San Antonio Sabbatical

Sightseeing Tour: San Antonio Trolley Tour

Posted on: November 21, 2010

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The weather was nice yesterday (temperatures were in the 70s) so I decided to spend the day downtown seeing a few places I hadn’t yet been to.  Even though I have lived in San Antonio for three months, I became a tourist again.  I chose to go on the San Antonio Trolley Tour in order to get an overview of the city and its main attractions.  I purchased a ticket ($26.00 plus tax) for the 60-minute narrated tour plus hop-off/hop-on privilages with a 2nd day of trolley touring for free.  The highlights of this trolley tour are the Alamo, Tower of the Americas, Hemisfair Park – Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Plaza Water Park, Mission San José, Mission Concepción, King William Historic District, Market Square, Main Plaza (Plaza De Las Islas), Spanish Governor’s Palace, and San Fernando Cathedral.  I had already been to the Alamo, the missions, and part of the King William Historic District on previous outings.  My main goals for this trolley tour were to ride the cute red trolley, to hear information about the city of San Antonio, and to explore three places — (1) Tower of the Americas, (2) Institute of Texan Cultures, and (3) Market Square.

I knew that I had a long Saturday ahead of me, so I got an early start and boarded the first trolley of the day which left Alamo Plaza at 9:30 a.m. with nine passengers plus our tour guide, Leroy, a home-grown Texan who said he was born in a mission.  He noted that the downtown area of San Antonio is only one mile in area, and gave other interesting facts along with some humor thrown in.  Five passengers got off the trolley at Mission San José, the location that Leroy suggested be toured first due to its distance from town, the beautiful weather (pleasantly cool morning for walking outside), and the 1½ hours needed to fully explore this mission.

For the first fifty minutes, I stayed on the trolley as it made its first cycle along its route so that I could see and hear about San Antonio in its entirety prior to making my stops.  This worked out well for me because once I got off the trolley at Hemisfair Park, I never made it back on again (I took one of San Antonio‘s streetcars — $1.10 per ride or $4.00 for a one-day pass — to Market Square and finally back to Alamo Plaza).

At 10:20 a.m. Leroy le me off at Hemisfair Park, site of the Tower of the Americas and Institute of Texan Cultures.  I immediately went to the Tower of the Americas where I spent the next three hours.  Adult admission tickets cost $10.95 plus tax and include access to the observation deck and to the 4D theater ride.  The view of the city from the top of this 750-foot tower is spectacular.  The “Skies over Texas” 4D sensory experience was different — the seats jerked back and forth, the audience got sprayed with water, and the theater got cool and scented.  It was weird that this movie was actually more like an amusement park ride.  Afterwards, I went to the gift shop and purchased a Texas-themed canvas totebag (navy blue with Texas flag design) and a few small souvenirs.  Then I went for lunch at the Tower of the Americas restaurant, Charter House (which they seem to have shortened to Chart House).  It’s located at the top of the tower and the seating area revolves (a full rotation takes 1¼ hours).  Leroy had warned us trolley riders that this restaurant is expensive and to make sure that you bring a fresh credit card should you decide to eat there.  He wasn’t kidding.  Be prepared to spend a minimum of $50.00 (including tax and tip) for an entree and non-alcoholic beverage.  Okay, this was my big splurge of the day.  This Charter House lunch was one of the most expensive meals I’ve eaten in my life — but it was worth it.  And the ambience was really nice.  You’re paying for the view as well as the food.  Hey, you only live once, right?  I’m a happy beef eater and enjoy a good steak, so I ordered the 8 oz. Filet Mignon (well-done) with a baked potato and iced tea.  I ate this delicious meal while watching the changing views outside the window and taking pictures when an eye-catching composition emerged.

It was almost 1:30 p.m. when I finished eating lunch and headed over to the Institute of Texan Cultures, one of the best multicultural museums I have ever seen!  So many cultures are on display in the well-prepared and artful interactive exhibits that everyone can find his or her roots here.  If you’re seeking a great education about the history and heritage of Texas, this is the place to go.  I highly recommend it.  You’ll learn about the stories of Texans.  I spent over two hours here covering the entire museum, watching a 10-minute “Dome Show” video, and seeing a one-man performance/reinactment, and enjoyed my time immensely.  Now I’d like to go back and spend more time at each exhibit reading the in-depth background information provided.  The Institute of Texan Cultures is part of the University of Texas, San Antonio and is affiliated with the prestigious Smithsonian Institution.  General admission is $8.00; the student rate is $6.00.

I waited at the trolley stop for the last trolley at 4:20 p.m.  When it hadn’t come by 4:50 p.m., I took the yellow streetcar to Market Square which has several Mexican-themed shops selling clothes, jewelry, artwork, knick knacks, and food.  I found a couple of small local souvenirs at a Texas-themed shop before the markets closed at 6:00 p.m.  While in Market Square,  I visited a highly-recommended 24-hour restaurant, Mi Tierra Café y Panadería.  I was still feeling a bit guilty from my costly lunch so rather than eating out for dinner, I just got two pastries to take home with me.  I selected a strawberry-frosted cupcake and an “empanada de guava” from Mi Tierra and also got a take-out menu (I’d like to back there for a meal).  So far, I’ve eaten half of the cupcake and it was really good.  Looking forward to continuing my restaurant excursions.  After getting my bakery items, I took the red streetcar back to Alamo Plaza, then walked to the nearby parking lot to get my car (Alamo Parking at E. Travis Street — one block from the Alamo — costs $8.00 per day; this is a bargain compared to parking prices in other cities), and drove home.  I arrived home at 7:15 that evening feeling really good — and surprisingly, not tired or sleepy (maybe the protein-rich steak helped to boost my energy level).  This was a very satisfying and productive day.  Mission accomplished.  Cheers!

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