By Chris Osburn, Chris Osburn is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant, and curator. He is the driving force behind the long running and award winning blog, tikichris.com.
Tuesday 7 Aug 2018 8:00 am
The seventh biggest city in the US and second largest in Texas, San Antonio is as hip to current trends as any urban centre.
Its a lot more cosmopolitan than you might expect, and proud of its Latinex culture, but back in 1718, it was little more than a Spanish colonial outpost.
Plenty of reminders of San Antonios past remain, juxtaposed with the more contemporary aspects of life.
And thats what took me there: the chance to check out how the city was celebrating its tricentennial with some excursions to boot.
The Witte Museum was a wise starting point for my crash course in San Antonio history.
During my visit, the interactive exhibit, Confluence And Culture: 300 Years Of San Antonio History, told me all I needed to know about the citys three-century evolution.
Across seven different galleries, I learnt about how the different cultures helped to shape San Antonio as a city and its early years as a Spanish mission.
Of course, I couldnt forget to tour the Alamo, too – its one of the key attractions in the city.
In the heart of downtown San Antonio, this Spanish mission predates the city, but is best known for a small band of Texans who stood their ground to the bloody end against Mexican forces in 1836.
Discovering San Antonios 300-year story presented a good excuse to explore its culinary scene – in 2017, the city became one of only two in America designated a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO.
With a food culture influenced by Mexican, Spanish, German and French cuisine, San Antonio is well worth a few days of grazing.
The stand out meal I had during my visit was at Clementine, a regional and seasonal restaurant that does fine fare in a casual setting.
I savoured grilled okra with blackberries, almonds and feta; ricotta cavatelli with broccoli top pesto, Sichuan peppercorns, toasted pecans, and Parmesan; and fried strawberry pies with crème fraîche ice cream.
Its creative gourmet stuff, though certainly not like your average San Antonio joint.
So I also tried some local spots, including two BBQ restaurants and a taqueria.
The fancier BBQ eatery was Granary Cue & Brew, located in the vibrant post-industrial Pearl District.
I was lucky enough to go when their pastrami rib was on the menu – definitely worth ordering if you see it.
The other was B&D Ice House, a ramshackle takeaway set in an old ice storehouse south of downtown.
From jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon to a tub of banana pudding, with a whole lot of smoked meat in between, supper there was epic.
Both Granary and B&D were excellent spots for sampling local craft beers as well.
As for tacos, breakfast at Garcias Mexican Food was a dream come true.
In fact I ate there twice – something I seldomly do when visiting a new city.
When you go, dont deny yourself the Tex Mex glory of brisket tacos with guacamole.
Being in San Antonia is a good excuse to get out of the city and see the rest of Texas too, and I split the rest of my time in Texas between two nearby destinations: Bandera and Fredericksburg.
Bandera, about an hours drive – and a world away – from San Antonio, is a rural outpost thats ideal for an overnight.
My main excursion was a guided horseback ride at Dixie Dude Ranch, a 10-minute drive from Bandera.
Its been donkeys years since I was last on a horse, but the guides (and my horse) were gracious pros. I felt relaxed and safe and very much enjoyed touring the 725-acre ranch.
Back in town for the night, I moseyed about Bandera for my evening entertainment.
My timing was impeccable. Showing up on Wednesday meant I was there for BYO steak night at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, an open-air music venue where the grills were fired up for patrons to cook for themselves.
Grilling my own rib eye at twilight, I spied a possum scurrying down a tree as a dozen or so line dancers sashayed in unison to live country music.
After the heartiest of breakfasts the next morning – chicken fried steak with biscuits and gravy and eggs at O.S.T. Restaurant, I hit the highway. And what a highway it was!
Planning my route over a perpetually filled cup of coffee, I determined that arriving was secondary to driving and set out to get lost on some country roads before reaching my next stop.
Taking in the landscape, crisscrossing rivers and canyons, and zipping through quirky communities (who knew Utopia was a town in Texas?) while blaring my favourite Spotify playlist with the window down were treats indeed for a pedestrian Londoner such as myself.
Best part of my joyride was negotiating the infamously curvy Ranch Roads 335, 336 and 337.
These were a trio of hairy switchbacks, complemented by smooth and scenic straight shots, referred to colloquially as the Twisted Sisters – and they were top draw for motorcyclists.
But even in my compact SUV, I found exhilaration behind the wheel, especially when scoping vistas that had me wondering if I was somewhere more exotic than Texas.
Eventually, I reached my final stop before flying back to London: Fredericksburg.
1,200 miles from the Pacific might seem a strange place to commemorate Americas involvement in World War II, until you realise the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet in charge of Allied air, land and sea forces during the war was hometown boy done good, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz.
Believe it or not, wine is a fast rising industry across much of Texas.
Hill Country farmland are being converted to vineyards, and Fredericksburg is the de facto hub for area wineries.
Best of the lot appears to be Becker Vineyards. I certainly wouldnt turn my nose up at a bottle of its Cabernet Franc after the glass I had at their in-town tasting room (set in an old Buick showroom).
As much as I loved ambulating around downtown Fredericksburg, my two preferred Fredericksburg activities occurred outside its city limits.
My first full day there commenced with a morning hike up Enchanted Rock.
A bald mountain of pink granite, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is about 17 picture perfect miles north of Fredericksburg. Trekking to its summit took a bit of exertion but yielded a gorgeous panorama of surrounding countryside.
Conversely, an evening listening to music in the blink-and-miss-it village of Luckenbach (16 miles southwest of Fredericksburg) required minimal physical effort, save for elbow bending while sipping a beer and keeping alert for roving roosters and the occasional armadillo.
A cluster of rustic buildings and picnic tables serves as an al fresco entertainment venue here – and something of a shrine to the virtues of rural living.
Immortalised in the lyrics of Waylon Jennings hit about this backwater enclave, Luckenbach is a place where there aint nobody feelin no pain.
To be sure, there was a merry assemblage of people loving the chance to rest in the shade of sprawling live oaks while listening to acoustic music.
But I got the impression that more than a few of them might have some hangover-related pain to attend to in the morning.
Where to stay in San Antonio and how to get there:
In San Antonio, I stayed downtown at The St Anthony, a 110-year old luxury hotel of recently reclaimed grandeur. Several attractions – including the Alamo, Market Square and River Walk – were nearby.
One indulgence I especially cherished about bedding down at the St Anthony was having its rooftop pool to myself every morning. Jet lag saw me rising extra early. Swimming laps with a skyline view was a refreshing kick-start to each day.
Rooms there start from £142 per night.
Digs for my night in Bandera was in town at the River Front Motel, mere steps from a handful of bars, restaurants, and amenities. Their cabins start from $99 (£76.49) per night.
My hotel in Fredericksburg was the Inn on Barons Creek, just a hop, skip and jump from much of what I wanted to do in town. Rooms there start from £112 per night.
American Airlines/British Airways and a number of major carriers offer connecting flights to San Antonio. I flew from Gatwick via Chicago OHare outbound and via Dallas return. Flights start from around £850 return.
For direct flights from London, Austin-Bergstorm International Airport is less than an hour and half drive from San Antonio. Flights for this route are around £350 return.
For thrills as well as practicalities, a car definitely was necessary. I reserved mine with Hertz and was able to pick it up and drop it off at San Antonio Airport.
For more Texas itinerary tips go to traveltexas.com.
(Top picture: Getty)