The top four NCAA women’s DI squads will head to this Texas hotspot come December to battle it out for top honors. Come along for the ride, and check out what to do, where to stay and what to eat.
For many people, San Antonio means just one thing. Every year some 2.5 million tourists congregate to shout “Remember the Alamo!” at the mission church just west of the city. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the siege, with special attractions running alongside the usual ones. 2011 also brings another big event to the city – the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Division I Championship. The 30th anniversary championship will be held Dec. 15 and 17 at the Alamodome.
The DI championships bring together 32 teams from universities across the country to compete against each other for a national title, the top four teams meeting in San Antonio. The semi-finals are played on the first day of the event and the top two teams go on to compete for the championship match on the following Saturday. Penn State has a firm hold on the event, having clenched the last four NCAA championships. The only school that holds more titles is Stanford, with six championships in the event’s 30-year history.
While a visit to The Alamo and a ticket into the NCAA action are essential stops on the San Antonio tourist circuit, the city harbors a few other gems that will leave you yearning to stick around for more than a weekend. Delving into Mexican culture should be high on your list of San Antonio priorities and there’s no better spot for a literal taste of Mexico than Market Square. Browse for handicrafts, munch on a plethora of Mexican and Tex-Mex street eats and on weekends soak up a little live music as you try to decide which of the stands boasts the best frozen margarita. Don’t forget to bargain for goods and food – it’s wholly expected and if you don’t, your wallet will soon take a hit! Let the cultural safari continue at the Institute of Texan Cultures, sitting in the expansive Hemisfair Park. After learning about the almost three-dozen cultural groups that contribute to Texas’s unique and proud character, you can take in the views from the 750ft-high Tower of the Americas. Culture vultures are further indulged on the Mission Trail south of the city. Four 18th century missions make up this National Park where you can learn what life was like for mission dwellers and admire the crumbling facades (plus a few beautifully restored ones).
Back in the city lies the delightful River Walk, a San Antonio must. Built in the 1930s to aid flood control, the horseshoe-shaped canal is now a wonderful place to wander, shop, fill your camera’s memory card and of course stop off at one of the many eateries with terraces overlooking the water.
Where to stay
For a budget option with a prime location, try the Traveler’s World RV Resort (2617 Roosevelt Avenue). The superb facilities include a heated pool and spa, a children’s playground and use of the adjoining golf course. Buses stop right outside to shuttle you into town. Camp sites start from $25, while the fully-equipped cottages range from $85 to $150 per day. If you yearn to be closer to the action and want to take advantage of San Antonio’s finest asset, check into the Inn on the Riverwalk (129 Woodward Place, tel. (800) 730-0019). Sitting right on the San Antonio River but far enough from the main River Walk to maintain a tranquil air, the charming building is nestled in trees on the riverbank. All rooms have a view of the water and some also boast jacuzzis. The rates (from $120 per night) include parking and a hot breakfast. Another option where you can make the most of a major attraction is the Menger Hotel (204 Alamo Plaza, tel. (210) 223-4361), an 1859 institution that has played host to Theodore Roosevelt, Mae West and Babe Ruth, among others. The sleek and elegant rooms (from $130) are in keeping with the hotel’s history and as an extra bonus, the Menger sits just 100 yards from the Alamo.
Where to enjoy
Touristy it might be, but a Margarita crawl along the River Walk is an unrivalled way to start a San Antonio Saturday night out. You could easily spend your whole night exploring the bars and eateries along the canal, but for something a little different head for The Cove (606 W. Cypress Street, tel. (210) 227-2683), just a mile out of the center. Describing itself as a food stand, café, laundromat and even car wash, this is one quirky nightspot you won’t want to miss. The stage plays host to bluegrass, jazz and rock music daily and the inexpensive menu boasts local, sustainable dishes including grass-fed meat and organic vegetables. If you’re visiting Texas for the first time or you’re a fan of southern music, then the Cowboys DanceHall should be on your San Antonio checklist (3030 NE Loop 410, tel. (210) 646-9378). Live country and Western music plays, the mechanical bull whirrs into action and there are free dance lessons at the start of the evening for novices keen to join in the fun.
Where to eat
For Mexican pastries, well priced Tex-Mex treats and delectable margaritas, head for the 24-hour Mi Tierra Cafe Y Panadería (218 Produce Row, tel. (210) 225-1262). Cheap eats are also the order of the day at the long-standing Mary Ann’s Pig Stand (1508 Broadway, tel. (210) 222-9923 ), where nothing on the menu is over $10. Fill your face with tacos, grits or hot cakes and still have change left to enjoy a pig sandwich in the comfort of your own car – a Texas must. If you’re seeking something a little more upmarket, head for Boudro's (421 E. Commerce, tel. (210) 224-8484) on the River Walk. Here Texan cuisine gets the fine dining treatment – try the steak with chipotle bordelaise and corn pudding or the pan-seared baby lobster tail with giant gulf shrimp.
Originally published in September/October 2011