We’re always hearing what a cool city Austin is, so David and I finally set up a trip to see it for ourselves. San Antonio is only about a 90-minute drive away, which made it easy to do both in the one long weekend.
We started with breakfast at Taco Taco Cafe, because their menu lists 18 different types of breakfast tacos (and that doesn’t take into account the optional toppings or plates you can order) and they open at 7am. They’ve also won numerous local and national awards, including being named “best tacos in America” by Bon Appetit and one of the best “taco spots” in the U.S. by Food & Wine. There was no line when we got there around 10am on Saturday morning, but the casual seating on the patio and indoors was filled with people who looked like locals. Our waitress was smiley, quiet, and great at knowing what we needed before we even asked.
I ordered one Potato a la Mexicana taco and another with beans, rice, and guacamole, both on corn tortillas. David and I both agreed that the beans absolutely stole the show; they were so flavorful and creamy! He liked his barbacoa too, saying it tasted like a “pot roast taco.” And the tortillas were the best I’ve had anywhere: oversized, thick, soft, chewy, bendy, and pretty tasty all by themselves. We were a bit underwhelmed by the other ingredients though. There was hardly any chorizo in David’s egg and chorizo taco. If I went again, I’d add beans to the potato one to give it more flavor and ooze, and I’d leave the guacamole off my beans and rice. Nonetheless, we left pleasantly full and happy.
Our next destinations were the Alamo and the River Walk. You can park once and easily stroll between the two. We ended up paying $15 for parking in one of the lots, but it looked like there may have been either free or metered street parking just slightly further away. (Unfortunately we didn’t find that until we were leaving. Drat.) There are no admission charges to either attraction though, so I didn’t feel too terrible about the expensive parking.
The River Walk was prettier than I thought it would be, with lots of shady trees and the river right up next to you on the walkway. None of the shops or restaurants compelled us to go in, but it was a nice place to amble and people-watch. It looked like there were hotels with balconies and rooms right there on the river banks too. If you don’t feel like walking, you can take a boat ride on the water. The whole area reminded me a little bit of the interior of Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, except that the River Walk is outdoors.
The Alamo was also surrounded by trees and plants, and there was a neat shady walkway with yellowing stone walls and archways off to one side. (Great picture spot, at least with the lighting we had on a sunny January day around noon.) Across the street are a wax museum and several other places to shop and have fun.
One thing about Texas is that you don’t want to forget to pack your sunglasses! I loved all the sunshine and don’t think we saw a cloud for 3 days, but I was really glad I remembered to bring my shades. The sky really does seem bigger there, they’re not kidding.
And, some advice if you too are planning to visit San Antonio and Austin in the same trip: we flew into one city and out of the other on Southwest, to avoid having to make the drive twice. However, that resulted in our rental car being really expensive, because we were renting it in one city and returning it in another, so maybe you’d rather just fly in and out of the same city and spend the extra hour and a half driving between them? We ended up flying into San Antonio, renting a car from Budget (who gave us a discount for being Costco members), dropping that car off as soon as we arrived in Austin so that we would only be charged that high rate for one day, and then renting a second car for the remainder of our stay at a normal price.
Also, watch out on your maps, apps, and GPS for toll roads in Texas! All of them are cashless, which means you’ll have to pay a fee to your rental car company on top of the tolls. However, it appeared to us like you never actually had to get on toll roads. Most of the interstates in the metropolitan areas seemed like they were toll-free, and it looked (strangely) like most toll roads had non-toll roads running right alongside them. We never figured that out, but we did get stuck on a couple of toll roads without meaning to when we ventured outside of the main interstate and metropolitan areas.
We stayed at the Aloft Hotel by the San Antonio airport to keep things inexpensive and also avoid having to navigate downtown after we arrived fairly late at night. It was fine and I wouldn’t mind staying there again. I liked the modern style and unique layout of the rooms, but you may want to specify that you’d like an upstairs room. Our windows were literally 3 feet from the noses of the cars in the parking lot! We heard some noise from the lounge in the lobby, but it didn’t prevent us from sleeping.
All in all, in my personal, humble opinion based on our quick visit, San Antonio didn’t wow us. I liked that it definitely had its own personality; people seemed to wear unusually brightly-colored clothing, and the Hispanic and historical influences on the city’s culture were evident and unique. And the weather in January was perfect- unbelievably sunny and in the mid-60′s near 70 degrees. We enjoyed our time there and are happy to have seen it, but, if I’m being completely honest, I just don’t think I’d go back unless I had a specific reason to. Or unless I had a local to show me what the city has to offer beyond what our internet searches and casual chats with friends turned up.