Finding myself with a free weekend in San Antonio, I set out to see a whirlwind of tourist sights based on Uber driver suggestions and a brief Google search. As a whole, I was impressed with San Antonio’s downtown area, which was clean and well maintained, albeit very touristy.
San Antonio River Walk
The conference hotel was next to the famous river walk so I descended the stairs just to the left of my hotel entrance to start the quick walk toward the Alamo. Both sides of the river walk were lined with a litany of restaurants and shops throughout much of this stretch. While picturesque, this also gave the area a very touristy feel as many of the businesses were quite familiar name brands. While I didn’t have time to jump on one of the tours, there were boat tours taking place all along the walk. Thankfully, the crowds were not too excessive, as without guardrails I couldn’t’ help but wonder how many tourists actually fall into the river?
Reaching the Alamo, I was initially surprised with how small the structure was in real life, compared to the inflated image I’ve associated with it, especially considering the old Westerns I’d watched while growing up. Regardless, I found the regal structure to command respect, although I was taken back by the general attitude of the surrounding families who posed smiling next to the building around which so much gruesome death had taken place. Honestly, I was expecting a much somber, respectful attitude within the grounds. There was even an official photographer in place asking if you wanted to get your photo taken in front of the doors. One of my Uber drivers did tell me that a major renovation project was approved to change this entire area by taking out a road and turning it into a park perhaps.
After leaving the Alamo, I hopped over the Menager Bar based on another recommendation by an Uber driver. This bar is apart of the Meneger Hotel that is the oldest continually operating hotel in America, and full of history. Specifically, the bar, which still contains original European woodwork and French mirrors, is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders. Legend has it that one of the mirrors, as seen above, has bullet holes on either side of it where the future president and one of his Riders had a competition to see who could get closer to the mirror without breaking the glass.
Mission San Jose
While the Alamo is by far the most popular Mission in San Antonio, there are actually a series of six other Missions falling in a line due south of the Alamo. Wanting to visit one more Mission, I decided to adventure 15 minutes south to the largest and most restored, Mission San Jose, which was originally completed back in 1782. This entire complex was vastly different in feel compared to the bustling Alamo, as Mission San Jose was built on a high hill and walled completely in. Inside the walls you’ll find a sprawling yard, with the church located in the far corner. I hadn’t realized this church was still active but it still holds services. My favorite aspect of this complex were the arches, which reminded me of Dry Tortugas National Park’s Jefferson Fort.
Hotel Emma and the Pearl Brewery
After Mission San Jose closed, I headed toward the Pearl Brewery complex, which includes Hotel Emma based on yet another recommendation by an Uber driver. Pearl Brewery was first established in 1883. Interestingly, Pearl’s parent company bought out Pabst Brewing Company, keeping the latter’s name. Pearl beer is still produced and made in the Fort Worth area, with the original brewery closing in 2001. After the closing, the area fell in the disrepair, until a venture capitalist company came into renovate the entire complex. The brewery itself was turned into the stunning five star Hotel Emma, which has a steampunk, distinctive feel.
Fascinatingly, the hotel is named after Otto Koehler’s wife Emma who was the CEO following his death, confidently leading the company through the tumultuous years of the prohibition. The circumstance of Otto’s death led to much scandal, as when Emma was injured in an automobile accident he hired a live in nurse named Emma, who also had another nurse friend, named Emma. Otto soon began having an affair with the two new Emmas, until one shot and killed him. The young murderer escaped to Europe where she nursed wounded WWI soldiers, before eventually returning to San Antonio where she was acquitted of murder. Nurse Emma’s story ends with her marrying one of her jurors! The bar in Hotel Emma has a signature drink called The Three Emmas, where they’ll only serve you two because the third will kill you.
It was a busy, busy afternoon but I was happy to get a glimpse of San Antonio, and I can’t wait to explore more on future trips!