San Antonio

San Antonio

February 5-17, 2024

San Antonio has a bunch of nicknames, and we experienced all of them. It's Mission City because it has so many Spanish missions within the city, including the Alamo. That mission is why it's also known as Alamo City. Natural springs that start downtown and build San Antonio River give the city another nickname, River City. The city has the largest concentrations of military bases in the country, so they trademarked the name Military City to call that out. And some people even call the city Tony out of affection. We like that last one.

We decided to travel along the Mexico border to get to San Antonio from Alpine, Texas. It ended up being very scenic, and we had the opportunity to stop at the Amistad National Recreation Area and the site of the huge Amistad Reservoir that is partially in Mexico and partially in the United States. We drove over it and next to it for a bit, enjoying the gorgeous water, and then stopped for a bit at the visitor center where there was no view of the water. We also spent some time at a beautiful rest area so Monica could attend a meeting. It was a nice trip.

Our camping rates in San Antonio were a bit higher than usual, but it was okay. We were there during San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, and we were staying very close to where the festivities were happening. There was a $10 lot with shuttle buses practically next door. That meant it was pretty busy where we were, but the park was fenced and gated and it was a happy and safe little community. We talked about going to the rodeo, but we decided we had other attractions we wanted to see so we skipped it.

Our first excursion was to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. We also wanted to check out Austin, but it was a rainy day so we just drove around a little. It looked like a really nice place to stay, so hopefully we can add it to a future plan. We've really been enjoying learning details about each of the presidents, and this was no exception. Even though LBJ only had a single term in office, he accomplished a lot. He seemed like he really understood what was best for the country at the time.

Our next day in San Antonio would be a big one. The southwest has a lot of old, Spanish missions that partially or fully remain standing because of its proximity to Mexico and Native American cultures. The Spanish wanted to convert these "uncivilized" peoples to Catholicism and a more "civilized" way of life spent farming, ranching, and attending religious services. Their plan was to build communities around missions and eventually leave the missions to the people. And we've had many opportunities to see these remaining missions.

San Antonio has four missions in a collection, managed by the National Parks Service. There is a fifth mission near these four, but there is no way Texas would ever allow it to be under NPS protection. That fifth mission is The Alamo, of course.

We started with the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the first four, with a bit of driving in between them. Each mission and its grounds were a bit different, and we enjoyed them all. It was a Sunday, and mass was in full swing at a couple of them. It was a cool thing to see. It was also a great way to walk around on a beautiful, sunny day in Texas.

The Alamo is in a busy, downtown area of San Antonio so we saved it for last. It cost us $20 to park next to the site, but we were fairly close. When we got inside, we walked around a bit and saw a quick movie. This was a completely different experience compared to the national park missions. The Alamo is empty, to show its old walls as they are. The other missions have many more rooms, some of them restored. The Alamo has a patch of old paint with a bit of color on it, still, while some of the other missions have a lot more of the old decoration still on them.

A single NPS mission would take us at least 30 minutes to tour, while The Alamo only took about 15 minutes. The museum was closed, so it was a bit of a letdown. Also, there is a huge gift shop at The Alamo with tons of swag you can buy. The NPS missions are all about preserving the past and maintaining services -- they are in active use. Though the two experiences were very different, we had no regrets. We even went to dinner while we were downtown, and we had been there about 20 minutes before we noticed the Superbowl was starting (which shows how unimportant football is to us).

We celebrated our three-year anniversary while we were there, too. Luckily, San Antonio has lots of vegan options and we ended up at Vegan Avenue, a little vegan-only restaurant in an area that reminded us of some of the cool places in Denver. We ended up going back there again before we left, and we even went to a fast casual version of it at another location. Good job, San Antonio!

Valentine's Day was another cause for celebration for us, and we spent the day on the famous River Walk. San Antonio has really done something special along the river through town, with sidewalks, shops, and restaurants along it for miles. Traffic cruises by overhead, so you're downtown but it doesn't feel like it.

We started with lunch at Casa Rio, the oldest restaurant on the River Walk. We were glad we sat under a colorful umbrella at the water's edge for lunch, but that was about the only thing to be thankful for. The food was mediocre (this place is all about quantity, not quality, it seems), and pigeons were all around us, watching us. We saw the table next to us have someone get up to go visit the restroom, and as soon as she got up her plate had birds walking around in it. Then their table was covered in them. It was kind of a nightmare, so we finished up and got out of there. The birds took over our table as soon as we stood up -- they have no fear.

The birds. THE BIRDS!!! They hide just out of sight.

After lunch we did the boat tour they do along the river, and that gave us a good overview of the area. It was a good tour and a cool experience, so we were glad we did it. When we left the boat, we walked all the way around the River Walk to get some exercise and check things out. One of the things on our to-do list was to stop at the Kallison Love Lock Walk Bridge and add our blue, heart-shaped lock to the huge collection of locks. It was really interesting to go through the locks and see what people wrote. There were some really cool locks. Apparently, if you lock your lock with a key and then throw it in the river with a kiss, you'll have good luck. Here's to that!

We stopped for a drink at a little hotel bar, which was nice. We had a little bit of time to kill before our next stop, Hopscotch San Antonio. They call it an "immersive art experience" and it's difficult to describe. Instead of looking at art on walls or on pedestals, you are surrounded by it. You interact with it. It's visual art, but it's also auditory. Some of it messes with your perceptions. We would really recommend a trip to Hopscotch.

The photos from the Infinity Box are some of our favorite photos of all time. We also spent a long while on a bench watching th lights and listening to the big sounds in the Unknown Atmospheres installation, with 7,000 LED bulbs hanging and reflecting from surfaces to some big beats. It was intense and wonderful.

We didn't find out until after we were back from LBJ's Presidential Library that there was the site of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park where his ranch was. So, we headed north again to visit that. It was a big area with houses, a plane, and a working ranch with cattle. They still have the LBJ brand on their horns. It was another chilly day, so we stayed with the indoor learning areas. It was another good visit to learn more about where LBJ lived and worked at times.

We were very pleasantly surprised with San Antonio. There was a lot to do, and we barely scratched the surface (and we barely even saw Austin). This is one city we'll return to in the future, just so we can see it all again and add some more sights.

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