Destination: San Antonio

Haven’t gotten around to that summer vacation yet? I know, you’re probably too busy to even plan one. But there’s still hope. Why not take a vacation right here at home? It’s easy, requires little planning, and what you save on gas or airline tickets you can spend on treating yourself and your spouse/ boyfriend/ family/ girlfriends to the fabulous hotels, restaurants, spas and attractions right in our own backyard. And who knows, you might even discover something new about our city.

I know I did when I took a couple of minivacations in San Antonio.

My first “trip” began downtown at the Watermark Hotel. My romantic room on the seventh floor — king-size fourposter bed, marble-studded bath with separate shower and tub — had a private balcony with two chairs overlooking the River Walk, the perfect place for taking in the passing scene below while savoring a glass of wine before dinner. Or for watching the world wake up while sipping morning coffee. First stop, however, was the Watermark’s spa, where Sheryl gave me a facial that was not only extremely thorough but exquisitely relaxing. By the time she finished up by massaging my head, neck and hands, it was like an out-ofbody experience. Floating back into the locker room in my white robe and slippers, I chatted with women from Maine and Connecticut who had also experienced Sheryl’s magic during their stay. “She was awesome!” one said. Sheryl could become habit-forming. My companion and I had dinner reservations at the Watermark’s restaurant, Pesce, since we both adore seafood. Sipping frosty margaritas at a cypress-shaded table on the River Walk, we dived into the minitower of fresh clams, oysters, lump crabmeat and shrimp on ice with three different dipping sauces, including a refreshing onion-garlic-vinegar-laced concoction. And that was just the first course.

Everything that followed, from ginger- coconut scallops to sashimi tuna and sea bass with lobster fumet, was sublimely orchestrated with wine to match. The maitre d’ confided that they had recently served Beyonce’s parents. The rest of the evening we strolled lazily around the River Walk, stopping here and there to take in live music at Jim Cullum’s Landing, Swig, Hotel Contessa and Dolores del Rio restaurant. It was easy to see why tourists flock here, and it was fun masquerading as one of them. The next morning I had lined up a downtown tour with Seg City, located in the shopping arcade across the street from the Hyatt Regency Riverwalk. If you’ve never ridden a Segway, you’re in for a treat. This self-balancing, batterypowered two-wheeler is easy and fun to ride, and it quickly feels like an extension of your own body. Donning helmets, our small group was soon zipping along the sidewalks of Houston Street behind Asa Ukiah, our guide.

Stopping in front of the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum, Asa told us about how its founder, Albert Friedrich, was an avid hunter and let patrons trade antlers for a beer or shot of whiskey. And how his wife, Emilie, fashioned rattlesnake rattles into pictures and signs — all of which are displayed in the museum. At various stops along the way, Asa continued to regale us with fascinating facts and lore from his encyclopedic knowledge of San Antonio’s colorful history. For example, did you know that the Milam Building was the first in the nation with an air-conditioning system — albeit one that used ice and fans in the basement to create and circulate chilled air? My favorite part of the three-hour tour was cruising along the beautifully landscaped sidewalks that frame the San Antonio River as it heads south from downtown to the King William Historic District. A short stroll from the River Walk and Main Plaza, this is a part of our city I had never explored. I vowed to come back to walk this lush parkway, perhaps stopping at Guenther House or the Blue Star complex for lunch.

“You feel like you see so much more of our city on this tour,” said Captain Scott A. Kirk, a fellow Segway rider and a pilot for Southwest Airlines, as we waited to see the individual and group photos that Asa had taken during our entertaining trek around downtown and King William. My companion and I had planned lunch at the Mercado (Market Square) so we could check out the new Smithsonian-sponsored Museo Alameda. And, of course, shopping was on our agenda, both here and at River Center Mall. I personally can’t resist a 3-D movie, so when we saw that Deep-Sea in 3-D was playing at the mall’s IMAX Theater, we had to go. The show not only made us feel like we were underwater with all those fish and marine critters, but that we could reach out and touch them. We watched in amazement as chirping scallops scurried from the grasp of a slinking starfish, and a bigjawed fish chomped a spiny sea urchin like candy. That evening, after feasting on Mexican food and margaritas at Iron Cactus on the River Walk, we walked upstairs to the lobby of the restored Aztec Theater. This Art Deco extravaganza on a Maya/Aztec theme, with its massive lobby chandelier and terra cotta-colored walls decorated with Mayan figures and glyphs accented in gold leaf, was a show in itself. In fact, before the movie begins, patrons are treated to a lobby light show, complete with the pre- Columbian serpent-god, Quetzalcoatl, rising from mist.

Once the show inside the theater began, we heard and felt the vibrating, powerful sounds of the restored Wurlitzer organ, which has 1,700 pipes and three tiers of keyboards plus foot pedals. When the Aztec opened in 1926, this mighty Wurlitzer was a star attraction as it accompanied the silent movies shown here. A pre-movie short on the Aztec’s history gave us a sample of the organ’s remarkable range, including percussion, xylophone and a train whistle. Now I know where the expression “all the bells and whistles” came from.

As we strolled back to our hotel afterwards, it occurred to me that another advantage of staying downtown is not having to drive — you can walk almost everywhere, catch the downtown trolley, take a river taxi or ride a Segway.

If your idea of a summer vacation means hanging out by a lavish, meandering pool or playing a few rounds on scenic championship golf courses, one of San Antonio’s deluxe resorts could be the answer. For my second minivacation, I checked into the Westin La Cantera Resort, perched on a hilltop at the north edge of San Antonio with sweeping views of the city and rolling Hill Country.

My companion and I were booked into one of the casitas in the luxurious W Casita Village, and although it was walking distance from the hotel, we enjoyed having our own golf cart. Our village enclave also had its own pool, and our casita suite had a private patio framed by native landscaping, where we often sat out at night and in the morning, listening to the birds.

One of the first things we noticed was how wonderful everything smelled here, from the outdoor air to the subtle, fresh scent in our room — a scent the resort calls “White Tea.” This resort was soothing and serene, from the ultra-comfortable beds to the beautiful natural surroundings. And staff members at every level were

exceptionally friendly and helpful.

It would be easy to spend days here lounging around the Casita Village pool or the large resort pool, which has gorgeous views and a waterslide that both kids and adults enjoy. I don’t play golf, but if I wanted to learn, this would be a lovely place to take lessons. Instead, I got a to-die-for pedicure with Angel at La Cantera’s spa before dedicating myself to poolside basking. On another day my companion and I took the resort shuttle to The Shops at La Cantera, a handsomely landscaped outdoor mall with a vast array of stores, including Anthropologie, Nordstrom’s and Neiman-Marcus.

With kids along, you could also catch the resort shuttle to Fiesta Texas for a day of musical entertainment and exciting rides. Or you could drive to Sea World for more shows and rides, including the new “Atlantis,” a coaster ride that ends with splashing into the water, so be prepared to get wet! Close by the resort, another option is a trip to The Rim to experience the new Bass Pro sporting goods emporium (an entertainment in itself), explore the shops and see a movie at Santikos Theaters or the towering Palladium IMAX. Another must at Westin La Cantera is dinner at Francesca’s while taking in the panoramic views from its huge windows. The restaurant’s eclectic, Southwesternaccented menu ranges from heavenly tamales with innovative fillings to succulent lamb chops and buffalo rib eyes. After dining there, we retired to our patio under the stars and listened to the night sounds — crickets, cicadas, tree frogs — a serene ending to a perfect day.

Author: Melanie Young

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