Greetings! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas, and happy festivus season!
I hope next time you need a good day trip idea from Austin, you’ll consider San Antonio for some holiday cheer! The River Walk is lit up with twinkly rainbow lights and makes for a gorgeous backdrop.
This post will be a quick outline for a day trip agenda plus a few additional suggestions for things to eat and see and do in San Antonio regardless of the holidays or not!
The drive is an hour and some change, it took us an hour and 20 minutes total. We made a point to stop at Buc-cee’s on the way to SATX which was a good bathroom pit stop as well as a fun place to explore if you’ve never been to “The worlds largest gas station”.
We landed in San Antonio and since we had a car everything was reachable by a few short drives to and from each location. We found street parking although there is plenty of parking garages available. The Pearl has a massive free lot, so you’ll hopefully find a great space to park!
The Historic Pearl
We chose to start the trip at The Historic Pearl because we knew we wanted to end our night on The River Walk for their infamous lights. On Sunday’s they have a farmers market going on, so that was pretty neat to walk through. But our main agenda was to walk the River Walk from The Pearl which is a newer addition to The River Walk ever since the Pearl opened up. It has some cool water way art like these cool fish hanging over head, and lots of great foliage and some mini waterfalls. We mainly walked around and enjoyed being outside. Hotel Emma is on the property too if you’re looking for a great place to stay in the area, but The River Walk makes for a great location for running and walking since it’s less touristy and crowded like The River Walk downtown.
Ocho at Hotel Havana
Popped over to Hotel Havana for a drink. I’m obsessed with their indoor outdoor space, the colorful decor and tequila friendly menu. We came here mainly to take a break. On Sunday it was brunch till 3 and we just wanted a drink and fries. They didn’t have fries available but we grabbed cocktails before jumping to our next location. I love Ocho and Hotel Havana, I was here earlier this year for a CBD dinner and had a WONDERFUL dining experience. I definitely look forward to a more extended experience but highly recommend checking it out, plus it’s super romantic for date night!
Lunch at La Panaderia
AKA Give me all the bread. I came to La Panaderia on my last visit to San Antonio and since we were downtown I decided I would like to have their bread again (yes, it’s that good). So we visited here to pick up some of their pastries, and to soak up the tequila we had just consumed. I also love their large and tasty salads, so it is always all about balance here. Salads and baked goods. You really can’t go wrong. And it’s in the heart of Downtown San Antonio, so if that’s your jam then add this to your list!
The River Walk
We entered The River Walk near The Hyatt hotel, which is just on the other side of The Alamo. The River Walk is basically a big loop so no matter where you enter you can experience the whole thing. So we made that a point to walk the whole thing. There are a ton (emphasis on ton) of restaurants and bars to explore. Like so many it was hard to decide. There’s your typical chain restaurants like Rainforest Cafe and Dick’s Last Resort. There are even a few Austin outposts of favorites like Gourdoughs, Iron Cactus, and The County Line. We took a suggestion from a help guide we met when we walked in and headed to Boudro’s for prickly pear margaritas and chips and salsa. It was delicious, intimate, and more my speed aka authentic. You’ll rarely find me in a chain restaurant.
*We also saw people walking around with alcohol* and learned that it is in fact legal on the River Walk level but the moment you walk onto street level it’s illegal. So most places don’t want to be held responsible so they shy away from offering that, but there are a couple of places like Thirsty Aztec Beer and Margaritas (which I did not drink from) but wanted to mention in case that’s your thing.
Lights and Cruising
If you’re going to The River Walk, you should absolutely do a river cruise. The only company running tours is Go Rio and there are 3 ticket locations throughout the loop of the downtown River Walk. They offer River shuttles that take you up to places like The Historic Pearl, as well as specialty cruises depending on the season, ie a holiday cruise was available for this time of year. We opted for the regular tickets, which has some pro’s and con’s. Pro meaning you can hop on any cruise at any given time but con’s for this time of year meant a hefty wait if we wanted to see the lights from the cruise at night. We tried jumping in line at 6pm and the wait was an hour and a half. Luckily the tickets are good for 30 days if you buy online, or for a full calendar year if you buy in person, so I am just giving my sister who lives in San Antonio my tickets so her and her boyfriend can go before the month ends. But just word of advice, buy in person, plan ahead, and enjoy!
The lights however can be seen from just about anywhere, there are plenty of bridges and walkways to stop and see the lights. It’s one of my favorite displays because it’s so simple, but the trees along the river bank are strung with rainbow twinkle Christmas lights and it was magical!
Down on Grayson
This spot is back near The Historic Pearl but worthy of it’s own dedication. Lots of outside and inside seating and a massive bar make Down on Grayson a great place for groups, families, and even date night. I had it on my list from a distant memory of a trip I took to San Antonio years ago where I just sat at the bar but knew I wanted to come back and experience the food. So we did just that, ending our San Antonio day sharing a few bites at this Southern restaurant.
We were seated outside and while it was a bit chilly there were plenty of heaters to go around. We started with an order of the garlic parmesans fries, minus the parmesan. And split the honey lime chicken with two sides– Brussel sprouts and corn off the cob. It was just the perfect meal, I really loved the flavors and would happily come back to Down On Grayson again!
Honorary Mentions Worth Checking Out
The McNay Museum
The Japanese Garden
San Antonio Missions