Travel notes: Winter getaway? Head on down to San Antonio

Evening on the River Walk in San Antonio.

It would take the entire content space of this publication if we enumerated all the blessings we’ve felt living in Edmonds these past six years. Some are based on its favorable location, but many more on its surprising array of amenities. However, overall it is the widespread spirit of civic actualization that is done for the benefit of  residents, more even than for attracting visitors.

Shortly after our arrival here, I got caught up in the successful rejection of the Waterfront Connector (aka Sunset Disrupter) and I knew then we had chosen to retire to a special place.

But no town has every possible feature, and since this is certainly not the favored season in the Northwest, thoughts do arise of a getaway, as they did each winter during our 40 years in Seattle. In the early half of that period, San Francisco was the runaway favorite — even though it didn’t always assure getting warmer. Hint: If you are staying there by Union Square, consider the Chancellor Hotel, but avoid the Chinese New Year celebration time. Overfamiliarity led to some jading of our interest in “The City,”  and we began to visit instead the more Edmonds-sized town of Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula (as previously described here).

Flying over Mount Adams on the way to San Antonio.

When work and family limitations eased, we became more venturesome, and started to go regularly to Hawaii, with the occasional substitution of trips to Mexico. Five of these Hawaii trips were to stay at the same small villa in Lahaina. Sadly, that option vanished last spring. While we feel for, and have sent aid to, the victims in Maui, we needed a pause before returning there, as well as a rethinking of tourism’s impact on that state.

A subtext to our annual choice has been the availability of direct flights on Alaska Airlines. So, a while back, we checked out Charleston, South Carolina (and saw where part of Boeing had gone to). Even better, from Edmonds, we took the winter-season flight from Paine Field to Tucson, Arizona and its marvelous Sonora Desert Museum. In full disclosure, Vegas, Phoenix and Palm Springs do not seem to “pop up”on our radar. Finally, this year we recalled a pleasant pre-COVID trip to San Antonio, and this became this year’s nominee and definitely proved to be a winner.

New and old buildings co-exist in San Antonio.

I hadn’t realized that San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the U.S. However, if you skip the wider area attractions such as the zoo and the Six Flags park, and focus on the downtown core and the extensions of the San Antonio River Walk north and south, it becomes quite manageable for a brief getaway, with no need of a rental car.

Yes, the central part of the River Walk is glitzy, but it is much more charming than Bourbon Street, or Nashville’s Honky Talk Highway, or the Vegas Strip. There are, in fact, worthwhile restaurants on its busy section — you don’t have to go to Bubba Gump or the Hard Rock Cafe! There are even better restaurants , however, at street level such as Panaderia (sinful pastries), Mi Tierra (colorful TexMex), Pinkerton’s BBQ (get there early before sellout), and Schilo’s German Deli (oldest local restaurant).

A guide at Mision Concepción.
Mission San Jose
Entry to Mission San Jose

It wasn’t that we didn’t “remember the Alamo” this visit, but we had gotten it off our checklist on our last visit. This time we avoided its Texas-sized overlay of mythology, and chose a three-hour guided Gray Line minibus tour ($65 per) visiting the four historic missions downriver, now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The churches are all still active, and on our prior trip we had taken a city bus to Mission San Jose to attend a Mariachi Mass (when on the River Walk, mariachi combos are as common as the river craft), and then we had naively walked back nine miles upriver to downtown. Older and wiser, this very informative tour was much more manageable, but still resulted in four miles of walking around each location.

The next day, we did a one-and-a-half-mile walk downriver along a non-commercial stretch to the historic King William District and its signature German restaurant, the Guenther House, located by the Pioneer flour mill.

Vintage King William District homes.
Pioneer Mill
Los Mariachis
A river craft under the bridge.

We took a Sunday rest break to view the Super Bowl and even passed on that day’s Mardi Gras float parade on the River Walk. On Monday, we resumed activity with a longer trek upriver, three miles each way, to the renovated Pearl Brewery District (and succumbed to the food delights at the Lorraine patisserie). This stretch is even more pleasant than our southward walk, going past garden hotels, condos and the SA Art Museum and  library. It also includes pathway murals and lookouts and the flood control dam with its river craft locks.

We were very impressed that all along the river there was no litter or graffiti. We had seen the downtown visitor ambassadors and river maintenance boats that make that happen. When we had visited the nearby downtown historic neighborhood of La Villita, that was also the case.

Alternative transportation.
Riverside murals.

River sculpture
Pearl Brewery district

An equally striking feature of the streetscape was the interspersion of classic century-old buildings and houses amidst contemporary development. We didn’t go up to the top of the Hemisfair Tower, SA’s World Fair analogue to the Space Needle, because the vistas we had at ground and river level were more than enough.

As for one of the main criteria of a winter getaway, it was warm enough, and with only a passing sprinkle of rain. Even on our our last two days, with brisk 30-degree starts, the temperature quickly zoomed to near 70, which would not be the case back in Edmonds this time of year.


Using the interstate underpass for art.
The upriver flood control dam and boat locks.

A close friend we visited with had informed us that despite the concerns of prolonged drought in the region, there had been recent serious flooding along the river, though not of historic proportions. Her son-in-law grew up in San Antonio and confirmed that recent summers have become more brutally hot. So while we certainly suggest San Antonio as an ideal getaway, you should probably stick with it just as a winter destination. I might add a bonus incentive, namely that a recent rating put San Antonio second only to Orlando as being inexpensive for visitors.

So check it out in the remains of this winter or a future season.  You’ll have to avoid this April, as the rare solar eclipse has maxed out bookings.

Edmonds will continue to be our summer staycation venue of choice. Because the direct SA flight arrives and departs in the evening, we didn’t get a welcoming view of the Olympics on our return, but it was a clear night and the crescent moon and a passing ferry served well to confirm that such occasional pleasant getaways are but evanescent memories.

Even with the next day’s dusting of snow, it was a welcome-home message. And Friday morning’s view of the Olympics definitely drove home 0ur opinion that our own Edmonds’ “By the Sea’ can hold its own pretty much any time of year.    

— Story and photos by Kevin O’Keeffe  

Author Kevin O’Keeffe lives in Edmonds


  1. The Riverwalk mosaic mural is one of many public art pieces along the river and beyond by Oscar Alvarado. He also created many pieces at the Yanaguana Garden at the Hemisfair site. That might be an interesting tour for future visits to San Antonio.

  2. Hmmm. You are probably right about San Antonio if you stay downtown. If you’re from a smaller town
    (Spokane) and decide to rent a car, boy howdy. Two and a half million people in the metro area makes for a lot of freeway action. And Texans have places to go and distances to cover. We did thaw out and warm up, which was our main objective. The terrain around the city is a little harsh, even by eastern Washington standards. I’m not sure how many repeat visits are in the works for me.

  3. Dawn and I spent every January 8 anniversary date at Memphis, SF and more. San Antonio was the best. We stayed at the Menoner over looking the carriages and next to the Alamo. We walked and used local busses

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