Hello everyone! Today I wanted to share my trip to San Antonio with you for today’s BirthMay post.
This is my third annual BirthMay! What is BirthMay, you ask? Well I blog every day in May because it’s my birth month! I started BirthMay in 2017 and did it again in 2018 so I knew I had to do it again this year.
I’ll also share a bit about my Airbnb for you! I’m going to do my outfits for the trip next week though, so be on the look out for those.
Day 1 – Travel Day: Arriving at my Airbnb
When I booked the trip I looked at a few options but eventually landed on this Airbnb! I linked the place there in case you ever need a place to stay while you travel in this city. The place was very close to the airport which was nice for getting in/out of the city and while I wish it had been closer to downtown in a way it was also such a nice area to be at. It was very quiet and the hosts were amazing so I was so happy to have selected this one!
I arrived quite late in the day, and it was Easter on top of that, so I ordered using DoorDash and had some wings! I will say the only thing I didn’t like about the place was that there was no food/drinks allowed in the room so I had to eat in the kitchen/dining area. I understand why and the host explained the incident that led to them making that decision, plus it was publicized on their page beforehand, so I’m not saying it was a bad thing overall. I just mean that I would have preferred to eat in a more private setting but it wasn’t a big deal. After that, I just unpacked my stuff and got ready to start the week!
Day 2 – Downtown: Alamo, Riverwalk, La Villita, and a parade
So I started the day at the Alamo, since I figured I couldn’t go to San Antonio and not see the Alamo! I got there relatively early, around 9:15am (they opened at 9) and walked right in. When you get there it takes you through a little walkway a the side first which is actually a memorial area. You’re not supposed to take photos but the signs don’t tell you that until after you walk through so whoops, I definitely broke that rule. Then it looped back around where official photographers take a picture that you can later buy. I didn’t want it but took the photo anyway, then walked in. Inside the Alamo’s main building you also can’t take photos. It was like a little museum though dedicated to the battle at the Alamo. It was interesting to walk around but it was quite small so I quickly finished that up and then walked around the rest of the area. There wasn’t a ton to do, the grounds looked beautiful but the other museum was tiny as well, there were some peopled dressed in period costumes explaining things about life at the Alamo before the battle, and then the other building was the gift shop. Once I was done with that I headed across the street to the Visitor’s Center.
The Visitor’s Center was mostly a shop with souvenirs, which I didn’t want. I looked at some of the pamphlets and almost bought a city attractions sort of pass but ultimately I’m glad the lady looked up what days the main one I wanted was open as it wasn’t even open when I wanted to go (due to the off-season). I left the center feeling like it hadn’t really been helpful and slightly annoyed because I felt that the people weren’t even really trying to help except for telling me that the main place I wanted to see with the pass was closed nearly all week. They pretty much ignored me the rest of the time.
Then I walked along the area for a bit and came across a few interesting things. Eventually I ended up at the Riverwalk and walked along for a bit until I found the entrance to La Villita, which is an area of boutique stores along the river. I bought a shirt for Fiesta, only because it was so cute. The shirts are basically the ones I could buy in Mexico for much cheaper so I decided I would just buy the one. I walked into a cafe there, La Villita Cafe, and ordered lunch but I waited around 25-30 minutes and nothing had been brought out! The waitress was delivering everyone else’s food or tending the bar and would suddenly notice me (clearly having had forgotten I was even there) and say “oh your food will be right out”. Well, if you forgot how do you even know?? Eventually she brought out two more dishes for other people that had arrived way after me and I’d had enough. I stood up and unfortunately there was a giant line at the register so I had to wait to ask for a refund. Of course, my food was magically ready when she saw me waiting in line and she then tried to bring it over. I (loudly) said I was asking for a refund because the wait was ridiculous and she stammered a response that it was the chicken that took so long. She then left with the food and after the man at the register was done she quickly whispered to him about me so he processed a full refund and then he came over to talk to me. Turns out, he’s the owner! Yikes, if their service is that bad when he’s around I worry about what it’s like when he’s not there. Anyway, it was nice that he’d already processed it and then he offered to box it up for me so I agreed because I figured it was done and they would probably throw it out if I said no. He said something about a power outage but again, other people were getting their food and the waitress hadn’t said anything like that so probably just trying to come up with an excuse. Either way, the food was okay for what it was (literally just a chicken wrap) and I ate it at the amphitheater by La Villita since the entire area was being set up for NIOSA later that week so there was no where to sit nearby besides that cafe.
After I ate I walked along the Riverwalk and decided to take the boat around. I had thought of waiting until later in the week but I’m so happy I just did it that day because I would have had time but it was just helpful so I could know where everything was and more about the area. The top photo was for this day is on the boat and facing Selena’s bridge. If you’ve seen the movie Selena that’s the bridge where she sits on and in real life she was engaged on the bridge! How fun! At some points of the tour I thought it was just a hotel commercial because so much of the information we were getting was about the hotels but they do take up a lot of the riverfront area so that makes sense.
After that I decided I wanted to stay for the river parade that night so I walked around a bit more, got an ice cream, then sat for a while by the river to rest up. I got dinner at a restaurant by the river then scouted a place to sit for the parade. While I was resting and waiting for the parade during the day I met a few people. Strangers just come up to me all the time! There was a guy who is an interpreter from Milwaukee, a couple who was travelling from New York to Austin but took a day trip to San Antonio, and a couple who asked me where I’d bought my ice cream (I told them and they turned around to find the place). Unfortunately, after waiting about an hour at that spot a police came by and said we weren’t allowed to stay and he’d clear out everyone without a paid seat. During the day the Fiesta workers had been setting up the chairs and I’d seen that seats were available but I didn’t want to buy one as people said you could just watch it for free. He did say we were allowed to go up to the street level to watch from a bridge or something so off I went again.
At street level there were lots of trees in the way so I decided to head up towards the start of the parade to scout out a spot. It was still pretty early so I found one relatively easily. Then I just had to wait until it started! Once it did it was strange. It was pretty slow going as one boat would go by but then we’d have to wait another ten minutes for the next one. Eventually they started going at a faster pace but it was odd. There were a lot of charities being featured and sponsored by local businesses or big companies with presence in the area. I kept hearing the phrase “show your shoes” a ton which was weird. I later asked my Lyft driver what that was all about and she burst out laughing saying that years ago people started to realize that the people with the fancy Fiesta outfits wore comfy shoes under their dresses. Now they shout “show your shoes” to see if they’re wearing fancy shoes or not! It was pretty funny. I also noticed that people wore medals on sashes for Fiesta. Some people only had one or two but others had a ton! Apparently every year will have a new one and businesses or attractions around the city will also make and sell their own. I didn’t buy any but was tempted to! Anyway, the parade apparently loops back around so after a I saw the first boats coming back I decided it was time to head out. Cell service was pretty bad so it took a few tries to get a Lyft but eventually one came and got me! I went straight to bed at my Airbnb to be rested for the next day.
Day 2 – Downtown again: Market Square and museums
The next day I got up around 9 as nothing really opened until 10. I headed to Market Square, which is also some shops and boutiques like La Villita. I ended up being my Lyft driver’s 1,000th ride so that was really cool to experience with him. Market Square itself was pretty fun! I would say the only downside was that I went to a restaurant that I’d been really excited about but the waitress at the Mi Tierra Cafe was super judgmental that I was by myself. This is literally why I stick to Starbucks during trips sometimes. Otherwise the entire area was decorated and there were so many vendors around! I bought presents for each of my family members there as I found perfect items for each of them there. I had a hard time finding something for me though, especially since everything I liked I knew I could get in Mexico later. I just feel like if I’m buying something handmade I want to buy it from the people making it, not from a third party store. There was a camera crew filming for a local news channel there, lots of stages for bands, and a great atmosphere. I ended up also checking out the art galleries in the Centro de Artes, which is sort of like their cultural museum. It was quite small and I really only liked one of the artists featured (you can see two works by that artist in the right top photo of the collage for this day. The show was called “Nuestra Latinidad” and the artist I enjoyed the most was Jake Prendez. The works are called “Don’t Be Self Conchas” and “Churro Know My Life”. Those two were my favorites by him but he had so many amazing pieces on display.
After that I walked around a bit more but was really over the area to be honest. I enjoyed it but it was just so small! Plus it was starting to get really crowded so I headed out to the San Antonio Museum of Art. Once I arrived I went to pay (student price with my ID haha) but the guy said to wait an hour and it would be free. I went down the street to a coffee shop called Rosella Coffee. I got a chai and the cup was huge! It was more like a bowl to be honest. I loved it though, it was amazing and so I just sat outside and drank it for a bit before heading back to the museum. The guy was so surprised I came back as apparently some people say they will and then they don’t. I went in for free and it was really fun. It was a lot like the Art Institute back in Chicago in the sense that the collections start from like the Egyptians and go through the Romans, Japanese, etc. before going to the Americas with more contemporary pieces. That was fun to see and I got through it in a decent time. I then was looking up other museums to see their free days and realized that the Witte Museum was also free that night so off I went!
That one reminded me more of the Field Museum back home, where there’s dino skeletons and it’s more about the land and animals. It was also like the Museum of Science and Industry in the way that a lot of it is interactive and child friendly. I loved the combination here! They had a structure outside that was a tower connected to a treehouse that was an entirely interactive exhibit to promote an active lifestyle. I didn’t really do much of anything here as you had to sign up for a card to be able to record what you do (you couldn’t interact with anything without one) and I didn’t really want to feel like I was shoving kids out of the way to do the things. I did go through the treehouse and did do some fun stuff outside where it was a small example of how water power works. My favorite here though was a room that featured the “sounds of Texas” through native animals. The narrator would go through an entire day of animal sounds and the room was set up so there was a wildlife scene with those animals (not real ones). A spotlight would shine on each animal as they were featured and there were so many that some I hadn’t seen until the spotlight came on! I finished up at the museum and then walked to a nearby restaurant to get a to go order. I ended up at Midtown Bistro and got a chicken sandwich. It was okay, not anything extraordinary. Then I ordered a Lyft and went back to my Airbnb.
Day 3 – Hemisfair Park – Museums and more downtown
The next day I got up around the same time, 9am, and then did some laundry. There were lots of thunderstorms in the area so I hadn’t made any plans at all! However, it cleared up around noon so I finished laundry and got ready for the day. I ended up going to Hemisfair Park downtown to go to the Mexican Cultural Institute. It as a free museum and so I went over but ended up being so disappointed. It was only two galleries so it was tiny. I did take a few pictures but I only liked the gallery featuring Fiesta items. There was also a small boat like the ones at Xochimilco so I snapped a photo of that one too!
After I left I wandered around the park for a bit. I knew it was going to rain again so I wanted to see the area before it did. The Tower of the Americas is there but I didn’t go up because I have the Sears Tower at home if I wanted to go in a tower. The park itself was lovely though.
I then headed to the UTSA Hemisfair Campus as they have a Texas history museum. I paid the student pricing and headed in. It was fairly interactive with lots of areas where you could pull out drawers to see parts of the exhibit. For example, there was a set up of a kitchen and you could open the spice drawers or other drawers to see what a typical immigrant family from Mexico would have in their kitchen as the area has historically had a lot of immigrants. There were sections for so many different cultures that now blend together in Texas and it was super interesting to see. There was also one on the different types of music immigrants would bring, an exhibit about Texas brewed beer, and more. They also had a 26 screen theater in the middle where they did a short video on Fiesta. It was kind of boring because it was just pictures of previous Fiestas with little to no context or history so it was clearly meant for someone who already knows about the event. After that was done I walked around a bit more.
Once I was done the rain had lifted again so I walked around the park again before heading out. There was an ice cream place I had saved on Instagram that I wanted to go to but when I got there it was closed! I was so confused as I had checked their website and social media for hours and it didn’t say anything about being closed. (It was Fiesta week so I learned early on to check for different hours because of the events.) I saw the place next door had all their doors opened so I went in to ask what was going on. However, I walked in and no one was in there! It was a little creepy as I didn’t see anyone so I quickly left. I ended up walking around La Villita as it was close by, the Riverwalk, and ended the day at the Alamo.
When I arrived at my Airbnb one of my hosts greeted me by saying “if the drumming annoys you I’ll tell my husband to stop”. I was so confused and then indeed heard drumming coming from the garage. She said she had bought him a drum set for his birthday! How sweet! They’d recently become homeowners in the past couple of years so he hadn’t been able to have a set and she decided she was going to get one for him. I told her I didn’t mind at all. He did come in for some water and at that time we encouraged him by telling him he was doing great (always tell musicians learning a new instrument that they sound great – pro tip). They did say he wouldn’t be playing later than 8pm because while the drums weren’t so loud inside they were outside the house through the garage and so they wanted to be mindful of their neighbors. I hung out with them a bit and then headed to shower and to go to bed.
Day 4 – Brakenridge Park and the Pearl
I started the following day fairly late, I don’t think I left my Airbnb until noon. I knew I wanted to be out later than usual so I left later as well. I headed to the Japanese Tea Garden. It was gorgeous! I had only planned to spend about an hour there then walk down towards the next area I wanted to see but it was way too hot to do that, plus I didn’t want to leave! I ended up sitting in different areas throughout the garden to just enjoy it. It was so peaceful! I found it so relaxing despite the people that simply can’t behave themselves in public. There was one couple that went with one of their sets of parents and they were trampling everything for pictures! Literally the guy put a foot into a bed of grasses to get back far enough to take a photo of the girl and then the girl got into the bed of grasses and sat down in it so he could take a photo. Ugh. Then there was a boy that had a drink from the cafe there at the garden and it had pieces of fruit so when he got a piece up the straw he’d spit it out in his hand and then throw it in the water. Of course, his parents were no where near him to see but if he’s that badly behaved I doubt they would have said anything. Some people just can’t be trusted in public spaces clearly.
Either way, it was so beautiful and the garden really surprised me. I thought I’d be bored quickly and want to leave right away but it was the complete opposite. After the garden I had planned to go to a museum having a free night then heading to another area but if I did that then I wouldn’t see the shops because they would likely be closing when I arrived. I decided instead to skip the museum and maybe go after.
I ended up at the Pearl Brewery. The area used to be an actual brewery and the name stuck. Now it’s a really cool area full of restaurants and shops. I didn’t find anything in the shops but I did grab food at Bakery Lorraine and had a chai from Merit Coffee. I loved both of those places! I also walked along the new Riverwalk area here (the river was extended to reach the Pearl, it’s not natural in that area like it is downtown). It was so hot that I also got ice cream from Lick Honest Ice Creams. I had to sit down a lot here in the shade as I would get really hot after walking around or being in the sun. I had been hoping the mariachi parade downtown would extend up to the Pearl but it didn’t so I was slightly disappointed. After the day I didn’t feel like heading down to see the parade or up to see the museum so I went back to my Airbnb. Looking back I wish I’d gone to the museum but I figured if I do end up moving there I’ll have plenty of time to see it!
Day 5 – Missions: San Jose, Concepcion, Espada, and San Juan
The next day I decided I would visit each of the four missions in San Antonio (besides the Alamo). I hadn’t really wanted to go to the big parade downtown and I had originally planned to go to SeaWorld but decided against it. The city takes Fiesta so seriously that schools were closed that day for the parade, so I knew everything would be crazy. However the missions were open and there was a bus that went through all of them. I checked for changes to their schedule (this is important later) and found none besides notices that if the route went through downtown it would get as close as it could but wouldn’t be able to get through the parade route and that traffic might cause slight delays otherwise. The parade would be over at noon so I wasn’t worried about it so I headed out to the first mission.
I started at the largest, Mission San Jose. I didn’t know these were run by the National Parks Service until I arrived! This mission is the biggest so it is the best run out of all the four. I went into their Visitor’s Center to watch the little introductory film before joining a guided tour. The young lady that led the tour did an amazing job. She told the story of the missions as a very direct “lose-lose” sort of situation for the native people, detailing how they would have to chose between changing everything about themselves and their lives or the growing dangers of scarce resources or attacks from other tribes coming into the area after being driven out of their own homes. It was very well done though and very thought provoking. After we walked around on the tour she set us loose to see the area on our own.
I walked around a bit before heading back the the Visitor’s Center to get information on the bus and ask where the stop was. Eventually I headed out to the bus and just barely missed it! I was so upset but eventually another one arrived. The guy driving it said he’d never done the route before and then added that because of the parade everything was off but the route was running as much as it could until downtown.
Next I headed to Mission Concepcion. It wasn’t as big as San Jose but it did have a lovely park attached to it. The Visitor’s Center here was closed, which seemed weird but I just went on. I walked into the church and saw the other small areas before heading to lunch. They were beautifully done and I loved walking around this mission as well. After I got some food I headed back to the mission to wait for the bus.
After a bit of a wait the bus came and there was a couple on the bus already. The guy started explaining to us that the route had actually been cancelled for the day but enough hotels called to say that they had people who were waiting for the bus to the missions that the president of the bus company ordered the route to be reinstated. I had looked all over the website and social media and nothing had said it was cancelled! Anyway, he stopped at McDonald’s to get food (literally parked at the side of a busy four lane street to get food) which was very strange. He then came back and continued the route. The couple and I were going to the same one so he dropped us off at the furthest mission on the route from downtown and said that the busses weren’t on schedule but the next one would be 45 minutes later.
So the third mission I visited was Mission Espada. This one was a tiny area! The church was the smallest of them all I think, but it was very cute. The Visitor’s Center was open here so I walked in and there was some blanket weaving set up. I think the schedules for the missions said that they actually work on them on Tuesdays. There was also a little cute gift shop here but the one at San Jose was better in my opinion. Anyway, it was so small that I was quickly finished at this one and then went out to wait for the bus as it was getting late and they only run until 5pm. I still had one more mission to get done and then was heading back downtown so I didn’t want to accidentally miss it.
After about 50 minutes I called the bus company to get more information of when the next bus was. The guy that answered said it was cancelled and I said it had been but it was running so when was the next one going to be there. He continued to insist it was cancelled until I insisted that I had literally just been on that bus twice already that day. He put me on long holds a few times and then got frustrated and put me back in the queue. How rude!
The next girl I talked to was not much better. She also tried to say it was cancelled, put me on hold to check with her supervisor, and then said I was right but there was no schedule. What?! I said there is a regular schedule so my question is how far off is it from the schedule so I can know if I can go around the mission again or if I’m better off still waiting. Well she insisted that because it’d been cancelled there was suddenly no schedule that existed at all for the day. It was so weird. After some time she stopped answering me completely. Like, there was no hold music, she just stopped talking. Probably because I got short with her and said if there was no schedule she should refund my day pass that I paid for. During her time ignoring me the bus came on the other side of the road and it didn’t even stop! The couple that had been dropped off with me were waiting there and were shocked but I said I’d seen it come around again after it dropped us off so it was probably ten minutes more to wait while it continued and then turned. The girl eventually acknowledged me again and I asked for a supervisor because she was still insisting there was no schedule. She put me on hold for forever and I just hung up on her when the bus came so I could show my day pass.
The driver again said the busses were about 45-60 minutes apart so that wasn’t very helpful but better than nothing. He dropped us off at the last mission before heading back on the route.
The last mission I visited was Mission San Juan. This one was quite small as well, but not as small as Espada was. It also had a tiny shop but it was very bare and mostly just had water and bags of chips. The church was pretty small but beautiful as well. The next building was a tiny museum. Then there was also a private home on the land, some restoration going on, and a few other closed small buildings. As I was finishing up the bus arrived but of course it left before I could get to it. Anyway, I sat on a bench by the stop to wait for it.
This is a great time to say that there is a trail between all the missions that is about 10 miles one way. Lots of people bike it and originally I’d planned to walk the shortest part of the trail, from Mission Espada to San Juan, but it was too hot for that! The bus day pass was only $2.75 you see how well that went. If I was able to reliably ride a bike I would loved to have done the trail at least part of the way (there’s bikes available for rent) but I tend to fall off them a lot so I decided not to do that.
I definitely loved San Jose the best but the other three were also beautiful and worth visiting as well. Anyway, once the bus finally arrived I took it back to Concepcion to get a photo of the sign (I’d missed it that morning as I hadn’t even seen it) and then waited once again for the bus. The bus took forever but one eventually arrived. Since this is the one closest to downtown there was another bus route that picked up (I’d been on route 40 which is specifically the missions bus but route 42 stops there as well which is just a regular bus). I took that up to Hemisfair Park and then walked back through to the Alamo. I went into that one for a mug and to look around the gift shop again for any last minute items I might want (just the mug actually) and then headed out as they closed. I still needed to pack so I went back to my Airbnb to get that done!
Day 6 – Travel: San Antonio to Chicago
The next morning I got up super early, got ready for travel, threw the last few items out into my suitcase, and headed to the airport. When I arrived the line to use the self-service kiosks was so long! It was so weird because normally they’re all empty. I think I waited too close to the two hour mark so everyone showed up at the same time as me. Either way, the line moved fairly quickly. I had already checked in so if I hadn’t needed to check a bag I would have been fine but I did have to pay for that. Honestly, I could have done the trip with just a carry on if I hadn’t been worried about the stuff I would buy for presents or stuff my client gave me. Oh well! I think the only thing I would have done differently is packed more casual clothing rather than trying to reuse my nicer stuff from my onsite in Houston.
Once I paid for my bag I got in line to drop off my bag (it was way under the weight limit lol) and then went through security. That was a breeze except I always get stuck behind the families that don’t travel and don’t know what to get take out. Then the daughter waited right where all the stuff is left out and they got a bin that was flagged for review so she insisted on staying in that spot trying to get her parents’ attention about it. They were being so slow to grab the rest of their stuff and then she distracted them and they were freaking out because they clearly didn’t know what was going on. Eventually I got around her and grabbed my stuff and got out of the way but that caused such a bottleneck of people trying to get around the girl and her family that it was a little much. I literally put my shoes on and then grabbed everything else in my hands to get as far away as possible to get my stuff back in order.
Then I went to locate the nearest Starbucks, had some food, then waited to board. I was supposed to land in Chicago around 10am so I was really hoping to avoid any delays or anything because it was supposed to start snowing at around 1pm. Luckily all went according to plan and we took off exactly on time! We arrived a little early, just in time for it to start raining. By the time I got my bag and then met up with my parents it was raining harder. Now the O’Hare train is being worked on so we had to wait for a shuttle to our specific parking lot which, of course, took awhile. By the time we were finally in the car and heading home it was starting to freeze and we got home just before the worst of the snow hit. Just in time! As much as I love travelling, it’s good to be home!
Would I live here?
Now for the big question. Would I actually live in San Antonio? Right now the answer is maybe. I think I went into it expecting a completely different city. It’s a big city with a small town feel and I was expecting it to be the other way around. I liked it, but I’m not sure if I liked it enough to want to live in it. I think I was expecting it to be more like Chicago than it was although I loved the strong Mexican influence on the city. It’s also rougher than I expected with some not very nice areas.
I could see myself living there, but I think it would take awhile to feel like home if I did move. Still, it was beautiful and at the very least I’d love to visit again.
So that’s the end of my Texas trip! The vacation part of it was so action packed I feel like I didn’t really get any rest during it. My next vacation should probably be a beach or something! But it was fun and I was so happy to see the city where I might potentially live.
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