San Antonio: 3 Days, 3 Ways

You can't beat this fabled Texas city for great dining, fabulous shopping, and rich culture, no matter what your budget.
Jennifer L. Mckenzie / Photography: Art Meripol

People love San Antonio. It's hard not to. This is a city bursting with Texas history and Hispanic culture, as well as good ole, rip-roarin' Lone Star fun. Whether your pockets carry only lint or you're using pesos as pebbles to skip in a stream, you can truly enjoy this top tourist spot in the South. We put on our walking shoes and hunted down terrific restaurants, entertainment, and lodging at three different price points. Pack your sombrero, and get ready to make some memories.

Where To Eat
$: Good grub doesn't need to cost a fortune. Earl Abel's (4210 Broadway) proves that. This legend dates to 1933 and fills you up on comforts such as fried chicken (breast and drumstick with mashed potatoes and a veggie, $6.50) and thick slices of lemon meringue pie ($3). The atmosphere hasn't changed much since it opened, so be prepared for a dose of nostalgia.

Everyone in San Antone has a personal choice on where to find good, spicy taquerías. Try Blanco Cafe (5525 Blanco Road), Piedras Negras de Noche (1312 South Laredo Street), or Taco Haven (1032 South Presa Street). Remember that the setting, in some instances velvet artwork and mismatched chairs, may seem a bit kitschy. Still your tummy will find satisfaction.

$: Locals list hip and colorful Rosario's Mexican Café Y Cantina (910 South Alamo) as the favorite place to get their Tex-Mex fix. The folks here serve such delicious Enchiladas Suizas ($8.69), you'll want to scream "Olé!" after one mouthful. Same goes for the killer margaritas ($5.50).

Paloma Blanca Mexican Cuisine (5800 Broadway) also reaps praise from adoring San Antonians. Located in Cambridge Square of Alamo Heights, this place offers outstanding breakfasts on Saturday. Try the Chilaquiles ($4.99), fried corn strips mixed with scrambled eggs and topped with salsa and cheese, for a morning meal that will last you through dinner.

$$$: If you are fortunate enough to eat at Las Canarias Restaurant (La Mansión del Rio, 112 College Street), you'll never forget it. Wonderful memories do come at a price. But here you're paying not only for the amazing food (contemporary dishes using regional ingredients), but also the ambience. Eat in the elegant dining room or on the riverside veranda. The menu, although it changes according to the seasons, always features the unrivaled Scott Cohen's Cheese Experience ($12.50 for five types or $21 for La Grande Dame Cheese Experience). Entrées include Hill Country Quail ($25), Grilled Hill Country Raised Chicken Breast ($19), and Grilled Long Bone Beef Rib Eye ($36).

What To Do
$: San Antonio defines "more bang for your buck." In fact, you won't spend one cent for many activities in the city.

Start by visiting The Alamo(300 Alamo Plaza). No first trip to San Antonio is complete without seeing this piece of history. Remember, though, that The Alamo is one of five missions. Drive the Mission Trail Parkway that connects these historic structures, which also include Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. Pick up literature at the visitors center (2202 Roosevelt Avenue). Admission, including The Alamo, is free.

Don't miss The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum (6000 North New Braunfels Avenue) for another freebie activity. Sitting on a hill north of Brackenridge Park overlooking downtown, this Colonial Revival-style mansion mainly houses 19th- and 20th- century European and American art.

Although the hats at Paris Hatters (119 Broadway) will cost you a pretty peso, browsing costs nada. Since 1917, this shop has covered the heads of such celebrities as Pope John Paul II, Dwight Yoakam, Waylon Jennings, Prince Charles, and B. B. King.

Let your imagination take flight in Alamo Fiesta on Main (2025 North Main), the most colorful store in the city. This place sells Mexican decorations for cheap, cheap, cheap (starting at less than $1). Pick up a crown of paper flowers or a boot-shaped piñata as the ultimate souvenir.

$$: The impressive exhibits aren't the only reason to visit The San Antonio Museum of Art (200 West Jones Avenue). The architecture itself is a major draw. A group of buildings that was part of the 1884 Lone Star Brewery was gutted, connected, and turned into the awesome space that is now the museum. Admission is $6 for adults.

 $$$: Many people's budgets won't allow purchasing at Horse of a Different Color (140 West Sunset Road). It sure is fun to look, though. This fancy store offers unbelievable home decor items from big furniture pieces to chandeliers (price tags of $3,000 or more are common). The setting, a Southwestern-style yard with cacti and iron gadgets, will have you drooling.

 For an especially memorable treat, purchase tickets to the Majestic Theatre (224 East Houston). It hosts some of the best entertainment in the state, including Broadway productions and big-name concerts. This theater was one of the first to bring air-conditioning to San Antonio (a bit of trivia for you). Call (210) 226-3333 to score tickets.

Where To Stay
$: Throughout the city, you'll find a variety of national properties, such as Hampton Inn and La Quinta, which are your best options for finding cheap stays. For more local color, travelers enjoy checking in to the Arbor House Suites Bed and Breakfast (109 Arciniega; rates start at $95) for its proximity to the River Walk and The Alamo. Eight suites occupy four cottages, making a wonderful compound of lodging possibilities.

Another great alternative is the Beckmann Inn and Carriage House (222 East Guenther Street; rates range $110-$150). Housed in an 1886 Victorian home, the Beckmann offers a quiet, somewhat secluded place to stay.

$$$: If you have to eat ramen noodles two weeks prior to visiting here, it's worth it if you can swing staying at La Mansión del Rio (112 College Street; rates start at $199). No hotel fits San Antonio better. A Spanish hacienda-style structure converted from a 19th-century seminary in 1968, the property fronts the River Walk and offers the best in everything. Guestrooms feature high-beamed ceilings and brick walls. This hotel is so lovely you'll cry at the thought of going back home.

This article is from the March 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.