Exploring New & Old in San Antonio

by Eric Moreno in Summer 2017

Get Lost in the River City

Three hundred years since Spanish explorers first built a permanent settlement here, people still love to explore this jewel in the crown of South Texas. And with every corner of the Alamo City bursting with new restaurants, new neighborhoods and new attractions, for visitors and locals alike, there is a lot to explore in San Antonio this summer.

While downtown is home to the fabled Riverwalk, the Alamo, the Tower of the Americas, the Alamodome, and the Institute of Texan Cultures, the renovated historic Pearl Brewery houses some of the finest restaurants in the city.

However, there’s even more to offer when you venture across from the Pearl, and down the road from the Alamodome, to the Near East Side. One of the oldest areas of the city, it has been revitalized. The Dignowity Hill neighborhood has been especially changed.

Touring San Antonio’s Near East Side, you get a glimpse of everything that makes the city truly great. The mix of cultures and generations, the food, the entertainment – all of these combine to make the East Side wonderful to spend a day exploring.

The city’s burgeoning craft beer scene was arguably birthed in this area when the Alamo Beer Company opened its doors. The brewery, huddled underneath the shadow of the beautiful Hays Street Bridge, draws people nightly with live music, food trucks, and (of course) craft beer. Be sure to stop by on Father’s Day for their Father Fest!

Foodies flock like moths to the flame of restaurants like Dignowity Meats, Panchos & Gringos, and Mark’s Outing, looking for the latest and greatest in food trends.

Mrs. Kitchen Soul Food Restaurant and Bakery specializes, as its name implies, in those stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals that have become synonymous with the American South. Made from scratch fried chicken, fried catfish, macaroni and cheese – all are specialties of the house. Dessert? They’re famous for their hummingbird cake and banana pudding.

Maybe you want something a little more contemporary? Just down the street from the Alamodome is Cullum’s Attagirl Icehouse, which combines the best of a dive bar with the best of a high-end restaurant. On the menu, how about fried bologna sandwiches, pimento cheese, and chicken and waffles? It’s an eclectic mix and it has to be experienced to be believed.

Of course, you can’t go wrong with a really good burger. Mark’s Outing has been crafting some of the city’s best since taking over the former home of the dearly departed Fatty’s Burgers in 2005. Still making the original Fatty’s Burger, the restaurant is also known for its beans. Beans and burgers go hand-in-hand in San Antonio.

Food is not all the Near East Side is known for. When it comes to the arts, there is no better place than the Carver Community Cultural Center. Named for the legendary African American scientist George Washington Carver, the center is the cultural hub of the area. Events, concerts, and exhibits take place on virtually every evening.

Tying in food and culture is the Dignowity Hill Farmer’s Market. Bringing fresh and locally sourced produce to the neighborhood, the market has become a social gathering point for the community. Live music, arts and crafts, and delicious fresh food combine to make this a weekly attraction that is fun for the whole family.

Heading west, slightly away from downtown – either along Interstate 37, Broadway Street, or along the Museum Reach section of the Riverwalk – visitors are treated to a host of the city’s greatest cultural attractions.

The San Antonio Zoo has undergone millions of dollars worth of renovations in the last five years, and Big Cat Valley is one of the most striking additions. Guests can now have up close and personal encounters – behind reinforced glass –with the kings of the jungle. They can also play a friendly game of tug-o-war with the lions and jaguars during select times of the day. According to the zoo, this friendly game showcases the strength and agility of the animals, as well as providing them with enrichment and mental stimulation.

Further down Broadway, in the Alamo Heights area, is the Witte Museum. San Antonio’s oldest museum devoted to science and natural history has also undergone a major facelift recently. Visitors this summer will be able to see the Witte’s recently unveiled massive dinosaur collection following the opening of the Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery.

On display you’ll see the 39-foot-tall skeleton of a carnivorous Acrocanthosaurus and a full-sized Tyrannosaurus rex. Visitors will also be able to marvel at – from above – the largest Pterosaur ever found, namely the Witte’s Quetzacoatlus skeleton. (They’re the winged dinosaurs.) Visitors can also hunt fossils and view dioramas of what Texas was like millions of years ago when an ancient sea covered it.

The DoSeum (formerly the San Antonio Children’s Museum), Kiddie Park, San Antonio Museum of Art, and McNay Art Museum are all accessible on this stretch of the river.

Farther out, are three of the city’s best-known attractions: Morgan’s Wonderland, Six Flags Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld San Antonio.

Morgan’s Wonderland is the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind. Open to everyone year- round, the park is unveiling its newest attraction: Morgan’s Inspiration Island. In keeping with the park’s theme of innovation, Inspiration Island is the world’s first “ultra- accessible” splash park. It overlooks the park’s eight-acre catch-and-release fishing lake.

Not to be outdone, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, is unveiling its newest attraction: Thunder Rapids. Billed as “America’s first rocket blast water coaster,” it features water jet propulsion to power riders through loops, spirals, and more. SeaWorld San Antonio also unleashes its newest attraction this summer: the Wave Breaker Rescue Coaster.

 

Eric Moreno (@EricMoreno6477) is a freelance writer based in San Antonio. He is an avid reader and loyal supporter of UTSA Roadrunners football. You can read more of his work at ericmoreno.contently.com.