Sunday, April 26, 2015

San Antonio, Texas: A Few Reviews on a Quick Weekend Visit

For our weekend jaunt down to San Antonio, I used TripAdvisor and Fodor's travel sites for some recommendations of things to do and see. We weren't able to fit in too much, but we did make it to a very nice restaurant for a Saturday night dinner; a couple of fantastic bakeries for to-go sweets on Sunday morning; some spa treatments with my grandmother; and a little bit of TexMex souvenir shopping.

I highly recommend Biga on the Banks for a lovely dinner along the river. From the convenient valet parking (very valuable in hard-to-park Riverwalk neighborhood), to the excellent service, we had a relaxing and delicious dinner in this beautiful space. I would describe the decor as swank and romantic, featuring curved banquette seating and huge windows looking out onto the river. So many things on the menu sounded delicious, and the beautifully-plated chicken and steak entrees we chose did not disappoint. We were pretty full by the end of the meal, but managed to squeeze in a little dessert: a trio of house-made sorbets that were amazing! It was higher-end as far as price went, but totally worth it, and everyone in our party, spanning four generations of our family, loved this restaurant.

Nichos in the entryway of Mi Tierra Bakery and Restaurant

On Sunday morning, it was cool and rainy so we decided to have breakfast at my grandmother's apartment. My son and I agreed to pick up some pastries from a local bakery for our meal. But which bakery? I couldn't decide among two of the recommended ones I wanted to try, so of course, I chose both! First we stopped at Mi Tierra Cafe Y Panaderia, which is part of El Mercado (or Market Square), a Mexican shopping and eating destination. This restaurant is a busy and bustling, large restaurant, decorated in a festive, sparkly and colorful way that I just love. The restaurant is towards the back, and the bakery is in the front. We chose an assortment of pastel sugared conch rolls and some fruit-filled empanadas to go. The staff were quick and warmly friendly. I was dazzled by all the lights, colors, aromas, and activity and I didn't want to leave. But I also wanted to stop at Bakery Lorraine.

Talk about a culture shift! Bakery Lorraine is a bright, cheery, open space set in The Pearl shopping and entertainment complex, centered around The Pearl Brewery, a cool historic building from the 1880s. This bakery is more yuppie/hipster, with a clientele that appeared to be mainly urban singles, young couples, and families with small children. It was also busy and bustling, and parking on this Sunday morning was a bit difficult, as we had to circle around a couple of times. The pastries and baked goods in the front glass display cases looked beautiful, and there was a wide variety to choose from. We chose several (tarts, scones, buns, and muffins) which were boxed up by rushed and harried young people behind the counters. There was also seating for those who wanted to eat there at the bakery.

So how was everything? Fantastic! I recommend both bakeries for delicious pastries and fun atmospheres. I guess it just depends what sort of pastries and what type of environment you are in the mood for, but you can't lose with either of these choices.
Mokara Spa - when we were here, it was crammed with disgruntled customers waiting for their services.

During the weekend, my grandmother and I treated ourselves to a spa day. She had never had one before! I do them all the time, and in fact, whenever I travel, I like to treat myself to a spa treatment. I did research on which were the best spas in San Antonio and I decided on the Mokara Spa, also in the Riverwalk neighborhood. It is apparently the only Forbes 4-star spa in the city, and it is connected to the Mokara Hotel. I was pleased that there was valet parking, and the entry way to the spa was very pretty. However, first impressions were not good. We entered the spa and were immediately enveloped in a loud and slightly disgruntled crowd. There was a meandering line of women waiting to check in for their spa services and the desk staff was not keeping up. Several of the women waiting were getting annoyed, and the staff was snippy. We finally were checked in after about 15 minutes. I didn't care for the front desk staff because they were not warm and friendly but had a snooty attitude. But finally we were able start our services. My grandmother got a reflexology foot massage that she said was amazing! I didn't go back into the room with her, but it apparently was very nice. I booked a mani/pedi for myself. Those services took place in a large open room with several stations. It was nice but not particularly unique or awesome. My technician was okay. My grandmother's was very nice and took extra care of her. I ended up tipping my grandmother's aestheticians a little extra because she was so pleased with her services. But truthfully, I was a bit underwhelmed with this spa/salon. It was nice but it didn't wow me, and I certainly wouldn't put it at 4 stars.

For how short our trip was, I was able to fit in a bit of shopping. Walking along the river from our hotel, I cam across La Villita Historic Arts Village. Billed as "one of San Antonio's first neighborhoods", this shopping and restaurant complex is made out of traditionally southwestern-styled buildings and it's very picturesque. There are many shops, several restaurants and lots of art galleries. I wish I'd had more time to look around but after walking around a bit, I only made it into one shop, Casa Manos Alegres. This is a really cool shop with imports from Mexico and Guatemala. It features all sorts of arts and crafts, home decor items, and clothing and accessories. I purchased two arpilleras depicting village scenes, and two pretty embroidered Mexican blouses. I thought the prices were reasonable and there were a lot of cool things to choose from. Highly recommended!

San Antonio is a really neat city with a lot of beautiful historic buildings, some natural beauty and lots to do. I want to go back, for longer this time. Definitely a worthy tourist destination.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Weekend in San Antonio, Texas

A pretty church in downtown San Antonio, TX

Early in March, my 22-year-old son and I flew down to San Antonio to visit my 93-year-old grandmother. Aside from some pleasant time visiting and just shooting the breeze with Oma, we tried out a few of the local businesses. One I can recommend is the Westin Riverwalk. I was originally planning to stay at another hotel, but my reservation was lost, and they had no vacancy, so we walked over to the Westin and were relieved that they were able to accomodate us at the last minute, for the reasonable rate of $ a night. I also joined the Starwood Preferred Club (which is free) and received a few extra perks, like bottled water, free wi-fi, and some snacks. We chose to park in the street-side lot across the street, because at $16 a night, it was cheaper than hotel parking, which along the River Walk, is always expensive.
The Lobby of the Westin Riverwalk

Another shot of the Westin Riverwalk lobby

The Riverwalk from the patio of the Westin

More of the peaceful and pretty Riverwalk in San Antonio

We stayed at the Westin for two nights. The lobby was impressive and tasteful. The rooms were nice, and very comfortable. The bathroom was nice, everything was clean, and I loved the green leaf-shaped soaps they offered. While there, I bought a pair of sunglasses from the gift shop, and got a free toothpaste and comb (which I'd forgotten from the front desk). The front desk staff was very warm, friendly and efficient. I would say my only negatives were that the breakfast in the hotel dining room was expensive and pretty mediocre, and the room was a bit dark. But otherwise, I think it's a good hotel choice along the river.
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