Beyond Cowboys Camp: A San Antonio Tourist's Guide

I’m going to get the camp ball rolling by listing some of my favorite places to visit in the downtown San Antonio and in the surrounding areas. Think of this as an open-source tour guide. All additions are welcome.

All attendees of course, will see the Cowboys in the air-conditioned comfort of the Alamodome. It’s a big step down from the naturally air conditioned Pacific breezes at Oxnard, but given that this is San Antonio in late July and early August, it’s just fine.

The Alamodome is located just east of I-37 and across from the former 1968 World’s Fairgrounds. The city has torn down much of what fair buildings remained, but you can still take an elevator ride up the 750 foot tall Tower of the Americas, grab a beer, sit in the rotating lower deck and get a panoramic view of Central Texas.

You can tour the Alamo, at 300 Alamo Plaza and soak up some Texas history.

Continue your historical tour by visiting the Menger Hotel, directly across the street from the Alamo to the mission’s right. Built in 1859, it’s now a historical landmark that has housed several US presidents, from Ulysses S. Grant to Bill Clinton. Babe Ruth, Roy Rogers (who has a suite on the second floor) and many other celebrities have also stayed at the Menger. Have a drink in the historic Menger Bar, where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Roughriders, and see the world in an older time.

If you’re a blues or rock fan, stop by the Hotel Gunther, on 205 East Houston Street and pay your respects to Robert Johnson. For two days in November 1936, Johnson and backer Ernie Oertle rented a suite and recorded much of Johnson’s seminal repertoire. The San Antonio Blues Society holds a “S.A. Sessions Festival” every November in the Gunther to commemorate Johnson. It’s only July, but check out their web site for more timely events.

If you’re looking for food and drink you can find several options on the Riverwalk, though you’re smack dab in touristville.

For something more offbeat, visit Schilo’s Delicatessen. Built in 1917, it has that old timey feel, with the original pressed tin roof hovering over benches. They make their own strudel every day and brew their own root beer daily too. You’ll find honest to goodness deli fare, from corned beef to tongue sandwiches.

For good Mexican Food downtown, visit El Mirador on St. Mary’s Street. They’re known for their weekend brunch. I’ve only visited during lunch and dinner hours but their sopas and migas come highly recommended. Their afternoon fare is the standard Mexican menu, only better.

El Mirador was featured in Esquire magazine about 14 years ago, when they had a renowned chef whose name now escapes me. He put together a wonderful menu built around seafood. I doubt he’s still there, but he did come out to speak to my table back in ‘95 and talked for a long time about Troy Aikman, his love of the Dallas Cowboys and how much he missed attending games. This place has a good Cowboys vibe.

It also has a tiny parking lot. Go early or be prepared to stand a while.

Closer to the Riverwalk is Mi Tierra. Their claim to fame? Great margaritas and they serve 24/7. I’ve had great meals there and mediocre ones. The mediocre one was at 3:00 am, and at that time, be happy there’s food at all.

The County Line serves BBQ in that area, but if you want to sample some transcendent ‘cue, get some friends, get in a car and take a pilgrimage to four BBQ shrines, all within an hour of the Alamodome. Start by taking I-10 east towards Houston for about 55 miles until you reach Luling. In the downtown, just off the railroad tracks, you’ll find City Market. Nothing fancy — just the holy trinity of brisquet, ribs and sausage — but done right. The sausage, which is sold in small links, is some of the best you’ll find anywhere.

Don’t stuff yourself, because fifteen minutes up the road, in Lockhart, are Kreutz’s and Smitty’s. Opinions differ on the two. Kreutz’s gets a mention in PBS BBQ guru Steve Raichlen’s BBQ USA and Texas Monthly named Smitty’s one of the top five BBQ restarants in Texas.

I’m a Smitty’s partisan myself. Wash your hands before you go. Plates are for sissies. You’ll be served in all three on butcher paper and sit on benches. Whichever you choose, you’ll satisfy your carnivore self.

Complete the BBQ tour by heading west to San Marcos. Take highway 142 to 80 and take 80 to San Marcos. (Or, just head north from S.A. on I-35). When you hit I-35 in San Marcos, take it north about eight miles to Kyle. Exit 35 there and head west on highway 150 about 18 miles until you reach the city of Driftwood. There sits The Salt Lick. Another renowned joint (City Market, Kreutz’s and The Salt Lick all get top honors in Raichlen’s BBQ USA) you can stuff yourself with top meats and amazing potato salad. It’s all you can eat, but save some room for the bread pudding or the cobbler, which varies according to season. And it’s good in every season

There’s a lot to see and do when you’re at camp, aside from following the Cowboys.

Hope I didn’t make you hungry. :)

Okay, that’s my lineup. What are your favorite downtown S.A. hangouts?

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