I arrived in San Antonio one summer day before my birthday in July 2012. I still remember looking down from the plane and my husband telling me, “See that? That’s downtown.” I saw tall buildings piled up and a cool looking tower. Then flat, flat, flat – trees, more trees, scattered buildings, and I think I remember seeing Six Flags. It looked nice. Flat, but nice.
Then on the way home all I remember was driving on very big, wide streets with no traffic, yet littered with familiar signs of fast-food restaurants and gas stations. As much as I appreciated the orderly state of everything (nothing like my Guadalajara); and the feeling of wideness (again, nothing like the one-way streets I grew up in), I kept thinking to myself, “What am I going to do here?” Everything looked the same.
Back then I had a pregnant belly, a bunch of tourist magazines (compliments of the Information Booth at the San Antonio Airport), and very little else to keep me entertained. And so my discovery journey began. My husband was eager to help me dive right in to my new world since he wanted me to love the city he grew up in. So on we went. Starting with the most iconic places like the Alamo and the beautiful River Walk, all the way to the then lesser-known places like Dignowity Hill, Denman Estate, and the Blue Star Complex. I slowly began to see for myself that once I stepped out of the freeways, nothing actually looked the same.
With four months left (or so we thought) before the baby’s due date, we went out to do all the sightseeing that we wanted to. It felt like we weren’t going to have the time after the baby came. Nevertheless, our first girl arrived, and just three weeks after her birth, she, too, joined me in exploring further. Boerne, a small town with beautiful German heritage, was a wonderful surprise to see! That’s when I knew that we were never going to stop exploring our city and its surroundings.
Fast forward eight years and I now feel like I could be a tour guide of the Alamo City.
That flat city I first saw unfolded in front of my eyes. Yet out of all the places I discovered in those first couple of years, one place stood above all the rest.
Back then it looked like an abandoned industrial city. Just one or two businesses were open there. I was still captivated by the architectural beauty and the promise of “what would be” in the future. Living in Far North SA, I would drive 30 minutes just to take my baby on stroller walks along the peaceful north extension of the River Walk. I would order tacos at La Gloria, sit on their terrace to enjoy the day, and then continue to walk towards the Culinary Institute of America. There wasn’t much to do. There was no Local Coffee, few shops, no Lick ice cream, no open plaza, no Hotel Emma – there was the Blue Box bar, but I’m certain I’d get the stink eye if I took my stroller and bundle of joy in there! But I loved it. I loved it when it was empty and I love it even more now in its full glory.
Yes. The Pearl. The property that was once the home of the Pearl Brewery Company has been transformed into one of the most iconic destinations in our city. I remember when they opened the plaza with the fountain. I am not certain if they intended for it to happen, but my kids quickly decided that it was a splash pad. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one, and soon enough you could see many families with picnic blankets enjoying the new public sprawl. Now there are tables, chairs, sunshades, a food court nearby where you can sip a little bit of wine or beer during the hot Texan days. If it is cold outside, a coffee or chai latte will keep you warm while you watch your kids play. No better place for a playdate!
For fun date nights, there are plenty of options. While you try to agree with your better half on where to dine, you can discuss things first with a cocktail or two. You might end up bar-hopping around before you know it! I love the diversity of the restaurants and shops around the area. There is always something new and exciting. Between their seasonal festivals (Dia de los Muertos, Tamales festivals, Christmas lights, and summer concerts), pop-up shops, farmers market, and special events, you’ll see that boredom is a remote concept at this place.
My husband jokes that I always suggest going there. But I’ll tell you this. I don’t know if it is the sense of community that I feel, or if it reminds me a little of Mexican town squares – where you can simply just go “a dar la vuelta” or “stroll around” – but I get the feeling that I am in a unique place. A place where strangers meet and find out they are actually neighbors.
I am a “tapatía” which refers to someone who is from Guadalajara. And Guadalajara is also known as “La Perla Tapatía” meaning ‘Tapatía Pearl’. Maybe, just maybe, the reason I love The Pearl so much is because it is a place that takes me back home.
Soon we’ll meet again!