San Antonio celebrates 300 years
By: Natalie Kokonis
Updated: September 17, 2018
It’s San Antonio’s 300th birthday this year and like everything in Texas they are doing it big with a year-long celebration.
The best way to catch most of it is the famed River Walk which follows the river, 8 kilometers of which runs through downtown, and is the gateway to many of San Antonio’s attractions.
I hit the winding pavements among the joggers and dog-walkers, stopping now and then to check out the tiled, mosaic murals that line the riverbank.
With the faint sounds of the city in the distance behind me, I arrived at the San Antonio Museum of Art, to check out the exclusive Spain: 500 Years of Spanish Painting from the Museums of Madrid exhibit, honoring the city’s connection to Spain.
Many of the paintings have never been seen before in the United States, and it includes 40 spanish masterpieces. Teenagers near me excitedly Instagrammed photos of the works, no doubt boasting about seeing a Picasso masterpiece.
Next up – the Witte Museum where the $22 admission price allows you admission to the museum, Predators vs Prey: Dinosaurs on the Land Before Texas and the Confluence and Culture: 300 Years of San Antonio History. The exhibit displays various stages of San Antonian life, with narrations, artifacts, paintings, and a live play.
At the end – a minimalistic video feature of what San Antonians thought about their city – their feelings about what this city meant to them, and how they envision it in the future.
Having worked up an appetite I headed over to Pharm Table, San Antonio’s top-rated organic restaurant. The generous Persian bowl, with beef keftas, rivaled my grandmother’s. (Don’t tell her I said that).
Chef and owner, Elizabeth Johnson, says San Antonio gained its [UNESCO] designation “Creative City of Gastronomy with our amalgamation of cultures in cuisine. We have a history of Indigenous, Canary Islanders, Mexican, and German peoples. Very few [cities] have the same composite.”
Of course “Texas” and “barbeque” are synonymous with each other, and at the Alamo BBQ Company, it’s mouth-watering good. Chef Jason Dady revealed what his barbecue so unforgettable.
“Half miso, half mustard – rubbed on the brisket, and then we use kosher salt and black pepper. It creates an amazing bark.” Outside, smoke wafted from the cylinder-shaped barbeque pits in the restaurant’s yard.
And there’s much more than barbeque here, with a range of places fusing historical Texan practices (many with Spanish influences), each with their own takes on modern cuisines.
I had to consciously limit my time in the restaurants, in order to take in more of the tricentennial celebrations.
Next stop, Pearl, a gem of a neighborhood; it is a former brewery turned hip-community space, north of downtown. From afar and high above, you can see the Pearl district sign above the bricked, industrial-style lofts, and empiric-style buildings – a sandy-red smokestack displaying the words “Pearl” and “Pride.”
In Pearl’s main green-space, vendors lined the square and children happily ran through a splash pad to keep cool.
I walked through the Farmers Market, held on weekends all year long, and left with homemade pasta, artisanal chocolate, and craft beer – all created by San Antonian merchants.
Food is at the heart of Pearl and Cured an upscale restaurant is an attention grabber – an exquisite, sandy-bricked building with bright, white arches and window framings built in 1904. Once the Pearl Administrative offices these days, it holds the “Charc Tank.”
A huge, glassed vessel of vertically-hung cuts of charcuterie – aging to perfection.
I ordered the pig-cheek poutine with pickled cauliflower – a stellar rendition of a Canadian favorite.
Tired of walking I decided to see the city from the river with GO RIO Cruises. For $12 it’s a great way to sight see the River Walk.
Jerry, our charming captain of the electronically-powered open-air barge, proudly pointed out the bridge that was featured in the movie Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez. “If you look under the bridge that [Jennifer] is standing on in the movie, you’ll see a driver of a boat go by – It’s me!”
Restaurants, hotels, and shops line the river, and during our 35-minute tour, we spotted the Tower of the Americas (San Antonio’s Space Needle), and the bright, tall, red modern-looking La Antorcha de la Amistad (“The Torch of Friendship”, a gift to the city from Mexican government).
Despite their heights, Jerry told us, “no building is allowed to cast a shadow on the Alamo.” And you can’t miss it; 4.2 acres of limestone walls square off the well-preserved grounds of the Spanish mission, its cathedral-esque structures standing high.
The best way to take it the Alamo is the walking audio tour. It explains the history and everything behind the battle between Mexico and Texan revolutionaries in the 1800s.
It’s getting late in the year but in San Antonio the 300th anniversary is still going strong. And it too will be one to remember.
If you go:
Start planning your trip at visitsanatonio.com
Pick up the San Antonio “passport,” Go See SA! which includes San Antonio’s Museum for Kids, the DoSeum, with a birthday exhibit which will appeal to adults and kids alike until January 6, and the 300 Tri Art Grant program supports local artists in works commemorating the culture and history of San Antonio.
The St. Anthony Hotel had everything from ballrooms, chandeliers and purchasable art. The hotel’s pool and rooftop terrace provided unobstructed views of the city and a prime spot to watch the sun set.
I felt as regal in the hotel’s lobby as past guests would have in their opulent gowns strutting down “Peacock Alley’s” bright green carpet. After all, the King and Queen of Spain recently stayed here, too.