A Perfect Road Trip to San Antonio

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I love road trips! Who doesn’t? Actually, I know a few people (my husband) that don’t so there’s that.

Let me say again, I love road trips! I love getting up early and being on the road before anyone else! The sky is still dark and the birds are chirping outside.

I looove to plan things. I like to be prepared when going somewhere new. There is always an excel document involved. A different tab for cool things to see along the highway, activities, hotel info, and most important, restaurants! I will enjoy weeks of restaurant research just to find the best hole-in-the-wall restaurant with the best food or the coolest “must visit” item featured on a travel or food tv show. This is where my previous obsession with Man vs. Food (MvF) paid off. On a particular episode, Adam toured some yummy restaurants in TX.  This inspired my April 2013 trip to San Antonio.

I called my bro and said, “hey, let’s have a road trip!” Two words, ‘margaritas and BBQ’ and he said, “when do we leave?”

We woke up early, stopped for an egg bagel, and headed south. First official road trip stop; Round Rock donuts.

It wouldn’t be a TX highway without construction and where there’s construction, there’s no exit or way around an accident. The freeway was shut-down for at least 45 minutes.  Most of the inhabitants of the cars around us were getting out and stretching their legs so we joined. While talking to a group of Harley-riders, we learned that the van involved in the crash originally had a mom and her 4 kids in it. Once it stalled, construction workers rushed over to help get everyone out of danger all about 10 minutes before it was the scene of another crash that was actually avoidable.  Another classic case of someone not paying attention…

Donuts the size of your head!

Once the wreck was cleared, we were freeee! We continued straight to Round Rock hoping the donut shop was still open and had the famous donut we had waited hours to see.  As we navigated narrow streets and small parking lots, we noticed other donut lovers had formed a line outside the door. The heavenly smells of deep-fried goodness filled the air outside and my mouth was instantly watering.  

We joined the conga line and to our surprise it didn’t take long to make our way into the building.  We couldn’t help but giggle at the sweet indecisive kid in front of us and his dad trying to explain to him that he will not be able to eat 14 donuts. We ordered the famous large sugary gluten confection, a few others, and paid the man.  We found a seat outside at an empty table and prepared ourselves for the unveiling. I opened that large box and couldn’t stop laughing at seriously how big that donut was in person.

A donut the size of my head? Duh, yes, I want to take a picture with it! We tore pieces off the gigantic donut, put it back in its box, and ate our normal sized donuts (which were equally as scrumptious).   Stomachs satisfied, we got in the truck and headed towards San Antonio.

woman with giant donut

Shopping at Historic Market Square

We drove straight to San Antonio’s Historic Market Square (El Mercado) to do some shopping and see what all the TripAdvisor hub-bub was about a certain restaurant, Mi Tierra Café and Bakery. Across from the small shops and intermixed with temporary vendors was a stage and a wooden stand you would expect to see at a state fair selling beers. 

Mi Tierra Café is open 24 hours a day and has very festive decor and atmosphere. We sat on the small-sized patio to enjoy a short session of people watching.  I really liked the bar area.  I felt like I was transported back in time to an old tequila factory. There are enormously tall wooden walls with ornate arches and you would expect the room to smell like old cigars and railroad ties, but it still smelled like fajitas.

We weren’t that hungry after donuts so we just shared an appetizer and each ordered a large margarita. Cheers! – Sip.. I ask him, “Um, how’s your margarita, Bro?”  As he comes back up for air, his body shivers. Jeff answers, “Gohuhuhoood, yours?”  I answer back jealously, “Tart!” I took a sip of his and could only guess that the bartender put all of the liquor in his and I was the lucky winner of the sweet & sour. 

I hopped down from my bar stool, marched that goblet of sweet & sour mixer back to the bar, and kindly asked him to remake it. With a reluctant side-eye, he grumpily remade me a new margarita.  Happy with my new adult beverage, I walked back to the table to see our food had just arrived.  The sampler appetizer was just what I was craving. It complimented my yummy margarita perfectly. 

Stay at a Hotel on the River Walk

When visiting San Antonio you must stay at a hotel on the River Walk. If you are a night owl, a hotel on the River Walk means you can stumble back to your hotel room without driving or calling a cab/Lyft. If you are an early bird, the morning empty walkways of the River Walk are right outside your hotel. Perfect for a scenic workout or a relaxing brunch.

We checked into our hotel just in time for the free happy hour. This included nacho (radioactive) cheese, boiled hot dogs, and popcorn. The drinks, well, they were what you’d expect from a free bar. Liquor so cheap it provides an instant hangover and mixers that taste like they expired 20 years ago. Though, what do you expect from an affordable hotel right on the water?

(I sound like I’m complaining, but I was really having a good time. It takes a lot to make me upset)

We then changed clothes and walked along the River Walk with the slight buzz we had going on. The sidewalks were getting crowded and restaurant wait times were getting longer.  Again, we weren’t that hungry but wanted another drink right on the River with maybe another snack. We are very much snacky people…  

River Walk Restaurants

The River Walk is lined with restaurants of all different cuisines, atmospheres, and prices. Most restaurants are a bit touristy but still provide a nice dining experience when you’re able to snag a table right on the water.

We put our name on the “I want one of those tables” list and headed to the bar. The margaritas at this touristy restaurant also caused my my taste buds to be disappointed. I started thinking it was just me being picky but Bro gave me that “margarita pucker-face” and I knew it was time to ask the bartenders for their awesome recipe.  A good margarita is not a tricky thing.  It is NOT just tequila and sweet and sour. But, that is exactly what was in our glasses.  I asked for a floater of Cointreau and dash of orange juice.  Ahhh, there, drinkable.  About the time we were finishing our first round of drinks (at this establishment) our table along the water was ready.

Side Note: As a previous server/bartender/head trainer, my reviews of restaurants may be a bit picky and harsh.

When you sit down at a table along the water, you are no longer people watching, you’re bird and duck watching. You’re watching how many birds are stalking a table to swoop in and eat all the leftover chips. It’s like they’ve learned that a piece of paper tucked in a little black padded folder means very soon the inhabitants of that table will get up and the salty crispy treats are fair game! The ducks swim slowly along the dark water and are not phased by kids pelting them with food. They just eat what bounces off.

San Antonio River Walk Casa Rio Restaurant
Casa Rio – the oldest and most photographed restaurant on the River Walk

We ordered another doctored margarita (or two) and a Texas-sized plate of nachos. At this point, we were a little tipsy and a lot bloated. It was time to walk it all off. 

The River Walk

We joined the herd of people walking along the man-made horseshoe-shaped portion of the River and listened to them all try to pick a restaurant based on the wait times. Lines of hungry people sit along the rock walls of each restaurant clenching their table buzzers. Funny to see the different stages of parenting along the River Walk involves moms and dads keeping children from ending up in the two-foot deep water. Toddlers fall in and teenagers push each other in.  

Next, we walked to the Alamo. It is easy to be in awe of the history, its size, and the beautiful stone.  All around there are other tourists, snow-cone vendors, and various groups of women and girls dressed in bright, colorful dresses singing or dancing or both. 

Remember the Alamo

Inside the Alamo is beautiful, huge, and filled with history. There are old guns and knives on display. Rooms that you can only imagine what happened in them.

Behind the Alamo is a beautiful courtyard with stone walls and archways and many trees and plants. Papaya trees, olive trees, and pomegranate trees everywhere! Oh and the cactus.. (because you wouldn’t know you’re in Texas without cactus)

Remember the Alamo!

At night, the Alamo has lighting to accent the height of the walls. Gives the large historic monument a completely different feel than you had seen just hours before. The Alamo museum and garden are now closed for the day and the area is filled with teens and street vendors. 

They are selling the fiber-optic toys for kids that will usually break before the end of vacation.  Artists are painting 30-minute masterpieces and lighting them on fire (to dry the paint, I’m guessing).  All the shops are open and selling all the same typical souvenir “San Antonio” labeled shot glasses, pens, and magnets.  Horse drawn carriages with fiber-optic lights on the wheels take you from the Alamo area to downtown and back. They will even sit in traffic next to you and are not shy to just poop right there on the street. It’s funny to watch people in their cars realize what just happened and roll up their windows with repulsed looks on their faces.

Bro and I decided to call it a night so we could wake up at a normal vacation time to hit up a few spots on the way home. Which for me is the same time as any other day. Only difference is maybe 30 minutes and it’s the internal alarm clock vs the one on my phone.  I don’t think I’ve ever shared a room with anyone, besides my mom, that I’ve not been the first person awake trying to figure out what to do.  My morning activities are different in each location. In San Antonio… I go down to the River Walk.

The River Walk (when there’s no one else around)

The River Walk in the morning hours is quiet. All the drunk people from the night before are still asleep or desperately looking for a mimosa or bloody mary. The families are trying to feed their kids something healthy before they rush off to Sea World or the awesome San Antonio Zoo. Me? I’ve got my workout clothes on, jogging or walking (depending on the night I had before), and breathing in the beer on the sidewalks that they are starting to spray off for the day’s visitors.  The waiters at the restaurants are setting the patio tables and there are birds and ducks walking along the path. It’s somewhat humid but still a crisp temperature. 

The San Antonio River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk

The Arneson Theatre on the San Antonio River Walk.
Right here I’m sitting on the steps across from the Arneson Theatre. If you remember the movie Selena, this is where Jennifer Lopez was singing and the rose fell to the ground in front of her. Or on Miss Congeniality when Miss Rhode Island described her perfect date.. (April 25th)

I got back to the room and bro was still sleeping. Lazy butt! I took a shower and decided to wake him up by not trying to be quiet. Still all sleepy-faced, I dragged him down to breakfast.  Breakfast is included at this hotel and it sure does taste like it.  The biscuits are white hockey pucks and the gravy is too thick to soften the puck for consumption. The bacon is a grease bomb and floppier than a dogs ear. The eggs are powdery but the potatoes were edible. YAY!  They had stacks of pancakes in buffet servers and the Texas-shaped waffles you can cook yourself. 

It was about time to check out so we packed up our stuff, waited in the valet line (nearly every hotel on the River Walk has valet parking without the option of self-parking), and said goodbye to downtown.

San Antonio Missions

On the outskirts of the city are the San Antonio Missions. We visited Mission San Jose. It’s absolutely beautiful.

San Antonio Mission San Jose - El Convento Arches
San Antonio Mission San Jose – El Convento Arches
San Antonio Mission San Jose - El Convento
San Antonio Mission San Jose – El Convento

These missions are “walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived – represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America.” (https://www.visitsanantonio.com/missions/) They are definitely worth a visit if you appreciate how people lived before we had cell phones and TVs.

Texas Barbecue

After all the walking we headed to our last stop before heading home. Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, TX, which is west of Austin. We stopped in San Marcos for some adult beverages since Salt Lick is BYOB. 

Salt Lick has a huge gravel parking lot. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t even know how many acres surrounds it but there’s a mansion, a cellar, and the restaurant.  There’s a huge area outside in front of the restaurant of picnic benches and a stage.  We noticed many people got food to-go and ate it al fresco. There are screen doors throughout the whole place. They squeak and slam behind you just like they would in the 1800’s and your momma just yelled at you that dinner’s ready from the front porch. 

We ordered two all you can eat plates and asked for some burnt ends to be delicately placed on top. The plate o’ meat came to our table along with the best potato salad I’ve ever had, pinto beans, and coleslaw.

Those burnt ends… wait, what was I saying? I started dreaming and drooling on my keyboard.  Those burnt ends melt in your mouth and while they were deliciously delicious, the smoked turkey was my absolute favorite. I’m usually not a fan of meat on bone, the ribs were super tasty too. The BBQ sauce is orange, sans tomato, and incredibly addicting.  It has the perfect amount of sugar (without being high carb) to caramelize on your grillin’ foods. YUM!

austin texas saltlick bbq
The famous Salt Lick BBQ pit

Any trip to the Austin area is 100x worth the trip to Salt Lick. There’s another location in Round Rock but nothing beats the beauty and history of the original location. Read more about the history of Salt Lick here. As I said, I love history.

Coming soon: Another trip Bro and I took to San Antonio. It was longer and has many more “must do’s” in Texas Hill Country.

Perfect Road Trip to San Antonio