San Antonio Serenade
By: Suzanne Ferrara
It’s easy to get lost in San Antonio’s mystique; the central Texas city’s alluring charm and fascinating history is practically unmatched. The millions of visitors who return here, year after year, know first-hand that one visit is not enough. It’s the kind of place that seems to capture the soul and leaves you longing for more; in fact, it’s one of the most unique places on American soil, a place where you can experience some of the colorful character and spirited culture of Mexico.
Standing amidst this metropolis is a consummate symbol of courage and sacrifice: the iconic, awe-inspiring Alamo. No visit to San Antonio is complete without witnessing the “Shrine of Texas Liberty”, and the list of those who battled Santa Anna’s Mexican troops includes a veritable “who’s who of Texas history”: Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Barret Travis.
While history unfolds inside these walls, it also comes to life in the treasure trove of amazing artifacts that reflect the site’s 300-year history. Included in the collection are personal items and objects of the Alamo defenders including Crockett’s ornate vest and Bowie’s knife.
Delve even further into the city’s natural and cultural heritage with a stroll through the picturesque Paseo Del Rio (the San Antonio River Walk). The renowned downtown River Walk is full of restaurants, shops, and bars, with many built of native stone. The beautiful San Antonio river flows through winding pathways lined with Cypress trees and lush tropical foliage.
Board a boat which glides underneath a canopies of trees and under stone-arched bridges, and as you do, you are sure to hear the sweet melody of strolling Mariachi bands serenading bystanders with their lively rhythms and harmonies. A great way to experience the River Walk is by taking a 35-minute, narrated boat ride tour offered by Rio San Antonio Cruises (which run from morning till night).
For an unforgettable experience, hop aboard one of the candlelit dinner cruises available for a relaxing evening on the river. Boudro’s, a New American bistro with wood-grilled steaks and seafood, serves up awesome fare, and the ride begins with bowls of the mouthwatering guacamole made with roasted tomatoes, fresh lime and orange juice. Sipping a refreshing signature Prickly Pear Margarita is a must.
After that, it’s only a few steps to a good night’s rest at the Marriot River Walk, which is conveniently located near several attractions. As a matter of fact, the River Walk’s pathways and a boarding stop for the river boats are right outside the hotel. (Tip: Request a river view room with a balcony).
In the morning, head to Market Square (El Marcado), the largest Mexican market in America, one filled with a plethora of specialty shops, produce stands and restaurants. In the heart of this three-block long plaza is the legendary Mi Tierra Restaurant and Bakery, a world famous landmark located in Market Square. The Cortez family has been serving scrumptious Tex Mex and authentic Mexican dishes since 1941 when it started with only three small tables; today there’s seating for more than 500. As musicians visit diners, Mi Tierra and its colorful décor of Christmas lights and pinatas, is the place for a spectacular feast.
Be sure to check out the inspiring grand artistic addition to this longtime establishment: a massive mural of Mexican Americans entitled “The American Dream”. This Spanish heritage masterpiece is the work of five artists, including local favorite Roberto Ituarte, and took more than two decades to complete. Ask your waiter to show you how to see the mural in 3-D, a special technique Ituarte used to make it seemingly come to life.
For an innovative yet deeply rooted traditional culinary experience, tempt your taste buds at La Gloria (The Heaven) located on the historic Pearl Brewery Complex. San Antonio’s famed Chef Johnny Hernandez offers unique, authentic street foods of Mexico like Tacos al Pastor of Mexico City to Cocteles de Mariscos from Veracruz. Hernandez takes authenticity to heart, and it shows, right down to the kitchen tools he uses to create his dishes.
Just fifteen minutes away from all of this vibrancy is the breath-taking Texas Hill Country, a perfect setting to unwind and have fun amid seemingly painted vistas. The San Antonio Hill Country is dotted with grand resorts offering guests both the best in luxury and entertainment; each has its own unique architecture and grand water features.
La Cantera Hill Country Resort, part of the Destination Hotels collection, sits on 550 picturesque acres. This estate boasts four pools (with poolside attendants), 10 luxury cabanas, and a bar that overlooks the scenic hills; plus, there’s a kids’ pool with a pair of slides of which they’ll never tire.
La Cantera also offers two world-class golf courses, including one designed by Arnold Palmer, and lessons are available from PGA professionals. For the young set, there’s endless fun at the resort’s Kids Club; and in the evening, the entire family can roast marshmallows and then watch Six Flags Fiesta Texas fireworks show.
This resort boasts nine distinctive dining and beverage options, ranging from casual to gourmet, and all have a southwestern flair. At Primero Cantina, Chef Zachary Garza uses his grandmother’s recipes and the flavors of Mexico (and Texas) in his creations. Be sure to try the Mixto Ceviche, Tacos Al Pastor, and their Carne Asada with house-made corn cakes and goat cheese, then finish it off with Sweet Tamales topped with hibiscus cream, corn nuts and fresh mint.
A special culinary feature: a charcuterie with delectable smoked meats and gourmet cheeses at Bocado. If that’s not enough, there’s an inventive and savory menu at Sweet Fire Kitchen including the unique deviled eggs and classic wood fired pizzas.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas is only one minute away from La Cantera Resort, and this theme park has dozens of thrill rides including the new 4-D free-fly Batman coaster, Bugs White Water Rapids, and Scooby Doo Ghost Blasters. Younger kids can venture to the water park and Kidzopolis plus take photos with numerous Looney Tunes and DC Comics’ characters.
Twenty miles away, in the community of Cibolo Canyons, is the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa. The resort’s six-acre River Bluff Water Experience is reason enough to check into this estate; this massive water feature has a 650-foot river ride, water slides, plus a 1,100-foot lazy river.
Want something special out of the water? Head to a pair of 18-hole PGA tour golf courses, walk or bike a five-mile trail thru rolling green hills, or take their “Nightlife” nature walking guided tour. After dark, you can stargaze with a resort astronomer or enjoy s’mores at your own campfire.
Leave your worries behind and renew yourself at the J. W. Marriott’s state-of-the-art, 26,000 square-foot full-service Latina Spa. This spa has a beautiful private pool, fitness center, café and boutique, and indigenous plants and herbs are used to pass on the healing traditions from the Curanderos (village healers) who lived more than 500 years ago.
Hungry or thirsty? There are seven restaurant and lounge options including Cibolo Moon which serves mouthwatering regional Hill Country cuisine with Mexican influences. J.W. Marriott also has a supervised kids’ recreational program at the Range Rider Kid’s Club where on some nights, children even make their own ice cream. Don’t be surprised if your little one doesn’t want to leave.