The final two days of our trip, we explored San Antonio’s attractions, drove back to Austin, and then flew back home to NC.
Merit Coffee Co.
Around 08:00, we left our hotel in San Antonio and drove just down the road to Merit Coffee Company for some coffee and breakfast. I got a blueberry lemon muffin, Trevor got some kind of granola bar, and Cody got a pumpkin cream cheese muffin with chocolate chips and pepitas. Everything was very good, but Trevor was very disappointed they were out of breakfast tacos.
Remember The Alamo
Next, we drove to downtown San Antonio, found parking in a parking deck, and walked a couple blocks to our destination for the morning: The Alamo. I booked a guided tour for the three of us, so we checked in at the kiosk and waited for the tour to begin, using the time to locate a place to dispose of our empty coffee cups.
The tour lasted about an hour, and took us all around the grounds of The Alamo complex, starting in the courtyard outside, and ending in the exhibit building. Several things surprised me about The Alamo; I’ll list them below. You can read about most of the site’s history elsewhere, so I won’t bore you with a historical recap.
- The Alamo is in the middle of downtown San Antonio, and I literally mean in the middle of it.
- In 2023, The Alamo is opening a huge collections center across the street. The majority of the artifacts will be from the world’s largest collection of Alamo artifacts, owned by Phil Collins. Yes, I’m talking about the musician.
- The Alamo complex is far larger than just the Alamo chapel, which is the most recognizable structure from the original Spain mission. In fact, the whole complex was about five acres, including long barracks, a large courtyard, outbuildings, and more.
- The Alamo chapel didn’t have a roof for much of its existence. Sometime after the US Army took control in 1846, the soldiers added a roof to a building.
After the tour, we took another half hour to walk around the grounds and through the exhibits. We enjoyed the tour, and it was fascinating to learn about the history of the area. You can stop by just for a quick visit, but I would highly recommend booking a tour or getting an audio guide if you want to fully appreciate the history of the area.
We left The Alamo, stopping briefly at an exhibit marking the corner of one The Alamo’s walls to see a cannon. It was a shocking experience (the hand rails had tons of static electricity). Continuing north, we descended about a story and a half below ground to the famous San Antonio River Walk. Since it’s below street level, the temperature is significantly cooler on the River Walk than the city above.
It’s a unique and beautiful experience, with exquisite landscaping, and a sense of peacefulness thanks to the white noise of the water drowning out the bustling traffic above. This stands out as probably the most unique downtown I’ve visited in the US, and I’d recommend everyone to visit at some point if given the chance. The River Walk itself winds in various directions; there’s a main “circle”, but they’ve significantly expanded it over the years. My only complaint is that most of the restaurants and shops on the river are very high-priced and touristy (e.g., Hard Rock Cafe, Dick’s Last Resort, etc.).
We’d originally planned to take a boat tour around the Walk, but we ended up walking so far, we decided to just complete the circle on foot instead. We briefly popped back up to street level to see the Main Plaza and San Fernando Cathedral, and managed to witness a small outdoor wedding in the process. Around 11:15, all of us were starting to get very hungry (and tired of walking), so we decided to make our way back to the car and head towards lunch.
We attempted to go to two different restaurants before finally settling on Rosario’s Mexican Cafe Y Cantina in Southtown. The first place we tried had no parking, and the second was in a rather bad-looking section of town, so we left for the sake of our rental car’s safety. Rosario’s turned out to be a great decision. It’s an art deco-themed restaurant, augmented with pink décor, that specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine.
For an appetizer, we ordered their fire-roasted salsa and chips. It was the best chips and salsa I’ve ever had by far – slightly spicy, slightly sweet, and deeply savory and smoky from the fire-roasted tomatoes. The chips were airy, thin, and light, but didn’t break when dipping in the salsa. We all got tacos of some kind – Trevor’s were rolled, Cody’s were loaded with all kinds of toppings, and mine were griddled with a gooey layer refried beans and cheese hugging the meat inside. Everything was exceptionally flavorful, especially the meat in the tacos. The refried and charro beans will make any I eat in the future taste bland, since Rosario’s were laced with a savory blend of ground spices that gave them exceptional flavor.
Thoroughly stuffed, we needed to kill some time before our next Dutch Bros run, so we drove south of the city to Mission Espada. This is the southernmost of the five Spanish missions in the area; we planned to start down here and work our way northward. Four of these missions now make up San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, excluding Misión San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo). We decided to visit all the missions in the park, spending a half-hour or so at each.
Founded in 1690, this is the oldest of all the Spanish missions in Texas. It’s full name is Mission San Francisco de la Espada. The original church is still standing, but most of the mission complex is in ruins. We walked through all the exhibits, and then followed the San Antonio River north to the next mission.
Mission San Juan
Mission San José
Our next stop was Mission San José, the largest of the mission complexes. Inside, we toured the 18th Century church, and several exhibits. It amazed us how much of the original architecture was still intact, including the outer wall and the church with its stone archways. The park’s visitor center is on the opposite side of the parking lot from the mission, so we also stepped inside to browse the exhibits and visit the gift shop.
Mission Concepción (full name Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña) was founded in 1711, and is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. The church’s western entrance was built so it aligns with the sunset in an “annual double solar illumination event”, occurring around the Assumption of Mary in mid-August. The church was originally adorned with colorful frescoes, but those have since faded, and only small, faded sections remain. We kept our wanderings around the grounds fairly short, since we were starting to get tired and hungry.
After finishing our tour of the missions, we drove (once again) to Dutch Bros for a cold drink. By this point, we were scheming about how to open a franchise in NC. Turns out, it’s reasonably priced, but they only franchise internally, so you have to have been a Dutch Bros employee for at least three years. Trevor didn’t want to spend the next three years as a barista, so I guess our plan is defunct.
Leaving Dutch Bros, we continued north to Buda, Texas, our home for the night. Buda (pronounced BYOO-də) is a small town situated on I-35 just south of Austin. It’s known as the “Outdoor Capital of Texas”, and is home to numerous outdoor retailers, including a 185,000 sq. ft. Cabela’s. So of course, when we had some time to kill before dinner, we we decided to visit the Cabela’s. It’s pretty much what you would expect, but with more wildlife displays than usual.
Matt's El Rancho
In search of dinner, we first stopped by Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ, only to find they were sold out of almost everything. Instead, we drove to Matt’s El Rancho, a Tex-Mex spot on the south side of Austin. Matt’s has been around since 1952, and serves classic dishes in a laid-back indoor/outdoor setting. We opted to eat outside by a fountain under a large oak.
For an appetizer, we split a Bob Armstrong dip, which is basically queso with taco-seasoned ground beef and guacamole mixed in. Additionally, they brought salsa and giant tortilla chips. For the meal, Cody got the Asadero tacos (beef tenderloin, grilled Asadero cheese, onions, and rajas, served with frijoles a la charra). Trevor and I split an order of beef enchiladas and the same tacos. All the food was very good, especially the tacos.
After dinner, we headed back to our hotel for the night, and capped off the day with a lovely cold shower (apparently the hot water couldn’t quite make it to our room at the end of the building).
The next morning, we slept in a little, since we were thoroughly exhausted. After taking another [even colder] shower, we checked out of the hotel and headed out for the day. For breakfast, we originally wanted to return to Vaquero Taquero in Austin, but they are closed on Mondays. Instead, we headed to downtown Buda and landed at Summer Moon Fire-Roasted Coffee, a small Texas chain. Downtown Buda isn’t much to speak of, so we were able to easily grab a parking spot and head inside. We each got some coffee; Cody got a chocolate croissant, I got a strawberry “pop tart”, and Trevor got a cinnamon roll. The baked goods were pretty good, but the coffee was lacking. I don’t think that any of us finished our drinks.
After surviving the drive up I-35 to Austin, we decided to go ahead and stop for a small-ish lunch on the north side of town. We ate at Blacks’ Barbecue, a Texas staple originating in Lockhart, the “Barbecue Capital of Texas”. We got three slices of moist brisket, one slice of lean brisket, one original sausage, three pork spare ribs, some street corn, and of course pickles/onions/white bread/jalapeños. They were out of turkey, so we didn’t get to try that. We opted not to get one of their signature beef ribs, since we weren’t exceptionally hungry.
The brisket was very good, the ribs were excellent, and the corn was very good, but the sausage was not our favorite. The ribs might have been the best I’ve had in Texas. It was nice to get some barbecue without waiting in line.
After lunch, we decided to drive by the Texas State Capitol and through the University of Texas campus, since Cody hadn’t seen them yet. Cody was navigating, and he managed to route us to the Capital Plaza shopping center instead of the State Capitol. After some confusion, we made it back to our intended destination. We snapped a few quick pictures from the car and then headed on our merry way.
Next on our (mostly Cody’s) Texas to-do list: find cowboy hats. We drove to a place just north of downtown, walked inside, and immediately knew we were looking at the wrong price range. It was a nice store, if you wanted to spend $900 on a pair of boots and $500 on a hat.
Ironically, we drove back to the Capital Plaza shopping center and went in a Boot Barn, which was definitely more our price range. Cody found a cowboy hat, but they didn’t have any big enough for me, nor any small enough for Trevor. Can’t say I was overly disappointed…
Javi's Best of Tex Mex
Before heading over to the airport, we met Dad and Larry at Javi’s Best of Tex Mex, which was about the only decent-looking spot close to the airport. We all got tacos or something similar; the food was on par with good Mexican back home. After dinner, we filled up our rental car at the Exxon next door, and headed to the airport to drop off our rental car.
After dropping off our rental cars, we waited at least 45 minutes for the shuttle to take us to the AUS South Terminal, and finally arrived at the gate just before TSA opened for the evening’s flights. We boarded the plane, and managed to land a full 45 minutes earlier than scheduled – our pilot must have been in a hurry. When we landed on the AVL runway, he probably took the curves at 65mph.
We waited around 30 minutes for the shuttle to take us back to our car at the overflow parking lot. It was rather cold outside, so we finally gave up on the shuttle, and Larry and I walked (I would guess about a mile, maybe more) to get the car. We got back to the terminal and picked up the rest of our party just as the shuttle bus arrived. It was doubtful we’d even have been able to board that shuttle; there was quite the crowd waiting by then.
I’d originally intended to spend the night in Granite Falls, and then wake up early and drive up the mountain for work the next morning. By the time I’d unloaded the car in the cold air, I was wide awake, so I decided to drive on up the mountain. I finally arrived home around 02:40 and crashed into bed.
This was a great trip (so was the last one), and it’s been great to share it with you. Stay tuned for two more short trips this year: West Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay area.
– Isaac & Co.