Texas for several years. I have mixed feelings about calling San Antonio my hometown (some of which overlap with the post I wrote about being born in Alabama), but it’s as close to a hometown as I’ve got. My dad was in the Air Force and as a result, I never spent more than three years in one place. In fact, I was really only in San Antonio during the last two years of high school. But I went back every summer and Christmas break while I was in college, and I have friends there who I will miss.

I want to further preface this by saying that I don’t consider this a “city guide” or anything like that. I can’t tell you the best restaurants in San Antonio, because most high schoolers don’t have a sizable disposable income that they can use toward finding new taco joints. Likewise, I can’t recommend any hotels, because… I lived in my house. But here are a few of the places that I frequented.

Riverwalk Panorama

First, the Riverwalk, arguably San Antonio’s most famous attraction (next to the Alamo, of course). If you’re a tourist, you will certainly enjoy this excessively tourist-y area, lined as it is with bars, restaurants, and shops. But even locals head down to the Riverwalk from time to time. It’s always loud and cheerful, and the bright blue-and-red tourist boats aren’t all that annoying. It’s green year-round, and it’s located smack-dab in the middle of downtown San Antonio next to all of the other important attractions.

Colorful Umbrellas

People often ask me why the Riverwalk exists. Well, that’s what they mean, anyway. Obviously in drought-ridden South Texas, a river this size wouldn’t flow year-round. The San Antonio River was a natural river at one point, but after a deadly flood in the 1920s, city officials started clamoring for flood gates and the like. But the Riverwalk as people know it today didn’t come to fruition until 1939, when a funding package from the Works Progress Administration made possible the construction of walkways and bridges. In other words, the Riverwalk is one of the most successful New Deal projects and a relic of the Great Depression.

Blue boat

Patriotism is palpable in San Antonio. And not just for the United States; there’s a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your perspective) amount of both Texas and city pride as well. I remember that some radio station made a San Antonio version of Patrick Stump’s “This City is My City” and it was all that got played, everywhere, for weeks. 

Texas shop

Dallas is probably the most gung-ho cowboy city in Texas, but there is a fair share of that culture in San Antonio, too. The above photo is one of the cuter versions of that. I did know people in high school who wore cowboy boots, and I understood why they wore them, so imagine my surprise when I moved to Chicago and discovered that cowboy boots were a hipster fashion item!

Mad Hatter's

Speaking of hipsters, Madhatters Tea House & Cafe is about as close as you can get in San Antonio, though little pieces of downtown are slowly being taken over by cutesy shops and quaint restaurants. Anyway, call it what you will, but the tea and food at Madhatters are delicious. Apart from Madhatters, I can recommend Taco Cabana for cheap, express TexMex and El Chapparal for genuine Mexican. Oh, and the dollar movie theater near Bandera Road and 1-10 if you want to catch that film that you juuuuust missed seeing at Silverado.

Little Studio Gallery

Let us return to the Riverwalk, shall we? My favorite part of the Riverwalk is just past the outdoor Arneson River Theatre and a hop across the street from Hemisphere Park. La Villita, or little village, is charming, light-strewn, and artistic. The best time to go is during Christmas, in my opinion. In fact, the entire Riverwalk is gorgeous during the Christmas season because they put up beautiful sparking lights everywhere. Even though it was June, not December, when I took these photos, you’ll still see lots of lights about.

Fountain and Lights

La Villita is filled with artists’ shops. You will find beautiful, genuine mementos here – not the tacky stuff they sell at the airport (which, I will admit, can be lots of fun).

Casa Manos sign

Though if you are looking for that genuine Texas experience, the Texas Ranger Museum will probably do ya just fine.

Texas Ranger Museum

And never fear – you can spot cowboys everywhere.

Cowboy

Just watch out for the Segway tourists.

Segway Tourists

Though San Antonio is admittedly a billboard city, it still has its fair share of beautiful architecture. I love all of the colorful buildings, not to mention all of the colorful clothes that people wear. When I moved to Chicago, all I bought was black, black, black to match everyone scuttling along hurriedly in the cold.

Colorful Building & Palm

The day I took these photos, I was reminded how much sweat my body can produce. My face felt like it was melting off! I returned to Chicago with more freckles, a slight farmer’s tan, and a bag full of limes. (Food is so much cheaper in Texas. Didn’t you know?)

Pink House

If I were being honest, this post would include several photos of La Cantera, the luxe shopping mall next to Six Flags, along with pictures of my high school, O.P Schanabel Park, the bike trail behind Wal-Mart, and Half-Price books. And the new giant barn HEB grocery store on Bandera Road. But those things aren’t exactly prime tourism material. What can I say? The way people actually live in a given place usually differs substantially from the perception of that place.

Trio of Palms

Yes, there are lots of palm trees lining the Riverwalk and the upscale shopping centers, but the natural topiary is significantly grayer and spinier (hello, mesquite trees). People do eat a lot of Mexican food, but the biggest food trend is probably breakfast tacos, a TexMex invention as far as I know. San Antonio gets a bad rap because it’s in the heart of Texas, but my Texas high school was far more liberal – not to mention better organized and more academically challenging – than the one I attended in southern Illinois. Many of my friends are doing things that you wouldn’t necessarily expect: one got her nursing degree and lives in Portland; another plays classical violin and is backpacking in Rome at the moment; another studied mechanical engineering and idolizes Richard Feynman;  yet another is involved with a progressive political non-profit dedicated to mobilizing young voters in San Antonio. My point is… well, you get my point.

Speed Limit 20

One other thing before I wind this down. If you do ever find yourself in San Antonio, make sure you rent a car (you will absolutely need one to get around) and drive through the hills in Helotes. They are breathtaking.

I’m a little surprised to admit that I’m going to miss San Antonio. It has its faults, but so does everywhere else, and it wasn’t a half-bad place to grow up after all.

P.S. Many, many thanks to my friend Adam for being the definition of patience and driving me all over San Antonio to get the pictures I wanted. 

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34 thoughts on “Postcards from San Antonio

  1. […] (of many) favourite posts from Alina’s blog Literary Vittles this month have been: firstly, a top notch post on places to visit in San Antonio, Texas, with some beautiful pictures that make me want to travel ASAP; and secondly, a very thorough post […]

  2. Wonderful travel post! 🙂 I do believe I’ve been to San Antonio, but I honestly have little recollection of it! Shameful, isn’t it. Your post almost makes me want to go back and see it again. Almost… 😉

  3. Am I at the right blog? 🙂 Thank you for the city guide ( 😉 ) tour of San Antonio Texas. Awesome captures of the city, but more importantly, you captured the culture very well. Texas is one of the five cities I would love to see before I exit out. I love the La Villita pic the most, and the dollar movie theather sounds so cool!

    1. I’m glad you like the La Villita pic 🙂 It’s such a beautiful area – I couldn’t do it justice! But there were so many mosquitoes out around sunset – I had a dozen bites on my legs after spending just 15 minutes snapping those photos. Yikes. I do hope you get to visit San Antonio one day. Knowing you, you’d discover something awesome about the city that I had no idea even existed 🙂

      1. Hey Alina, You have a real way with words and your style is very honest, which I like and appreciate. I don’t like when things are glazed/sugar coated, so yes, I loved your post!

        1. Aww, thank you again, Libby. I don’t like it when others sugarcoat things, so I try to avoid it in my own speaking and writing. One of the reasons I like your blog is because you are relatable and actually respond to comments unlike many beauty bloggers!

          1. Thanks for the lovely compliment 🙂 The whole reason I started blogging was to meet and interact with people. When I moved to Brisbane I didn’t know anyone so it was my way of staying sane (it also kept me from feeling lonely). Your comments have been/are hugely appreciated and your own posts always inspiring!

  4. I have never been to San Antonio, maybe one day. It looks very pretty. P.S I always enjoy your written pieces. You have a real skill for writing. Made me feel like I could imagine how it would feel like to visit through your pictures and words.

    1. Aww thank you! I am glad you like my writing. I like to think it’s one of the things I do well 🙂 And yes, I do think San Antonio is worth visiting if you have time. But personally, I think there are other cities in the U.S. that merit visiting first! As for me, I’ve never even set foot in Canada (or Mexico, for that matter). Shameful, I know, considered how close I am to both countries…

  5. The Riverwalk was one of the first places I visited on my first trip to San Antonio (a few years before I moved to Dallas for school after finishing undergrad in Ohio). My friend asked me where I wanted to eat and I surveyed the strip and asked if we could go to a place I had never heard of before that sounded exotic and local. Years later I discovered that “Joe’s Crab Shack” is neither exotic nor local. But we did go back for plenty of breakfast tacos. I’ve only been to San Antonio a few times but I hope to go again soon so I can see the hills!

    I think I speak for all Texans (natives and transplants) when I send you this:

    1. hahaha oh no!!! And Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t even serve good food!! I hope you’ve gotten some good Texas food since then. And oh my, Bowling for Soup. God, I remember that band from middle school when I lived in Wichita Falls, Texas. As I’m sure you know, the band is SPECIFICALLY from Wichita Falls and everyone was CRAZY about them.

      1. Haha they must have gone crazy for Bowling For Soup up there. I had a friend who moved from Dallas to Ohio. Years after the move she was high on Texas pride and loved to play that song. I’ve gone back to Joe’s Crab Shack a few times since the Riverwalk but it is never by choice. I love Texas food but I do miss the overabundance of Italian food from my hometown. The Mexican food might suck north of Texas but the Italian food sucks this far south.

        (Unfair) Case in point:

  6. That Riverwalk area looks so pretty! In fact all of these photos look really pretty. I love how everything has a brightly coloured, vaguely Mexican-looking accent. Sounds like a really lovely place to visit!

    1. I’m glad you like the colorful, cheerful aesthetic! Downtown Chicago is beautiful — all shimmering steel and glass — but it can also feel cold and impersonal. San Antonio has a much more welcoming vibe!

  7. I’ve been living here in Austin since the early 90’s, not too far away. Although I am familiar with many of the things you mentioned, I haven’t taken that drive in Helotes. I’ll have to try it!

    1. Yes, I remember you mentioning this! Austin is very cool, but there are things in San Antonio that you’ll want to check out as well, including the Alamo! (A photo of which didn’t make it into this post because all the pictures I took were SUPER overexposed. That’s Texas sun for ya).

  8. Lovely post! Have never been to San Antonio so it was great visiting vicariously through your words and photos. I do like those colorful buildings and would probably make a beeline to the Madhatter’s Tea House and Cafe.

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