Admire the Historic City Aglow with Christmas Beauty
ByChristina Garcia | Photos Courtesy of Visit San Antonio
Whether it is with family or friends, San Antonio is the perfect pilgrimage to celebrate the holidays.
The River Walk shines with thousands of twinkling lights picturesquely dangling from the towering bald cypress trees and reflecting on the water’s surface. This magical, even romantic display continues from sundown to sunrise through January 9 at dawn.
On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between December 2 and 18, the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias sets the River Walk aglow with more than 2,000 luminarias, celebrating the centuries-old tradition of symbolically lighting the way to Bethlehem for the Holy Family.
While out, listen for the evening boats of Christmas carolers. Should the thought of belting Christmas carols fill your heart with joy, consider renting a boat from Ford Holiday Boat Caroling to do just that. Festively decorated with lights, the boats come with a driver, Christmas music, and printed lyrics.
One of only two UNESCO “Creative Cities of Gastronomy” in America, San Antonio has a lot of hype to live up to. The holidays are a perfect time to judge for yourself, starting with the city’s Mexican holiday season culinary staples: tamales and atole. Tellez Tamales is a well-known local purveyor with long lines promising a quality product. While you’re at it, order a warm, fragrant cup of atole, a traditional Mexican drink of the holidays, at Market Square’s Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia.
Natural Bridge Caverns is an underground cave with incredible formations. Small rooms shimmer with glowing pools of water, while others are almost as big as a football field. During Christmas, the caverns echo with the addition of carolers singing in the caves. The singers fill a few of the amazing chambers with mellifluous voices as an added feature of an already spectacular tour. Outside the cavern, a Christmas market, outdoor fires for roasting smores, and more holiday fun await.
Everyone knows about the Alamo, but four lesser-known San Antonio missions, built in the 1700s and still in use today, are an impressive, even stately sight to behold. To work in outdoor fitness, consider biking the 14-mile loop connecting these Spanish relics in the relatively temperate early winter. If you’d rather drive, explore these architecturally stunning structures from sunrise to sunset or 9 to 5 at Mission San José. Visit Mission Concepcion’s English-language mariachi mass on Sundays at noon or experience Mission San José’s performance of matachines dances — re-enactments of prayer dances created by the indigenous populations converting to Catholicism — on December 12, the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, directly after the morning mass. Take part in a traditional Mexican re-enactment of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter by joining in on Las Posadas at Mission San José, where pinatas, food, and snacks will be available. Visit nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit for more events during the very popular month of celebrations.
Don’t miss a stroll through the cobblestone lined La Villita, one of the first neighborhoods in the city for locally crafted jewelry. The brightly colored Mexican toys in Historic Market Square are perfect for stocking stuffers. Where “chili queens” once labeled hot soup as street food, today’s contemporary food vendors serve hot, delicious treats under papel picado. The holiday artisan market at the Pearl is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with a popular area known for creative culinary attractions, beautiful architectural integration of the original Pearl Brewery, and convivial outdoor ambiance. Stop into small shops nearby and enjoy the picnic-friendly turf and outdoor seating near attractive fountains and lush greenery.
The historic boutique Hotel Havana is stylish and elegant, serving pan-Latin cuisine at its on-site restaurant, Ocho, from a quiet area of the River Walk within walking distance of the Pearl District and next door to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. Nearby, the Pearl District’s Hotel Emma features beautifully integrated machinery from the days when it functioned as part of the original Pearl Brewery. Next to the Alamo, the Menger Hotel is another exquisitely attractive site with walls that many say do talk at night.