“Downtown is a lot of fun,” says Snow Montemayor, the official King of Downtown and a board member of the Downtown Residents Association. He rattles off a list of family-friendly attractions, including the reopened Travis Park, the Magik Theatre, and the Rio Taxi, and mentions Downtown Tuesday (free parking, food and drink specials) as a great date night opportunity.
Part of what makes downtown San Antonio unique is its historic architecture. A great way to see those landmarks up close is to use the San Antonio Conservation Society‘s Texas Star Trail guide to take a downtown walking tour. It’s free, educational, fun, healthy, and a great way to fight boredom or entertain out-of-town visitors this summer.
The Texas Star Trail is 2.6 miles long, with 79 landmarks, stretching from Market Square all the way to the Alamo and Hemisfair. I recently chose a shorter section of it to walk with my six-year-old son, F.T., for a homeschool history lesson.
At home, we downloaded and printed a pdf of the brochure; a mobile app is in the works. We parked in the Houston Street Garage—a familiar spot, it’s where we park near the San Antonio Children’s Museum for Pint-Sized Science and near the Majestic Theatre for the San Antonio Symphony. (Note: The downtown children’s museum will close in March 2015 and will reopen on Broadway as “The Do Seum”; the symphony is moving a few blocks north to the Tobin Center this summer.)
We walked south on Navarro Street to #26 and #27, two buildings constructed in 1885 and 1901 for George W. Brackenridge, a banker and philanthropist. He is best known for donating Brackenridge Park to the city; he also built a water system on the land that became the San Antonio Botanical Garden—currently featuring the Birdhouses exhibit. More recently, the George W. Brackenridge Foundation has become the driving force for improving educational opportunities in San Antonio, a cause that is dear to my heart (as you can tell from my blog, San Antonio Charter Moms).
Each location on the Texas Star Trail is marked with a medallion in the sidewalk.
Next, we walked east on Commerce Street. According to the Texas Star Trail guide, back in the 19th century, these building housed a hardware store (#18 Schultze), a leather goods store (#19 Rilling), a confectionary (#20 Harnisch and Baer), and a saddlery (#21 Heye). #17 Schilo’s has been serving root beer and reuben sandwiches at this location since 1942.
A little further east on Commerce Street is #16 the Clifford Building and #14 the Commerce Street bridge. If you kept going east, you would reach the Alamo, but since F.T. and I recently visited the Alamo, we chose instead to go down the steps to #15 the Paseo del Rio—the famous San Antonio Riverwalk.
We walked past the restaurants to a peaceful stretch of the river. Around the bend, we saw the Arneson River Theatre, part of #77 La Villita. We walked by #57 the Briscoe Western Art Museum—read more about our recent visit.
We stopped and ate a peaceful picnic lunch (interrupted only by a bride and her family planning a Riverwalk wedding on Marriage Island), then walked along the river some more.
#55 the Tower Life Building, with its gothic architecture and gargoyles, looms over the river.
We took the stairs back to street level and walked north on Saint Mary’s Street. At each crosswalk, F.T. got to press the button to activate the signal; I found out later that he thought pressing those buttons was one of the highlights of our adventure. He also enjoyed watching a horse-drawn carriage go down the street.
In just one morning’s walk, F.T. and I saw so many buildings and features that are unique to downtown San Antonio. Montemayor, the aforementioned King of Downtown, sees things getting even better for downtown in the next few years. #75 Hemisfair Park is about to undergo a transformation; have a look at the vision documents for the Play Escape. Montemayor also foresees #1 Alamo Plaza becoming a more pedestrian-friendly space.
To get the most out of your downtown walking tour, I recommend you follow one of the tips in Sarah’s Spring Break staycation post: get an early start. You will enjoy yourself more if you get ahead of the crowds and the heat. Also, don’t overdo it; choosing a small section of the trail worked well for F.T. and me. Be sure to take plenty of breaks for food and beverages—that’s part of the fun of being downtown! Montemayor recommends a trip to Southtown to visit the Friendly Spot.
We are already planning another trip downtown to see more of the Texas Star Trail. Which landmarks are you most excited to see?