Have an Affordable Fiesta in San Antonio

by  Christine Wei | Mar 27, 2014
San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio River Walk / Photo courtesy of San Antonio River Walk

Chances are, you’ve heard of that little landmark called the Alamo in San Antonio, the city that’s also home to the beautiful five-mile Riverwalk. Here are some affordable ways to enjoy the city’s history, nature, and cuisine, right in time for the April Fiesta – a celebration that feels a lot like a slightly less debauched Mardi Gras.

Where to Stay
Situated along the Riverwalk on one side, and in the middle of the main street’s shops and restaurants on the other, the Drury Plaza Hotel Riverwalk is anything but your typical motel. The mid-range property is housed in the former Alamo National Bank building, and guests can still marvel at gilded moldings and stained glass panels in the lobby. It’s here that the hotel hosts a complimentary breakfast buffet and 2.5-hour afternoon happy hour with bar food and three alcoholic beverages daily. We found rates from $219 on the weekend beginning April 11 and $160 for the weekend of April 18, a good $30-50 less than those at hotels in the immediate area. While the rooms may not be as new or shiny, the central location and extras make up for it – and the free wifi and rooftop pools don’t hurt, either.

For those who seek a little more peace and quiet, Hotel Indigo’s Riverwalk is located away from the action, but remains within walking distance to the main street. The river taxi – $5 one-way, or $10 for a 24-hour pass – also runs right by the hotel's side entrance until 9 p.m.. (You'll want to make it back before 11 p.m. on foot either way, otherwise the side gates close and you’ll have to make a short loop among more remote roads to the main entrance.) Like others in Indigo line, the property is comfortable with modern touches. More importantly, it goes for about $168 per night in mid-April. Amenities include free WiFi and in-room Green Mountain coffee pods.

Christine Wei/San Antonio Botanical Garden

What to Do
Even the greenest thumbs will be impressed by the San Antonio Botanical Garden, which encompasses 33 acres of landscapes and flora from all over the world. Entry is typically $10, and you can easily fill an entire afternoon scoping out the diverse desert regions, equatorial rainforests, rose and herb gardens, orchid collections, and waterlily ponds. Don’t forget to check the calendar for free morning native plant walks, in which a naturalist instructs visitors on rocky soils, woodland species, and dryland shrubbery on the Texas Native Trail. And there are "starlight" movie screenings in the garden in spring and autumn.

If a county fair on steroids sounds fun, you’ll also want to carve aside a few hours for browsing Market Square, a historical and cultural center with more than 100 shops and vendors in both indoor spaces and outdoor plazas. Here, entertainment, crafts, food, and children’s activities center around a specific theme nearly every weekend, be it Easter, ragtime, salsa, or, yes, Fiesta (April 19-27 this year). The music and shops are free to enjoy, and food booths offer everything from Cajun shrimp to funnel cakes.

Or travel back in time with “A Day in Old Mexico,” a charreada show featuring a choreographed horseback performance and horse-roping competitions. There's also live mariachi music, traditional charro outfits complete with sombreros, and, of course, lots of elaborate horsey action. Leather goods and other trinkets might tempt you, but we suggest heading into the stadium early to nab good seats. Tickets are typically $5 and go up to $15 on certain holiday weekends, including April 13 and 27 for Fiesta.

Though it only happens on one weekend, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Fiesta Arts Fair, hosted by the Southwest School of Art. The 40-year-old affair brings colorful, whimsical creations of more than 120 artists to approximately 12,000 art lovers a year. It doesn’t hurt that the swirling glass sculptures, upcycled furniture, and delicately crafted jewelry are showcased among lush green gardens and in a serene limestone chapel. To make the $10 ticket worth your while, live music of all genres permeates the campus from two garden stages.

Another Fiesta must: The collection of coronation gowns at the Witte Museum. This natural history and Southwestern heritage museum exhibits 12-15 elaborately designed gowns – some weigh as much as 80 pounds – worn by the city’s royal court. Entry is free on Tuesdays from 3-8 p.m., otherwise $10.

What to Eat & Drink
You could dismiss the Pearl Farmers Market for its small size – or you could fill up on veggie tamales ($3), brisket empanadas ($2-$5), or crepes ($3-$8) as you enjoy live music and browse colorful stands of fresh produce. You might even discover the cooking demo station along a landscaped path. Best of all, all of the market's spoils were raised and harvested by farmers within 150 miles of the city.

Christine Wei/Cheesy Jane's

For lunch, you can experience a true Texan treat: the Frito Pie, comprised of chili over crunchy Frito chips. It's a reasonable $6.79 at Cheesy Jane’s, a down-home diner known for its massive 16-ounce shakes ($4.49). Not feeling the pie-and-shake combo? Sandwiches from $5, burgers from $7, and a slider sampler for $7.29 will each be more than filling, especially with a cold glass of beer. We don’t personally start drinking at noon on a typical day, but for less than $4, we’d consider it.

For more south-of-the-border spiciness, head to La Gloria for dinner. Located in Pearl Brewery, close to the aforementioned farmers market, the restaurant brings traditional street food into a warm, industrial-chic setting. Here, feast on a classic quesadilla from $3.25, a trio of tacos from $5.50, and ceviche from $8. Pair all that with a $5 Casa Madero wine or – for a true Mexican meal - $10 mezcal, then wrap things up with a $6 coconut or caramel flan.

Combine a historic setting with the warmth of a boozy drink and you have a winning combination. Or at least that’s true in the case of SoHo Wine & Martini Bar, located in the 19th century San Antonio Loan & Trust Bank. Peek into the bank vault-cum-wine cellar, then settle into a seat with a specialty martini ($7-$10) or other drink of choice ($6). Whether you're in the mood for a traditional 'tini or are brave enough for ginger, lemon custard, or even bacon flavors, it’s the choice spot in town to say “bottoms up!”

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