When I got to thinking about the concept of sightseeing by bus in Texas, San Antonio was one of the first destinations that came to mind. Not only does San Antonio have a walkable downtown with a dense concentration of tourism sites, its intercity bus-line stops are conveniently located in the city center. Still, I wasn't sure whether it would be practical or enjoyable to take a sightseeing trip by bus and foot. So I decided to give it a shot, purchasing a round-trip ticket between Austin and San Antonio for a 10-hour daytrip.
I opted for Megabus for my San Antonio journey. Megabus launched service in Texas last year, offering direct trips between Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. I have nothing against Greyhound, which Iâ€™ve taken in the past, but I wanted give Megabus a try. And Megabus is cheap. I bought my ticket about 19 hours in advance of my departure and paid $9.50 for the round trip.
I caught the bus on a Wednesday morning in late July in a parking lot next to Dobie Mall on the UT campus. The big blue bus, which had started its route in Dallas, arrived a few minutes late, so the travelers milled about in pockets of shade as we waited. When the bus arrived, the riders queued up, showed the attendant their tickets on their phones or printouts, and found seats on the double-decker behemoth. I took a seat on the second level, having never boarded a double-decker before. Luckily, the bus wasnâ€™t full and I was able to occupy a pair of the narrow seats. Squeezing in next to a stranger would have been a bit uncomfortable.
The one-hour-and-ten-minute ride to San Antonio was fine, except for a slightly unsettling swaying motion, sort of like a boat at sea, that I attributed to being on the elevated second level of the bus. (I made sure to sit on the bottom level for the return trip and found it to be more comfortable). We departed Austin about 15 minutes late and arrived at the San Antonio stopâ€”a parking lot at the corner of 4th and Broadwayâ€”at 12:25 p.m., only 10 minutes later than scheduled. The Greyhound station is also downtown, at the corner of N. St. Mary's and East Pecan.
From the Megabus stop, I walked south on Broadway toward the Alamo. I was immediately immersed in historic downtown San Antonio, passing classic old buildings and storefronts, such as the 1917 Paris Hatters shop, the Kallison Calcasieu Building, and the stately U.S. Post Office. Within five blocks, I reached Alamo Plaza, where I made my way past amusement attractions like Ripley's Haunted Adventure and Tomb Rider 3D and stepped into the Visitor Information Center, which sits across the street from the historic Alamo mission itself.
Along with a gift shop, the visitor center offers clean public restrooms (welcome after a bus trip) and a bounty of tourist brochures and maps, including information about local bus schedules, sightseeing tours and Â local attractions. Outside the limestone building, there's a rack of bicycles available for rent as part of San Antonio's B-cycle bike-share program. I chatted with the center's helpful guides for a moment and headed on my way.
It being lunchtime, I walked another three blocks to Schilo's, a German deli on Commerce Street. My Mother tells me Iâ€™d been to Schiloâ€™s as a kid because it was a favorite of my Dadâ€™s, but I had no recollection of the place and wanted to check it out. With carved wooden booths, a colorful tile floor, and silver pressed-tin ceiling, the 1927 institution exudes a classic German-San Antonio feel. I ordered the â€œPolish Neighbor,â€ which included a cup of tasty split-pea soup, a slice of rye bread, a creamy deviled egg, and a hearty Polish sausage on a sesame bun. For $6.70, it was a satisfying lunch.
Next I made my way back to the Alamo, where I jostled with the throngs of tourists to view artifacts such as William B. Travisâ€™ wooden-handled straight razor and David Crockettâ€™s worn leather wallet. Despite the crowds, it was chilling to step into the room of the old church where the women, children, and slaves waited out the 1836 assault. I also enjoyed strolling the Alamo grounds and its green lawns with palms, pecan trees, and cactus beds.
I exited the Alamo through a northern gate and crossed East Houston Street to The History Shop. This unusual little shop sells antique maps and weapons, and repairs old documents and books. The shop displays all sorts of rifles and pistols, as well as fascinating maps depicting Texas and the world in centuries past.
You canâ€™t move around The History Shop without bumping into its biggest attraction, a 13-by-9-foot diorama of the Alamo. Historian and artist Mark Lemon built the 1/48th-scale model to represent as closely as possible the Alamo mission at the time o the 1836 battle. He built the model as part of his creation of the book, The Illustrated Alamo 1836, A Photographic Journey. Later, Phil Collins, the British rocker and noted student of Alamo history, bought the diorama and lent it for display at the shop. To animate the Alamoâ€™s story, the shop plays Collinsâ€™ 12-minute audio presentation about the 1836 battle, along with spotlights that illuminate the location of key events during the siege.
Also worth noting in The History Shop is the window in the floor that reveals a section of the shopâ€™s 2008 excavation project. The shop was built over the northeast corner of the Alamo battlegrounds, prompting a dig that turned up musket balls, cannon balls, horseshoes and other artifacts.
Feeling duly educated on Alamo history, I exited The History Shop back into the afternoon heat of a sweltering late July day. I decided to take shelter in Sip, a coffeehouse located further down East Houston Street. I rewarded myself for the six-block walk with an iced mocha and spent a few minutes surveying the rest of my day.
Caffeinated and refreshed, I descended to the River Walk and walked along the San Antonio River until I reached the Arneson River Theater and La Villita. Iâ€™ve perused various shops in the historic arts village over the years, and on this day I decided to check out Little Studio Gallery. The gallery, which is housed in an adobe cottage, displays the artwork of its six co-owners. The walls are a splash of color from dozens of paintings, interspersed with sculpture and jewelry.
Henry Cardenas, a painter and sculptor, greeted me at the Little Studio Gallery. He showed me his striking Southwestern oil and acrylic landscapes and described the interesting business model of the 50-year-old gallery. Six artist partners own the gallery, and when one dies or leaves, the remaining five unanimously select a new partner. The partners rotate the duty of manning the shop.
La Villita and Little Studio Gallery occupy a strategic location in San Antonioâ€™s downtown area, Henry told me. â€œWe capitalize on the synergy between the River Walk, the hotels, Southtown, the restaurants, and HemisFair Park,â€ he said. â€œWe all mesh together, and it works for us.â€
Speaking of HemisFair Park, I had hoped to visit the Institute of Texan Cultures at the park, but as I bid adieu to Henry, I discovered that it was already 5 p.m. and the museum was closed. I decided to forge ahead to HemisFair Park anyway, crossing South Alamo from La Villita and walking a path through the park to the oasis of fountains at the base of Tower of the Americas.
I was tempted to cool off with a dip, but I heeded the â€œno swimmingâ€ signs and bought a $5 ticket to ride to the observation deck at the top of the 750-foot Tower of the Americas. I boarded the glass-walled elevator and braced myself for the rapid, ear-popping ascent. At the top, I circled the outdoor deck to take in the spectacular panoramic view. I spent a few minutes picking out landmarks, such as the AT&T Center to the west (home of the Spurs), and the old Lone Star Brewery and Pioneer Flour Mill to the south.
Time was running out on my San Antonio daytrip, but I had my priorities and one of them was to eat some Tex-Mex before leaving the city. So I walked back across HemisFair Park to South Alamo and headed a few blocks south to Rosarioâ€™s. More than one local had recommended this trendy restaurant, which fosters a lively atmosphere with its shiny concrete floors, burgundy ceilings, and Mexican-themed pink-and-yellow walls. Big windows opening to South Alamo and South St. Maryâ€™s illuminate the room with a pleasant natural light.
I ordered â€œGriseldaâ€™s Tacos Callejeros,â€ which were lightly grilled corn tortillas filled with diced beef fajita, refried beans, cilantro, avocado, and queso fresco ($10.25). The tangy-sweet beef and cilantro mixed nicely with the refried beans and avocado. Against my better judgment, I downed all three of the tacos. But I had paid my dues in walking that day, and I still faced a 20-minute walk back across downtown to the Megabus parking lot.
The River Walk grew more crowded in the evening as the setting sun bounced off the river's green water and cast long shadows throughout the canyon-like promenade. Strolling families and couples filled the sidewalks, restaurant patios, and passing riverboats. I hoofed it through the crowd and climbed back up to street level at Crockett Street to walk the final few blocks to the parking lot at 4th and Broadway.
The big blue Megabus was already waiting when I arrived, 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time of 7:30 p.m. I boarded the bus and sat back in my chair, happy to rest my feet and leave the driving to someone else.
I covered a lot of ground in downtown San Antonio, but I could have walked much less and still had plenty to do and see. San Antonio offers an abundance of lodging, dining, and sightseeing opportunities within a mile or less of the Megabus and Greyhound stops, as well as links to other modes of public transportation. It all comes together to make bus travel a practical, efficient and interesting way to visit San Antonio for a tourism venture.