Whether you’re planning a romantic weekend getaway for Valentine’s Day in February or some other time of year, San Antonio is the perfect pick. So, it immediately came to mind when Hotels.com asked me to share my thoughts on a romantic weekend getaway in this instalment of guide2travel.ca’s weekend getaways series.
What’s makes a San Antonio weekend getaway romantic?
Canals have given European cities like Amsterdam and Venice a reputation for romance. And why not? Imagine yourself floating down a canal, listening to soft music, holding hands with your significant other. The world around you disappears and it’s all about you and your special someone.
Since it was completed in 1941, the San Antonio canal system has brought those same romantic moments to North America.
The reason for the canal, though, revolves around disaster rather than amour. That disaster struck on September 9th, 1921, in the form of a cloudburst. Around 8 p.m. rain fell in a torrential downpour over the Olmos Basin and San Antonio River, along with a spectacular show of continuous lightening. Water rose higher and higher until nine feet covered Houston Street. About 50 people lost their lives.
San Antonio needed a drainage channel.
Robert Hugman’s Dream for San Antonio
Luckily, Robert Hugman, a young architect, came up with a romantic vision for a drainage canal system that would be a cross between Spain and Venice. He used limestone blocks to build a winding, more natural stream-like channel, then planted nearly 12,000 trees and shrubs. And finally, he added fanciful stonework for sidewalks, retaining walls, and bridges.
While it was “too much” for locals and Hugman was fired, the look and feel of a romantic canal system had already come to life.
What’s the San Antonio River Walk like today?
Today, Robert Hugman would likely be thrilled to see the vibrant community of the San Antonio River walk canals. Indeed, the River Walk is the second most popular attraction in Texas, with over 1.5 million people riding in the riverboats each year. I know I certainly enjoyed my riverboat ride, as it equaled my experiences floating down some of Europe’s most romantic canals.
Downtown Section of the River Walk
The River Walk canal system is now 15 miles long, with the Downtown portion flowing through about 5 miles of San Antonio. Here, the water is between two and four feet. And yes, a walk or ride at this part of the canal provides access to an amazing assortment of downtown shops, restaurants and hotels. However, there’s more if you’re looking for that romantic European feel that comes from visiting places where historic dramas have played out as I always am.
Mission Reach Section of the River Walk
Indeed, the Mission Reach portion of the canal runs eight miles south from the Downtown section through beautiful woodlands, and connect the Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission Espada, Mission San Jose, and Mission Concepcion. Together with the fifth mission, The Alamo, one block east in the heart of the Downtown River Walk, and a Texas ranch 37 miles away, these form the UNESCO world heritage site known as The San Antonio Missions.
Recognized by UNESCO in 2015, these missions were built in the early 1700s by Franciscan missionaries establishing Spain’s presence in the new world.
Museum Reach Section of the River Walk
As well as the Downtown and Mission Reach portions, there’s also a third section to River Walk. It’s the four-mile long Museum Reach. This part provides lots of cultural attractions including the Robin Center for the Performing Arts, the San Antonio Museum of Modern Art, and the Witte Museum, as well as a number of museums adjacent to the Walk.
San Antonio Travel Tip
To find the River Walk with with your car GPS or using Google maps on your phone, use the address for Shops at Rivercenter. They’re at 849 E. Commerce Street, directly on the River Walk. While you’re at there, make sure to try some barbeque, or BBQ, (my favorite Texas specialty food!) at one of the newest additions to the food court, The Hot Box.
Note that boat tours of the canal don’t go up the Museum Reach portion of the River Walk. However, you can take a River Taxi to The Pearl, a former brewery built in 1883 converted to a popular mixed-use facility. The Boiler House Texas Grill here is another great spot to enjoy some BBQ.
What are the best spots for flowers, chocolate, and wine in San Antonio?
When it comes to romance, you may be looking for the time honored traditions of wine and chocolate, plus some fragrant flowers. The flowers are easy! In fact, the average San Antonio temperatures are just under 70 degrees (20F) in January to just over in March. And of course, there are also some beautiful gardens to spend time in.
The top garden pick is the 33-acre San Antonio Botanical Garden that offers experiences from the Texas Trail to their formal gardens. It’s followed by the 90 year-old Japanese Tea Garden that features a 60-ft high waterfall. Both will be a great hand-in-hand afternoon stroll.
San Antonio Travel Tip
If your significant other loves flowers, consider a balcony room at the Marriott Plaza Hotel. Why? To enjoy the hotel’s gazebo garden and the beautiful peacocks that live in it.
After walking through the gardens be sure to indulge in one of the chocolatiers or chocolate shops. The Melting Pot is well known for its chocolate fondue, although many visitors rave about the cheddar fondue. Délice Chocolatier & Patisserie San Antonio is another popular choice. If you visit, try the truffles!
And that, of course, brings us to the wine. Since San Antonio is on the southern edge of Texas Hill Country, you have access to 40+ wineries and wine tours. In fact, the nine million acre Texas Hill Country wine region is the second largest viticultural area in the U.S. While a road trip here is incredibly scenic, you don’t have to leave the city to visit a winery. Instead, check out the Stray Grape Urban Winery. They make over 50 different wines with grapes sourced from ten different countries, so you’re sure to enjoy their wine tasting experience.
What are the other must-see attractions in San Antonio?
Every visitor to San Antonio should see The Alamo Mission in San Antonio. The state’s most popular attraction, the Alamo truly is a story bigger than Texas. Built by Catholic missionaries in 1700s, it was the site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, which was a pivotal event in the rebellion to drive the Mexican army out.
Today, this historic mission is a museum in the Alamo Plaza Historic District and a part of the UNESCO San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site. The chapel and barracks are original and fascinating to walk through, although no photos are allowed inside. My favorite part? Davy Crockett’s beaded buckskin vest with onyx buttons.
There’s still lots of Mexican influence in San Antonio, of course. Indeed, it’s home to the largest Mexican market in the US at the historic Market Square (El Mercado). Shops fill the three blocks of the market, selling everything from sombreros to musical instruments.
San Antonio Travel Tip
When you’re finished shopping in Market Square, check out the 24-hour-a-day restaurant, Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería. It serves amazing Tex-Mex food, that unique to Texas cuisine second only to BBQ (in my opinion!) when it comes to eating local. The Cortez family has been operating their Café since 1941, making them a downtown tradition. Even if you only have time for a coffee or a cold cerveza, stop in to take a look at the American Dream murals that pay homage to great US Latinos.
Since San Antonio is one of the oldest US cities established by the Spanish, there’s history everywhere. I really enjoyed exploring historic La Vallita. This former garrison town is now an artisan village on the National Register of Historic Places. Here, you’ll find architectural styles that range from adobe structures, to early Victorian and Texas vernacular limestone buildings.
Plan Your Romantic Weekend Getaway to San Antonio
It’s easy to fly directly to San Antonio or to drive from Dallas or Houston. On our last trip to the Gulf Coast, we found the cheapest flights were into Houston, plus car rentals were much lower than we expected. That made it easy for us to take a great road trip through the beautiful Texas Hill country, including San Antonio.
When it comes to places to stay in San Antonio, I loved my nights at the historic Emily Morgan hotel. The best part? Well, incredible views of The Alamo out my window and the hotel history. Originally built and used as a medical arts building, it didn’t become a hotel until 1984. Now, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Even if you choose one of the many other hotel options available, make sure to check out the unique architecture of the Gothic revival style Emily Morgan. They include a copper roof with wood ribs and gargoyles, each portraying a medical ailment!
Or, if you and your significant other want to be right on the romantic River Walk, consider the Hilton Palacio del Rio. It provides a view of either the River Walk or downtown, plus has five onsite restaurants and bars to enjoy on your romantic weekend getaway.
Many of the experiences in this article are from my first visit to San Antonio. It was a FAM press trip hosted by the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau and organized by Geiger & Associates. As always, I retain full editorial control of any articles I write following FAM trips, so the comments are honest reflections of my experience.
Fisher, L.F. (2019). San Antonio River Walk [Paseo del Rio]. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved from https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hps02
San Antonio, TX Flood, Sept 1921. (1921). New York Times newspaper. Retrieved from http://www.gendisasters.com/texas/4426/san-antonio%2C-tx-flood%2C-sept-1921