They really love their Mexican food down in Texas. When my friend and I were staying in San Antonio (at the El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel which I highly recommend) we missed the morning buffet so we asked the front desk where we could get breakfast. They suggested Pete’s Tacos. Apparently in San Antonio they have Mexican for every meal of the day, including breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, Pete makes some great tacos and coffee, but almost every single meal I had in San Antonio was a tiny variation on the same combination of chicken, beans and tortilla. Mexican food is wonderful but I think I had enough of it during this visit to last me a year.
Not too far from Pete’s Tacos is the San Antonio Art Gallery, where we spent the early afternoon beating the Southern heat while admiring a beautiful collection of paintings and sculptures. They have lots of North American artists as well as some amazing pieces from around the world — their Oceanic section is worth a visit if only to see the huge woven warthog sculpture.
When we came out of the art gallery the sun was directly overhead making the heat almost unbearable. We couldn’t imagine walking all the way to downtown so we caught a river taxi, a small passenger barge, which ferried us along the waterway until we got off at La Villita. Riding on a river taxi is a must-do when visiting San Antonio — it provides a completely different perspective on the downtown core. The river is like a botanical garden filled with all manner of beautiful flowers, strange fruit and graceful birds.
Lunch was, you guessed it, Mexican at the Guadalajara Grill. This restaurant is right in La Villita and has decent prices for good food and a great atmosphere. The staff was very friendly and even joked about us hitting the tequila early when we ordered margaritas to cool off from the summer heat. Whoever decorated the restaurant must have had very eccentric tastes because the walls are covered with colorful posters from old movies and signs with funny quotes (“I live in the past, the rent is cheaper”).
From the restaurant it’s a short walk (or river taxi ride) to San Antonio’s Main Plaza where the San Fernando Cathedral is located. This Roman Catholic Church is a national historic site which dates back to 1731 and is still in service today. San Antonio’s County Courthouse with its bright red spiral tower can also be found at the Main Square.
Another national historic landmark, nearby at the Military Plaza, is the Spanish Governor’s Place. Built originally in 1722 as a Spanish fort to defend local settlers against French forces this military outpost passed through many phases before finally being converted into a museum. At one point the building was even used as a saloon!
The front doors of the Spanish Governor’s Place are the newest addition. Carved in 1930 they tell the story of Spanish exploration in the New World. Images of ships bearing soldiers as they cross over turbulent seas, doing battle with dragons, create an imaginative if somewhat romanticized narrative. At the back of the building there is a beautiful courtyard garden with a fountain.
We finished our day at the San Antonio’s Market Square. This colourful indoor market has dozens of stalls and shops with all sorts of decorative items, from handmade leather cowboy boots and embroidered clothing to painted ceramic skulls and wooden figurines. If you want a memorable souvenir from San Antonio this is the place to look. Just as with the restaurant scene the shopping in San Antonio has a distinct Mexican flavor that proves a real feast for the eyes.