Travel
2 min

San Antonio

Small-city charm, the Alamo, two Pride celebrations — and a mud festival

The River Walk cafés. Credit: Aefa Mulholland

Charming, cosmopolitan and packed with history and tradition, San Antonio, Texas, knows how to celebrate. It seems any excuse is ample reason for parties or fiestas. When the famous River Walk is drained to its muddy debris every January, the city throws a Mud Festival. Every April, the Alamo’s defence is commemorated with 10 days of parties and parades. Among 2013’s 100-plus events will be the 123rd Battle of the Flowers. You’ve got to love a fiesta that started when a clutch of ladies in bonnets and decorated carriages reenacted the famous battle by pelting each other with petals. Queer venues hold huge parties throughout. The city throws two Prides: June's PrideFest and PrideFest's Bigger Than Texas Parade and Block Party in April.

Even when there’s not anything colourful officially on the calendar, San Antonio feels festive. Perhaps it’s the restaurants, with their papel picado art fluttering outside. Perhaps it’s the air of excitement among thousands of visitors milling along the River Walk. Perhaps it’s the jubilant spirit of this vibrant city that gives visitors a taste of Mexico without stepping over the border. Along with this palpable sense of celebration, San Antonio offers amazing food, remarkable historic sites, impressive museums and charming neighbourhoods.

For a colourful taste of San Antonio, Mi Tierra provides breakfast and more 24-hours, under an astonishing profusion of papel picado, piñatas and shiny things pinned to the ceiling. Don’t miss the shrine to slain Tejano superstar Selena. Gay-popular lunches and brunches star at laid-back WD Deli, the site of fun drag brunches.

The Alamo is right downtown and heavily touristed. Don’t expect quiet reflection. Market Square offers a variety of souvenirs, from steer skulls to Mexican crafts. The River Walk, six metres below street level, is a charming saunter, with cafés, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, boutiques and even an open-air amphitheatre along its four kilometres.

Housed in the castle-like former Lone Star Brewery, the San Antonio Museum of Art has a wealth of art, from pre-Columbian to modern. The lovely McNay Museum boasts a marvellous range, from post-impressionist and theatre art to medieval.Take the trolley to the King William Historic District and admire Victorian mansions, folk art at San Angel, blown-glass creations at Garcia Art Glass or catch a show amid stained glass at the gay-owned Church Bistro and Theatre.

On top of all this, an enticing selection of gay and lesbian bars is congregated in the Monte Vista neighbourhood. Popular queer businesses also flourish in other areas, including several close to the striking Victorian homes of King William. So think of a reason to celebrate and head south.

Accommodations
On a quiet section of River Walk, Homewood Suites offers generous accommodations in a historic former drug company building. Friendly staff, ample breakfasts, nightly manager’s receptions and a rooftop pool make this an excellent address. Named after the original Yellow Rose of Texas, the Gothic Revival Emily Morgan Hotel is next door to the Alamo.

Bars and clubs
Downtown, the mixed Bonham Exchange is an exciting multiroom, multilevel dance club in a former German school. Drink, dance and catch comedy shows in old classrooms and the ballroom upstairs. Hot dance club Heat throbs with life and a clean-cut young crowd. San Antonio has an appealing women’s scene, with Bermuda Triangle the main destination for lesbians. Gay-owned wine bar Candlelight, on St Mary's Street, is a lovely spot for a romantic date or for an afternoon curled up with a book.

For more information on PrideFest and the Bigger Than Texas Parade and Block Party, visit pridesanantonio.org.

For the most up-to-date travel information on Gay San Antonio, see our City Guide and Listings Guide.