Secret San Antonio - sights and sounds your guide book may not tell you about

Southtown: this is a vibrant neighborhood in San Antonio which encompasses the historic King William District, plus Lavaca and Baja Lavaca. You will find terrific restaurants with a range of cuisines, from Tito’s Tacos to The Monterey for Mexican, La Focaccia for Italian, La Frite for Belgian, and  Azuca for Caribbean. Stop by Garcia’s Art Glass (www.garciaartglass.com) for fabulous hand-blown glass pieces and see a demonstration. Vintage shops, curio shops, salons, artisans, galleries, florists, and antiques combined with carefully preserved Victorian and older homes gives this neighborhood charm like no other. A surprising place to stop in for refreshment is Bubblehead Tea, selling Asian teas, smoothies, and coffee and featuring art and hookahs. First Friday is a free art walk held the evening of the first Friday of each month throughout Southtown. See www.southtown.net .

Paris Hatters: A Texas institution since 1917, this unassuming hat shop is crowded with merchandise. From old-time Panamas and exquisitely made Borcelino derbies to custom made cowboy hats and Irish tweeds you will find nearly every style of hat in this downtown treasure.  Hat prices range from $10 - $2,000 and higher – but even if you’re not in the market for a new hat, a trip to Paris Hatters will delight and enlighten. Found at 119 Broadway. For more information call 210-223-3453 and see www.parishatters.com .
 

The Menger Hotel Bar: Slip into this fully paneled walnut wood bar in the far corner of the famous Menger hotel adjacent to the park by the Alamo and you will feel the years melting away. Teddy Roosevelt recruited his rough riders here and Dwight supposedly courted Mamie at this hallowed and still classy drinking hall.

Blue Star Arts Complex: Perched on the banks of the San Antonio River, this former railway warehouse is now a collection of studios, art galleries, artists' homes, condomimiums, the Jump-Start Performance Company, and the Blue Star Brewery, where you can also rent a bicycle for cruising San Antonio. Stop by Joe Blues for your favorite cocktail after browsing San Angel Folk Art Shop. You may end up rubbing elbows with your favorite artist! See more at www.bluestarartscomplex.com .

La Tuna: Named after a cactus, this is a less-than traditional Texas icehouse at 100 Probandt St, is a hang-out to many of Southtown’s artists and artisans, musicians and families. The tin-roofed building has picnic tables under giant pecan trees, beer bottlecaps crunch underfoot, inexpensive beers and wine, and the adjacent Tuna Food restaurant has a resident chef with surprisingly good selections. Try the fish tacos with cilantro slaw. Live music on Saturday nights. Open from 3pm to midnight daily. Free admission.

Japanese Tea Garden/San Antonio Zoo/Witte Museum/Brackenridge Park/Botanical Gardens: For a lovely afternoon spent outdoors the entire family would be happy with going to the San Antonio Zoo www.sazoo-aq.org , a world-class naturalistic habitat zoo, then ride the little train through neighboring Brackenridge Park. Across the street, the Japanese Tea Gardens built, along with the Zoo in a former rock quarry, features lush gardens, a pagoda, and koi ponds to explore. Nearby the Witte Museum has a children’s science area and treehouse, dinosaur and natural history displays, plus much more. See www.wittemuseum.org for schedule and prices. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens www.sabot.org are quite beautiful and feature Texas native plants, xeroscaping, a butterfly and orchid house, sculpture gardens, and now the Carriage House Bistro for lunch. Open 9am to 5pm; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Admission: Adults $7, Seniors/Military/Students $5, Children $4.

San Antonio’s Downtown Library: Nicknamed The Big Red Enchilada, this modern building by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta is the pride of the San Antonio public library system. Its secret treasures are a 20ft high Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, and a 36ft mural by local artist Jesse Trevino - not to be missed! Free admission, hours Mon–Thurs 9am–9pm, Fri & Sat 9am–5pm, and Sun 11am-5pm.

Luna: a hip, jazz only, smoke-free club at 6740 San Pedro Ave. Think red velvet curtains, comfy leather seating, and cool sounds. Great atmosphere and expert bartenders. You’ll feel very grownup. Cover $5- $8, must be 21, drinks $5 & up. For schedule info call 210.804.2433.

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