San Antonio

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Librarians' Travel Guide to San Antonio

ALA's midwinter conference 2006 will be in San Antonio TX, from January 20-25, 2006. Although there is some information on the ALA site and in American Libraries -- check out the ALA Hotel map in PDF -- those resources barely break the surface in terms of getting to know the city and its hidden gems. I'd like to list both the mainstream tourist spots, as well as the out-of-the-way, local hangouts. Here's a HUGE thanks to Daniel Cornwall, who lived in San Antonio for several years, for his suggestions on where to go and what to do and eat. Please add to this growing list of San Antonio resources, or add your comments about anything suggested herein. If you'd like to add suggestions, but aren't sure how, you can email me at radlib at ucimc.org

General sites, Maps, Public Transportation

  • City of San Antonio visitors' guide.
  • (JRJ 1/13/06) Here's a fairly detailed Riverwalk map.
  • The San Antonio Convention and Visitors' Bureau has pretty good maps of the metro area and downtown in both PDF and Flash. The site also has general information about San Antonio (weather, list of local media, etc.) and quite a large list of restaurants and mainstream tourist attractions.
  • VIA Metropolitan Transit bus system
  • VIA's downtown streetcar service passes through the Riverwalk Station, near the Convention Center, and goes to all parts of downtown San Antonio. Cars run every ten minutes. Fares are $.80.
  • Tagzania map. If you'd like to help map San Antonio, you can do so using Tagzania. All locations tagged with "alamw2006" will be added to the map.
  • One of the up and coming areas of San Antonio is known locally as Southtown. This website lists places to shop, eat, and stay, as well as independent galleries, city museums, recreation, etc. Southtown has kind of become a local hotspot for artists, musicians, and underground culture. It is a good place to explore if you are looking for a non touristy area to hang out, get a drink, shop, or explore. It includes the historic King William District, a neighborhood well known for it's lovely towering old houses. The Southtown website has the area pretty much covered as far as what businesses are located there, but I'll add some suggestions in the sections that follow. The area should be easily accessible from the convention center by the downtown streetcars--but I think these streetcars only run until about 10pm. It wouldn't be a far bike ride (I think. I confess that my main mode of transportation in SA has always been by car). By the way, most small local businesses don't have websites--or not well maintained ones, anyway. So I suggest making a phone call to places before you visit to check on hours, location, etc. Independent, small businesses in SA tend to have hours that are not typical business hours. Indie businesses also tend to pop up and then close down often, so that's another good reason to check and make sure a place is open. I think everything on this site is pretty up to date though.
  • There IS an independent/underground/artistic community in San Antonio--its just small and occasionally well hidden. One of the main problems, I think, with San Antonio is that its a huge, sprawling city. This makes it difficult for people to form communities--physically and mentally. Again, that's just my own observation, I'm sure some would disagree. That's not to say there isn't an alternative community in San Antonio, just that you kind of have to look for it. And though it is a largely Republican, conservative, Catholic city, its also largely minority, working class, and very welcoming of outsiders, tourists included.

Biking in San Antonio

To be honest, I don't know much about biking in SA, especially downtown. I have a feeling its probably not that bike friendly though. I don't remember seeing many bike lanes. I only know of two bike rental places, but since I don't really know anything about bikes, including renting them, I will leave it up to you to decide if they offer good prices, bicycles, etc:

  • Blue Star Brewing Company, which is a pub that is located in the Blue Star Arts Complex (1414 S. Alamo, SATX, Ph # (210) 212 5506) in Southtown. It offers bike rentals at $25 for 24 hours. Their hours are M-Th 11am-12am, Fri and Sat 11am-1am. This would be a convenient place to rent from if you want to check out the Blue Star Art Space (which I recommend).

I know nothing about this place! But the pricing is the same as Blue Star and they deliver to downtown hotels, which may be really convenient for people staying downtown.

Getting Around Conference Sites

The Riverwalk is your friend: It's the "conventioneer's highway system" for most meetings, hotels, and the like. For most of the core conference hotels and the conference center (where almost all meetings will be held) and for loads of convenient restaurants, the Riverwalk is the fastest and most convenient way to get around if you're able to walk. (JRJ 1/13/06) Here's a fairly detailed Riverwalk map

No waiting for traffic lights, no worry about pedestrian safety, and there's always at least a little scenery. If you can find a good Riverwalk map, you're in business.

Public transportation to/from the airport

Please add information here about public transportation to/from the airport to hotels and/or convention center

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Local Media

Wireless access

  • Free Wireless access points
  • Marriot RiverCenter has wireless in its lobby, but I'm not sure if you have to be a registered guest or not.
  • Espuma 1127 S. St. Mary's, 78210 (210) 226-1912 has free WiFi and a quiet atmosphere.
  • Blue Star Brewing Company has free wireless (and bike rentals!).
  • Texas WiFi spots lists hot spots in the state listed by city. Search for "San Antonio" to go quickly to that section.
  • A friendly Oregon librarian checked information about all of the hotels on the ALA map. She notes that "they all have some kind of wireless Internet access and some have wired access in guest rooms."
    • The hotels that explicitely said they have free wireless in lobby, meeting rooms and/or guest rooms are: AmeriSuites, The Crockett, Hampton Inn, Hawthorn Suites, Holiday Inn Riverwalk, Hotel Valencia, La Mansion, La Quinta, Menger, Microtel Inns & Suites, Residence Inn, and the St. Anthony.
    • These hotels appear to have free Internet but it is not totally clear from their websites: Crown Plaza, Hilton Palacio del Rio, Hyatt Regency, Marriott Plaza, and Sheraton Gunter.
    • Hotels that appear to charge, usually $9.95, for all Internet access, wired or wireless, public areas and guest rooms: Emily Morgan, Marriott Rivercenter, Marriott Riverwalk, and Westin Riverwalk.

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Restaurants and other food options

  • The Peace Center hosts Food Not Bombs every Thursday and Sunday, starting at 4:30 pm. Healthy vegetarian food is served to the hungry at Milam Park. Meet at the peaceCENTER/Mennonite Church kitchen. 1443 S. St. Mary's.
  • Organic food markets: San Antonio has both Whole Foods and Sun Harvest Farms (a Wild Oats market), but they seems to be several miles from DT and only accessible to those with wheels. A slightly closer organic food grocery store is Central Market, but its also really only accessible by car. Central Market is close to the McNay Museum and the Twin Sisters on New Braunfels, though, so if you are in that area, it might be worth it to stop by.
  • The San Antonio Vegetarian Society has what appears to be a comprehensive list of vegetarian dining options (with recommended items). (Daniel says) "The restaurants on that list I've been to and consider good are
    • Candlelight Coffeehouse
    • Central Market
    • Cheese Cake Factory
    • Liberty Bar
    • Rivercenter Mall Food Court (In Downtown)
    • India Palace
    • Fujiya Japanese Garden
    • Alamo Cafe
    • La Fonda
    • Zuni Grill
    • Souper Salad (Daniel says: I SO wish we had one of these in Juneau - I might not eat anywhere else! Excellent salad bar selection)
    • Tong's Thai
  • Liberty Bar

(Sandwiches / Vegetarian Menu / American Nouveau / Contemporary / Soup) 328 E. Josephine San Antonio, TX 78215 210-227-1187 Hours 11:30am-10:30pm Mon-Thu, 11:30am-midnight Fri-Sat, 10am-10:30pm Sun Directions On E. Josephine right by Hwy 281.. (Daniels says) I've eaten here. They've got vegetarian dishes, steaks and something for everybody. Cheap and somewhat blue collar. This place is near downtown. Local answer: This is a fun place, but it's not cheap anymore, and it's far from blue collar. It's kind of funky/upscale now.

  • Twin Sisters (Downtown)

(Sandwiches / Vegetarian Menu / Salads / Soup) 124 Broadway San Antonio, TX 78205

210-354-1559 Hours 8am-3pm Mon-Fri

This will be relatively close to the San Antonio Public Library central branch. I would definitely recommend Twin Sisters because its one of the few vegetarian friendly places in San Antonio. Note the hours, though--and I don't think they start serving lunch til 11am. The downtown Twin Sisters caters mainly to the business crowd and so it closes at 3pm. I think it will be within biking distance, but maybe it would be a long walk from the convention center. Its possible you could catch a downtown bus there.


300 Augusta St, San Antonio, TX (210) 224-1848 The Southwest School of Art & Craft is directly across the street from the downtown San Antonio Public Library building. It's the former Ursuline Academy, and some of the buildings date to colonial San Antonio. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and they have an excellent and affordable lunch service, called the Copper Kitchen. The food is provided by the kitchen of the nearby exclusive Club Giraud. There is also a wonderful arts and gift shop in the main SSAC building, just down the hall from the Copper Kitchen. Lunch is served m-f 11:30-2:00 For more on the Southwest School, see: their Web site

320 Beauregard, San Antonio, TX 210-212-4tea This is a great place with many varities of tea and great sandwiches. It's in the Historic King William district, just south of the downtown area. Madhatters is in "Southtown."

Mexican restaurants

  • Umm, not to override everyone else's suggestions, but . . . Chella's gets my vote for the absolute best Mexican food in SATX. And its totally cheap!

Chella's Cafe
618 McCullough
SATX, 78215
(210) 212 4410

Seriously, its really good (the gorditas are the best I've had outside Mexico). I'm not sure if the beans are vegetarian or not. But if they are, it might be a good place for a vegetarian--I think. I usually ask for dishes where you can substitute beans for meat (I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't really eat much meat). Anyway, its super cheap, located in an old converted house, displays art by local artists, and is locally owned. However, it does cater to the business crowd that surrounds it, so its only open until 2pm. I think. Maybe 2:30. And its only open M-F. Its generally crowded around lunch time. Chella's is close to the downtown public library, and probably wouldn't be too hard to get to from the convention center, depending on how long of a lunch break you have. So, yeah, you should totally go to Chella's and get some gorditas. Or tacos. Or anything, really.

  • La Calesa

2103 E. Hildebrand San Antonio, TX 78209 210-822-4475 Hours 11am-2pm, 5-10pm Mon-Thu; 11am-2pm, 5-10:30pm Fri; 11:30am-10:30pm Sat; 11:30am-9pm Sun

Another close to downtown restaurant, I don't know about veggie options, but this was the best Mexican restaurant in town to me. Their pozole and tochocan are not to be missed by meat eaters.

It would be difficult to get here unless you have a car. Maybe by bus . . . and its not as good as Chella's or Rosario's anyway.

  • Rosario's in Southtown (910 S Alamo St, SATX, 78205; ph # (210) 271-3103) is terrific & reasonably priced but would require a car/taxi ride from convention center. (Submitted by a Washington DC librarian)

Actually, you could probably ride a bike here. The downtown streetcar stops right in front of it (the blue line maybe?). Rosario's is one of my very favorite Mexican food restaurants. It tends to get crowded on weekend nights, often has live music, and has great salsa, mole, and tortillas--among other things. I think its closed on Mondays, so call ahead and check.

  • Vegetarians should note that Mexicans in SATX generally like their lard and their bacon fat. Which means that they usually make their beans using those ingredients. It is probably a good idea to always ask if the beans are vegetarian. IF they are vegetarian, I think most places will offer to substitute beans for meat in most of their dishes. This option isn't always listed on the menu, but you should ask anyway.

meat eater options

Local San Antonian answering here: most of the restaurants listed above also serve meat dishes.

(JRJ) This section was requested by an anonymous user. Please fill in if known.


*I'd like to see other meat eaters options. After all, if you do like beef, texas is a great place to eat it. Can anyone recommend a good place for barbacoa, Tx Bar-b-Q?

You shouldn't have any trouble finding meat in SATX. For serious, I mean its Texas, and majority Mexican (not that there aren't vegetarian Mexicans). Pretty much any Mexican food restaurant you go to will have a mostly meat eater menu. I bet you can find barbacoa downtown pretty easily--just stick with local small places rather than chain type places.

Absolutely! Many of the hole in the wall, mexican owned restaurants in downtown will have a good barbacoa taco. The place that stands out in my mind is a place called Panchito's (not Panchos!). There are two locations: One on 4100 McCullough (Near Olmos Park) and one in downtown at 121 Plaza de Armas in between Market Square and Rivercenter Mall.


As a native Texan and former Austinite, I highly recommend The County Line for BBQ. Although the original is in Austin, there's also a location on the Riverwalk at West Crocket Street next to the Hard Rock Cafe. The phone number is 210.229.1941. My favorite menu items are the sausage and the brisket. The sauce is amazing. Enjoy y'all.

Coffee

  • Candlelight Coffeehouse

(210) 738-0099 3011 N Saint Marys St San Antonio, TX 78212 Hours: Open Tue-Sun 4pm-12am

(Daniel says) My absolute favorite coffeehouse. And the furniture is usually on sale. It was also gay-friendly when I lived there, but that was 10 years ago.

I love Candlelight. Besides coffee, its also a wine bar. Its a really nice place to hang out and get a relaxing drink, alcoholic or otherwise. It has a patio and nice antique/vintage furniture and decor. I'm not so sure those hours are correct though. Again, I'd call and check to make sure.

  • Espuma Coffee and Tea Emporium

1127 S. St. Mary's, 78210 (210) 226-1912

The coffee shop recently moved and I think its in an old diner or laundromat or something. I haven't been to the new location but its in "Southtown" and, at least before the move, serves sandwiches, salads, light lunch fare kind of stuff. The old location had weird business hours, so I would check to see what the hours at the new location are like.

PLUS, it's got free WiFi!!

  • Sip

160 East Houston Street
SATX, 78205
(210) 222 0149

I've only been here once, but it had pretty decent coffee, and its downtown. They serve "panini, espresso, pastry". I don't know about vegetarian options. Its hard to find independent coffee shops in SA, so if you are downtown and need a caffeine fix, I would recommend this place.

Bars

If you are looking for something to do at night in SA, you should probably pick up a copy of the San Antonio Current, which can be found at most indie businesses downtown. Like any local weekly alternative paper, it will tell who is playing where, and let you know about any interesting events--galleries, shows, dance nights, etc.

In Southtown you can find a couple of bars where most downtown locals hangout. The Southtown website has them all mapped out for you. My personal favorites are:

  • La Tuna--its all outdoor seating and I think only serves beer. Apparently, it serves food now, but I have no idea what its like. If you look behind La Tuna you can see all the artists' residences across the way (from what I understand, the city helps subsidize housing for artists in SA as a way to encourage more artists to come or to stay).
  • Bar America is a divey bar run by two little old ladies and a man who I would assume is the husband of one of them. It has managed to maintain a kind of old school SA feel--pool tables, dimly lit, lots of beer ads with busty women, a jukebox which generally plays tejano or 40s/50s era music. I think its been there for a very long time. Possibly since the people who run it were, like 20 or something. It has CHEAP beer, I mean like $1.00 Lone Star beer. Actually, Lone Star is usually around $1 or $1.50 anywhere you go. Its what Texans drink when they want cheap beer, kind of like the local equivalent of Pabst. Beer and all alcoholic beverages are generally really cheap where ever you go. Its kind of amazing and unsettling all at once.


In downtown SA, one of the few bars I am familiar with is:

155 E Commerce St
San Antonio, TX 78205-2226
(210) 222-2521

If you happen to stumble on this place, stop and check it out, its kind of interesting in that weird where-are-we? kind of way. I guess you can enter it from the Riverwalk? You can definitely enter from the street. My boyfriend says he almost got jumped here once, and though that may have been a freak occurence, maybe its something to keep in mind! Its not really a touristy place.

If you are willing to take a taxi, or perhaps a long bike ride, to go out to bars at night, you might consider heading over to the San Antonio College area, where you will find:

2423 N Saint Marys St
San Antonio, TX 78212-3737
(210) 735-1313

Like the person who did the write up for The Mix in the link provided--I have no idea why this place is so popular, it just is. I think sometimes they have DJs, live music, etc, but I don't know what the schedule is, but if something is going on, its probably listed in the Current. I don't know, sometimes you go here and its packed and sometimes its completely dead. I guess it depends on the night and what else is going on in the city.

Also in the area are:

1902 McCullough
San Antonio, TX

I've yet to go here, but it seems to be where the cool kids are hanging out these days. There are directions, map, and calendar on the website.

Salute, The Saint, Sin 13, and The Sanctuary. Honestly, I don't think most of these bars are that remarkable--maybe with the exception of The Sanctuary if you're into goth--but it is where the locals hangout. Might be interesting to check out, and they are all fairly close to one another.

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Libraries and Local bookstores

  • San Antonio Public Library is about a mile from the convention center, but is serviced by Bus Routes 03, 04, 90, 91, and 92. Hours are: Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Monday-Thursday 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

I love the downtown Public Library. Its fairly new, about 10 years (?) or so old, and was totally controversial when it was built because of its brightly colored paint job (so-called enchilada red). The librarian who used to be my local public children's librarian now works here--I think she's the head children's librarian--and she's great. I used to go to her story times!

3207 Broadway
San Antonio, TX 78209-6720
210.822.4597

This location is closest to downtown, but still probably only accessible by bus or taxi. Its on the way to the McNay though. It has a huge selection of used and half price books, records, and CDs, and is a nice way to spend an afternoon. I think half of my book collection has its orgins in Half Price.

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Record Stores

  • Alamo Records

517 E Houston St
San Antonio, TX 78205
(210)225 3714

Alamo Records is a really great place to spend a couple hours going through old vinyl and chatting about music with a very knowledgeable, though occasionally irritable and indecisive record collector. You're pretty much guaranteed to find some good records, and but the owner decides the price on a case by case basis--meaning that if he's feeling particularly attached to that rare Nico album that day, it might be more than it would have been the week before. But that's not to say you can't find some exceptional deals and finds here. Totally worth a look for record collectors and music lovers. \

Not sure about the hours, call ahead. Its located above an old antique store called Echoes from the Past. You have to go through Echoes to get to the top floor where Alamo is located. Its at the corner of Houston and Broadway and I'm fairly certain that its rather close to Twin Sisters.

  • Hogwild Records

1824 N Main Ave San Antonio, TX 78212 (210) 733-5354

Hogwild is a SA institution, its where every local kid goes to find indie/punk/metal/ska records, CDs, and tapes. Its also one of the few places you'll find underground magazines, books, and zines, though be forewarned that the selection is small. Also, the music selection here is not what it used to be, and seems to cater more to punks, metal kids, and skinheads, rather than indie rock, pop, and dance than it used to. I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet it has a pretty good goth selection as well, because SA has a pretty interesting goth scene. (I think all the goth kids hang out at Sanctuary which is on the same block as Hogwild, if you are interested.)

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Vintage Shopping

1621 N. Main #3
SATX, 78212
(210) 271 7111

Nelda's is probably my favorite vintage store ever. They have a great selection of men's and women's clothing, shoes, and accessories, and are so reasonably priced. It's down the street from Hogwild (and probably only accessible if you have a bike or can find a bus to take you there). Definitely worth the visit.

  • Jive Refried Vintage

919 S. Alamo, 78205

I don't know the phone # but I'm pretty sure their hours are T-Sa, 2pm-7pm. They have a huge selection, really friendly staff, and are fairly cheap. Its in Southtown, across the street from Rosario's.


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Tourist attractions

  • San Antonio also has a decent planetarium, the Scobee planetarium, located on the campus of San Antonio College. I think you'd need to taxi or bus to the planetarium, but I think it's worth it for people who can get out of the main downtown area.
  • The Five Spanish Missions of Old San Antonio This page gives some basic info and ways to get to each mission. They are kind of spread out geographically, some need auto transport to get there. Trust me, if you have time these are great historic sites to visit. -JSB, UIC (where I'm from). A Washington DC librarian says, "One of the best guided tours I have ever

taken was the free tour given by a docent at the main Mission -- Mission San Jose-- in the Mission Historic Park. We went to all of them are really enjoyed it. The Alamo is the northernmost of them. But a car is required to get to all of them except for the Alamo."

  • Let's not forget the River Walk: Bars, restaurants, cafes all along the San Antonio River, downtown. A librarian from Washington DC says, "A river walk standout was Justin's Ice Cream Company--we went there twice!"
  • El Mercado! The marketplace on W Commerce St right off of I-35 offers many merchants with local flare and Mexican knick-knacks. Always some sort of cultural event happening in the market square. Really cool way to pass time.

This is one of my favorite museums in SA. Its free! Its in a renovated old house and has creaky wood floors, and an amazing courtyard, and windy stairways and lots of light. And it has really beautiful grounds which are a nice place for a picnic when the weather is good. You can often see brides having their wedding photos taken here, as well as teenage girls having their quincenera photos taken. Note that its closed on Mondays.

  • Blue Star Art Space is part of the Blue Star Arts complex. Its a contemporary art gallery that has played a huge part in promoting SA artists. Its a nice space and usually has something interesting going on. There are a couple of smaller galleries that are also a part of the Complex. Its also close to some other galleries in the area.


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