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Happy memories and the Alamo City

Updated: Mar 27

San Antonio has always held happy memories for me.

This month my daughter and I flew nearly eight thousand miles to attend a graduation ceremony in San Antonio, Texas. Each leg of the journey was delayed and by the time we arrived in San Antonio, I was disoriented enough to drive the wrong way on various one-way sections of the car rental garage, and up and down a couple ramps, until we let out at a different rent-a-car’s exit. I wear the bewildered gate attendant’s question, “how did you get here” like a badge of honor.

Before I get into the details of my trip it is worth chatting a bit about this historic city. San Antonio is the most visited city in Texas, and according to Conde Nast Traveler, is the number two travel destination in the United States (I have to admit astonishment at this last fact). In addition to historic sites like the Alamo, San Fernando Cathedral, the Spanish Governor’s Palace and the Mission Concepción, San Antonio has the Tower of the Americas, Sea World, the River Walk, San Antonio Zoo, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Schlitterbahn Waterpark, Botanical Garden, Brackenridge Park, and (catching my breath) a good number of other tourist-worthy attractions. You get it – there’s a lot of stuff to do in San Antonio. So, looking back, it is surprising how I managed to experience so few of these attractions on my recent trip – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

San Antonio has always held happy memories for me. When I was in college, my buddies and I would periodically visit the city for a change of scenery, excellent Mexican food, and a chance to spend our meager earnings doing Mexican Flag shots and drinking Corona beer on the Riverwalk. I loved the people and the old Spanish/Mexican architecture, but, for whatever reason, it was a passing romance, evaporating like a summer vacation girlfriend as soon as I returned home to Austin. Still, when a recent graduation invitation was extended, I was eager to know if I would enjoy the city as well as I did earlier in life.

From the outset, I should mention that in addition to being sixteen time zones away from home, San Antonio must have been competing to put on a production of Dante’s Divine Comedy, because it was 107 degrees Fahrenheit. So, between the tired and the heat, staying awake when it was daylight was a struggle – which in turn meant I missed a number of tourist experiences because I missed “working hours.” Still, we managed to attend the graduation ceremony, eat some good food, and drop in on some old friends completely unannounced.

Let’s talk food for a moment.

On our first day in town, my kids, their Uncle John, and I stopped in at Down on Grayson (303 E Grayson St, San Antonio) for sustenance and respite from the heat – and we walked away very pleased. This American cuisine restaurant offers excellent food, including their amazing, “must have” buttery, Crispy Brussels, deliciously comfortable Char King burger and Grilled Sandwich Du Jour (which was a grilled cheese with chicken on the day of our visit) oozing with burnt cheese. I would have been completely satisfied with the Crispy Brussels and a cold beer. Down on Grayson can be a bit busy during lunch, but the excellent quality food, friendly staff, and very nice atmosphere are worth the wait.

After standing around in the hot, but not yet scorching, morning sun, we had a post-graduation lunch at Fogo de Chão (849 E Commerce St, San Antonio, on the Riverwalk adjacent to the San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter) Brazilian churrascaria. It amazes me that a chain of thirty-five restaurants can maintain such high standards, but Fogo de Chão manages to do it. We gorged like a pride of lions, with manners, and left quite satisfied and near comatose. Unfortunately, there were no Acacia trees to climb for a post-meal nap, so we soldiered on through the afternoon.

Anthony Bordain's favorite barbecue, Two Bros. BBQ Market

By the evening we were on the hunt for yet another meal. Since the late, most excellent, Anthony Bourdain raved about the barbecue at Two Bros. BBQ Market (12656 West Ave, San Antonio), we had to see what all the ruckus was about. Initially, I should mention that it was impressive how quickly patrons were processed from ordering to payment, even after getting the first-timer briefing at the order counter. I was equally pleased with the very casual, kid-friendly, atmosphere in the restaurant. To do our visit justice we decided to order a couple of items - a couple pounds of brisket (which I can’t get out of my mind), BBQ beans, Mac and Cheese, Potato Salad, and in case we needed to store up even more fat for the coming winter, some Smokey Spinach Artichoke with Bro Chips. It was, I am embarrassed to admit, too much food to finish, but worth "the old college try." I have to say though, it was the best Texas-style barbecue I had eaten in a while - so now I understand what the ruckus was about.

One of my closest friends moved to San Antonio a number of years ago, and I had been derelict in keeping in touch. My daughter and I had talked about showing up at his house, completely unannounced, but he and his family had moved from his previous home and I wasn’t privy to his new address – was this omission purposeful? LOL Nevertheless, undaunted by my out-of-date contact information, we managed to track my old friend down at his place of business and the surprise (and scolding for failing to provide more notice of our visit) was well worth it. It had been too long since I had seen my friend and his delightful family, and after barbecue (it's Texas folks, they play to their strengths) and hours of conversation, it was time to bid farewells yet again.

Just in case you’re wondering, we did manage to visit the Alamo Mission (300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio) before we left. It would be sacrilegious for a military history buff to visit San Antonio without visiting the hallowed ground of the Alamo. And, having experienced San Antonio’s 107-degree temperature, I was eager to avoid military history buff hell. I have posted some photos of the Alamo above for your entertainment.

We also managed to work in a visit to Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch (26515 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd, San Antonio) for some “stay in your car” outdoor adventure, which would likely have been better received by my kids when they were a bit younger. Still, there were some interesting and cute animals and I managed to take more photos of grassland creatures than, I suspect, even Rudyard Kipling would be interested in.

Tired and half-baked, I am pleased to say that the Alamo City still offers happy memories - even if we missed many of the experiences this city has to offer. And, it is likely that this visit will linger on my mind a while longer.

(All photos, such as they are, were taken by me; all copyrights are reserved).

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