Where to eat, stay and play in south-central Texas
Mission San Jose
As she hitches up the layers of puffy white tulle ever so slightly, Lizvette Coronado’s bejewelled cowboy boots peak out. They perfectly match the wide-brimmed hat perched on top of her immaculately styled hair.
Her sister and mother fuss over the 15-year-old, arranging and rearranging her dress as she stands in front of La Ventana de Rosa, the Rose Window, which has been shrouded in legend since it was built in 1775 into the church of the Mission San Jose on the outskirts of San Antonio.
The significance of the historic site is what brings Lizvette here for a photoshoot to celebrate her quinceanera, a girl’s coming of age on her 15th birthday which is a milestone in Hispanic culture.
The historic window sits in the wall of a beautiful church which is the largest of the Spanish missions and has been impressively restored to how it was in the 1930s.
A guided tour of the missions doesn’t take long and it’s an eye-opening way to quickly understand just how important they were in shaping the culture and lives of locals over centuries.
Unlike the Alamo (in the heart of San Antonio and also worth a visit for its iconic church and colourful past), Mission San Jose’s absence from pop culture history allows it to sit much less plagued by tourists and as a reflection of the past, frozen in time to reveal a window into a significant part of Texas and San Antonio history.
The Pearl District’s origins story could almost be if New York hipsters kindly dropped a super cool neighbourhood in the centre of San Antonio and then fled for the lovely locals to enjoy. The checklist: craft beer in a refurbished brewery, check; artisanal farmers market, check; boutique cafes and stores, check; bike hire and shared bike paths, check. It’s a trendy enclave so beautifully put together you could easily spend a day there if you’re not careful. Hot tip: after eating at any of the incredible restaurants, soak up some sun in the courtyard outside the Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery whilst knocking back a few of their seasonal brews.
The historic Market Square has more than 100 shops and stalls packed into just a few colourful blocks and a mall that starts inside and sprawls outside with live events and authentic Mexican food. It’s the perfect place to find unique travel gifts or selfishly something of your own produced by local artists. There’s everything from pottery to glassware, exotic curios, Mexican artwork and handcrafted goods. When you’re finished shopping, devour a meal at the food court and enjoy a show on the stage.
San Marcos shopping
If you love a little retail therapy on your holiday, keep some funds reserved for the ultimate US shopping experience. And even if shopping isn’t your thing, it’s worth a visit for the spectacle of it.
San Marcos is consumerism, Texas-style – supersized to within an inch of its life. A whopping one million square feet of outlet stores with discounts that will melt your credit cards quicker than you can say “$700 leather Coach backpack reduced to only $180”.
It’s so big it sits across two enormous plots, kindly split into two halves by a road: on one side is the more affordable outlets like Gap and Nike, while on the other side is your higher-end ranges from Burberry to Gucci, and Prada among them. The layout gives you a chance to pretend you’re being fiscally responsible: perhaps you want to start out with the cheaper of the stores and use whatever pennies you have left to splurge … or you can just accept this is not a place you come without a credit card and begin with treats to yourself (all at incredible prices, mind) starting at the luxe end.
Tip: wear comfortable shoes and pace yourself with regular breaks for snacks and refreshments.
WHERE TO STAY
The Menger Hotel, with breakfast in the Colonial Room
The only risk with staying at the Menger Hotel is that you won’t leave to explore the city. The beautiful building is rich with more than 150 years of history, with an exquisitely refurbished interior to retain its old glamour and combine it with modern sophistication. With its famous bar, mango ice cream and Spanish courtyard, it’s no surprise the hotel offers its own tour, with fascinating stories of notable guests of the past (presidents among them) and its role in the city’s history (given it’s located just steps from the Alamo).
HOW TO GET THERE
The reporter flew to Texas as a guest of Texas Tourism and United Airlines on the non-stop flight from Sydney to Houston. The 15 hours and 40 minute journey is the longest single flight out of Sydney (the longest ever flown by United) and serviced by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, departing daily at 11.50am every day (landing in Houston at 10.35am the same day). The flight also unlocks the quickest route from Sydney to New York City, which is only about three hours from Houston.