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San Antonio's River Walk, on the Rio Grande. photos by Amy Hamblen.
San Antonio's Riverwalk, on the Rio Grande. photos by Amy Hamblen.

A San Antonio Girlfriend Getaway: On the Rocks with Salt



Texas for Two: If there’s one thing I look forward to every year, it’s meeting up with my favorite roommate from college for a weekend of shopping, drinking and lots of catching up. I’ve quickly learned from these trips that it is, indeed, the company you keep that makes the trip, but give us a destination with all of the prerequisites—treasures to buy, cocktails to drink and a change of scenery to explore—and we’ll go home with a weekend full of stories and a promise to do it all over again the next year.

Since neither of us had been to Texas (not counting layovers in DFW), we decided San Antonio would be a good introduction to the state. After hearing about their River Walk, it sounded like everything we could ask for would be within walking distance.

This turned out to be true for the most part, but since we took late flights to the city,
we arrived after 11 p.m. and were in desperate need of some hot food. We quickly learned most restaurants on the river don’t serve food that late, but luckily the clerk at the front desk of our hotel had a good recommendation.

Siempre Open

A $6 cab ride brought us to Mi Tierra Café in Market Square. The clerk had informed us this place was one of the only good restaurants serving food after 11 p.m. He also mentioned it looked like a piñata exploded in the place, and he was definitely right on point. Christmas lights and Mexican decorations are tangled about the place enhancing the vibrant colors of the walls and creating the perfect atmosphere for indulging in a drink or two.

Now, maybe it’s because I waited tables at a Chi-Chi’s during college, or maybe it’s because my first sip of tequila coursed through my blood and blissfully warmed my body like being wrapped up in the thickest of serapes, but there’s something I can’t resist about a good margarita. Mix some lime juice with triple sec and tequila, pour it over some ice, rim my glass with salt and top it off with a slice of lime and you’ll have a friend for life. Mi Tierra Café’s margaritas met my main requirement, which is, they must be big.

Along with the size of their margaritas, this restaurant has a lot to offer: they never close, they

Mi Tierra restaurant...open late in San Antonio
Mi Tierra restaurant...open late in San Antonio.
 

serve breakfast all day (and night), and they have a bakery and a bar. The bar crowd was buzzing with conversation and a mariachi was working the dining room for tips, but be forewarned; as opposed to the free buskers you hear on the New York subway, these musicians charge $5 a song.

Luckily other diners shelled out the dough, so the soundtrack to our excited, first-day-of-vacay conversations was provided by the generosity of others. The music-infused drinks and tacos were the perfect preamble to our trip.

Happy Hour Just Got Happier

We chose to stay at the Drury Plaza Hotel Riverwalk. It was formerly the Alamo bank and has a vault on display, but it wasn’t our love of historical financing that drove our decision to stay here. In addition to their free breakfast, free popcorn and soda, they have a free happy hour. This was another opportunity to partake in margarita sampling; and although we weren’t serenaded this time around, we didn’t have to pay a penny for our drinks. The hotel provided two drink tickets per person, but since a lot of guests only used one of their tickets, it wasn’t hard do pick up a couple extra.

Take Me to the River

We purposely booked a hotel right on the River Walk. I love a weekend getaway where you don’t need to rent a car. There’s something about walking that makes conversations so much more enjoyable than when you’re sitting in a car stressing over navigating a new town.
We visited San Antonio in January, and the temperature was in the cool 70s. This meant the River Walk wasn’t very crowded, and in our long-sleeve shirts we were warm enough to explore the area.

Dueling pianos at Howl at the Moon, in San Antonio.
Dueling pianos at Howl at the Moon, in San Antonio.

With its bridges and fountains, the River Walk is very pretty and easy to enjoy. It even offers a glimpse of wildlife. We saw baby ducks and a yellow-crowned night heron enjoying the river during these walks.

From Happy Hour to after-dinner drinks, the River Walk also has a lot to offer in the dining category. Most of the restaurants have outdoor seating, so you can watch tourists walking, gawking and riding down the river in boat tours as you enjoy your food. We tried out several of the right-on-the-river establishments while we were there. We found the best prices at Lone Star Café. The restaurant had drink and appetizer specials for happy hour and was a good spot for a late lunch.

Another place we hit up on the River Walk is a link in a national chain and was full of out-of-towners. Howl at the Moon, the dueling piano bar is a loud, rowdy good time at night. You have to pay a cover charge, and this place gets packed, but the pianists are experts in entertainment. Piano bars are a notorious spot for bachelorette parties, which should be a clue in of itself.

They are for those looking to get silly drunk. The alcohol and out-of-town-ness contributed to the friendliness of the patrons of this place, and the crowd we encountered was willing to sing along and chat up strangers in-between laughing at the entertainers’ funny songs. When we wanted to take a breather from the mayhem, there was an outdoor patio where we enjoyed a drink.

One more spot with an interesting atmosphere was Dolores Del Rio Italian Restaurant. When we came across it one evening we had to wait a few minutes for seating. The Maître d' informed us some guests were going to let us share their table near them, and he wasn’t kidding. After we were ushered to our seats, we were squeezed in at a table with a group of men. We found out they were in the military. As it turns out there is more than one military base in San Antonio, and the city has a fitting nickname, “Military City.”

The River Walk is a close enough spot for soldiers to enjoy the weekends there. The restaurant was very small and dark, but thankfully the live music and belly-dancing offered ice breakers in a space that may have seemed too intimate of a setting for a group of complete strangers to be seated so closely. The food was good, but pricey. Graciously, someone seated across the room picked up the bill for our whole table when he learned the guys we were seated with were in the military.

The Alamo is much smaller than you think
The Alamo: much smaller than you think.

Remembering the Alamo

It seems the life of soldiers has changed quite a bit since the Battle of the Alamo took place. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched Disney’s “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” growing up. (I have an older brother.) I am well-acquainted with the legend of Mr. Crockett and fellow Alamo-defender Jim Bowie, but all those movie-viewings couldn’t prepare me for what I saw when I arrived at the site of the actual Alamo. In fact, I think they contributed to my disillusionment. The Alamo was much smaller than I had imagined.

While most of it has been rebuilt, the Alamo exists today as an admission-free landmark. With the gorgeous trees and huge cactuses, it is hard to imagine any kind of battle taking place within its walls. The plaques on the wall and the canons lined up against its walls, however, tell a grimmer story, and it’s impossible not to be moved by such tales of bravery.

Meandering in Market Square

While we didn’t do any major shopping while visiting San Antonio, the gift shops in Market Square are a great spot for picking up funny souvenirs. They sell everything from maracas to Mexican wrestling masks, and Day of the Dead knick knacks, cowboy hats and hot sauce are in full supply.
Besides trinket shopping, there is more to do and see in this part of town because San Antonians like to celebrate. In addition to several other celebrations throughout the year, Primer Sabado takes place on the first Saturday of most months.

This festival offers entertainment along with food and crafts for sale. While we were in town, there was a festival of one kind or another taking place. We stopped to watch a trick rope show along with a demonstration behind a covered wagon, showing how the vehicles were used for meal-preparation during the olden days of pioneering. Market Square turned out to be another excellent locale for talking, walking and taking in the sights.

It’ll Last Longer

On the last day of our trip, my friend finally coaxed me into visiting the Classic Old Time Photo studio and having our pictures taken. I was skeptical, but it was actually a lot of fun. Who knew dressing up for an old time photo would be such a riot? The photographer expertly chose vintage gowns that transformed us into brassy saloon gals who could have confronted the toughest of gun-slingers in any watering hole of the past.

We laughed it up as we invented poses and swapped out our props, cards for pistols and fans for bottles of Jack. The embarrassment was a small price to pay for the fun we had creating photo-worthy bar scenes; besides, those pictures turned out to be the best souvenirs of the whole trip.

 
Amy Hamblen

 

 

Amy Hamblen lives in New York City and writes for shortandsweetnyc.com.

 

 

 

 

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