Remember the Alamo?
Not a problem–I can help because I’m still dreaming about it.
I was lucky enough to hitch onto a press trip to San Antonio, Texas recently, as Cool Mom Picks aims to cover more fun and interesting travel options and family vacation destinations by popular request, and boy am I glad I did. With international taxes and fuel surcharges making overseas trips more prohibitive, it’s great to know that there are so many cool things to do right in our own borders.
I admit that San Antonio isn’t the first place I necessarily think of when I’m considering booking a trip. But as it turns out, whether you’re traveling with kids or taking a much-needed kid-free trip, San Antonio has a lot to offer.
[Don’t miss an amaaaazing giveaway after the jump! Free trip, anyone?]
I’m going to cut right to the chase and tell you my very favorite thing about San Antonio: You don’t need a car for 95% of the awesome stuff.
Bonus when you’re traveling with kids. The downtown area is
unbelievably safe and easily traversed, whether you’re on your feet with
a stroller, taking a bus or trolley, floating on a river taxi, or
enjoying a Cinderella-esque ride in a horse-drawn carriage lit with
sparkling lights. The San Antonio River ripples right through the
downtown area alongside dozens of hotels, all within walking distance of
the Alamo, museums, rides, shopping, hiking trails, art installations,
and restaurants. You can even take a boat tour to learn more– or lure
your kids to sleep.
That means that as long as your hotel has an
airport shuttle, you don’t have to fiddle with a rental car and car
seats and the GPS with a snotty voice telling you to turn left into a
field full of steers–which is my biggest traveling fear.
that also means you have to go when it’s warm, because when winter winds
rip between the tall buildings, it’s like being in a freezing wind
tunnel. Anything after March should be fine– they kept telling us, “It
never gets this cold!” But for a couple of nights… boy, it was.
Antonio seriously has something for everyone and would make a great
multi-generational trip. There’s history galore, from the beautiful
missions to the beloved Alamo, which is right smack in the middle of
downtown, across from the helpful Convention and Visitors Bureau and the
Now I am talking talking serious, full-tourist,
more-for-kids-than-you kitsch: think Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Odditorium of two-headed calves, Guinness World Records, and Louis
Toussaud’s Wax Works, which got super creepy in the religious, historic,
and fairy tale parts after the celebrity section. (It ain’t Madam
Toussaud’s, but they’ve got a great Bumblebee Transformer that has
convinced my children I’m cool, as you can see.)
Campy stuff aside, there is a
Children’s Museum, but I wasn’t that impressed; seemed like they were
missing a lot of parts and toys. The grocery play station should have food, right? There are also a host of downtown museums and if you grab a city pass, they’re a lot more affordable. It can be a fun way to pass the time indoors.
The Best of the Attractions
you want to let the kids run wild at the San Antonio Zoo or Botanical
Gardens, there’s a bus just for tourists that will get you to all of the
sights for $4 a day per adult. The zoo had a great kids’ area where you
can pretend to be a prairie dog or worm, and we got to see all the big
animals. The reptile house had more venomous snakes than I’ve ever seen and an entire family of Komodo dragons.
The Botanical Garden is beautiful with lots of room to run–but there is nothing specifically for kids. You’ll know whether yours are the types who appreciate nature or not.
The Witte Museum,
on the other hand, is surprisingly kid-centric, especially when you get
out back to the HEB Science Treehouse, Mt. Witte climbing wall, and
SkyCycle. If you like heights, the Tower of the Americas
can take you up 750 feet for a beautiful view of San Antonio, and your
ticket price includes a hilarious 4-D film experience that will have
your little ones squealing about bull snot for days.
I was thrilled to get to hit Sea World
(yes, there’s one in Texas) which was utterly phenomenal. It’s
the one attraction that requires a car, but if you’ve got teens who
love roller coasters, kids who dig whales, or tiny tots that will freak when they get to hug the real Grover, make sure to plan it into your trip. They’ve got a
new Sesame Street Bay of Play with enough water and dry fun to keep
preschoolers happy and cool all morning; not to mention a live Sesame
Street show and a great photo opportunity with the requisite characters.
My personal favorite was The Great White roller coaster, which is
totally worth making someone else watch the kids for half an hour.
Also keep in mind that just walking around can be a cool cultural experience for kids, considering everyone in town is bilingual with English and Spanish. So even a trip to the drugstore can be fun and interesting for little ones.
Eating. Oh, the Eating!
San Antonio restaurants definitely spoiled my stomach. Zagat has a full 713 listings for San Antonio, so believe me, this is an eating mecca.
Families will love breakfast at the historic Guenther House,
where the cinnamon rolls were approximately the size of my head (but
tasted much better). If mom and dad can manage to get away alone, I
recommend a romantic dinner at the Little Rhein Steak House,
which has a beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking the San Antonio
River. The night we dined there, live music was playing across the river
and they offered us ponchos to ward off the chill. I’ve also read good
things about Rosario’s, which is near the Alamo and listed as one of the top 50 restaurants in the US.
But again, wherever you eat, you don’t have to drive there. So bring on the margaritas! Especially at swanky Q Restaurant, which is located in the Hyatt Regency, right on the river.
Downtown San Antonio has loads of hotels at a wide
range of prices. If you’re into the haunted/historic thing where they
still use brass keys, try the Alamo-adjacent Menger Hotel or the Fairmount,
which has a dog concierge named Luke– yes, an actual yellow Lab– and
is across the courtyard from the best Italian food I’ve ever had at Tre Trattoria. And they have all the standards, such as the Hyatt and the Marriott, where I stayed. The Marriott Rivercenter
was good to me, with bath products from the Body Shop and a choice of
colors when I lost my toothbrush. It’s also connected to a mall, which
can be handy if you forget your swimsuit or need a trip to the
Disney Store to placate a tiny tired traveler. And there’s a Starbucks
in the lobby, too. Another plus: The Marriott is so tall that you’ll
always be able to find it, even at night.
Travel Tips You Might Not See Everywhere
If you can avoid a layover at the Houston Airport, by all means do. It was a
lot like someone’s first day at Hogwarts, with changing gates and late
flights and bad food and early flights and customer service lines so
long that people missed their flights before they could find their
luggage. I’d also counsel you to check the San Antonio weather first, because I don’t think it
would be much fun in the cold.
You can check the San Antonio Visitors Bureau website for special event information
to plan your visit at just the right time, including the San Antonio
SPURS basketball season between January and April and the amazing
Luminaria art festival in April.
I also suggest if you’ve got young kids, bring a stroller that can
maneuver up and down a couple of steps without collapsing, since there
are occasional stairs when you’re hoofing it. My other personal favorite tip: instead of the stroller, bring a great buckle baby carrier like the FreeHand. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
If you’re looking for a fun and, more importantly, easy travel destination for the whole family, San Antonio really can be a great way to go. Check out the San Antonio travel deals right here for some cool passes that will get you into lots of the attractions mentioned above, and visit www.VisitSanAntonio.com or call toll free 1-800-447-3372 for help planning a trip.
Congratulations to Emily D. for winning a free trip to San Antonio plus hotel, restaurant vouchers and airfare. Wow!
to the San Antonio Convention Bureau for including us on this press
trip, and covering Delilah’s expenses. Margaritas on her next time.