The Hills Are Alive in San Antonio, Texas by Perry and Brandi Montoya

It seems as though we are unpredictably predictable. Our travels usually aren’t planned more than a few months (at best) in advance and yet, once charted then conquered, our hideaways quickly become our haunts. Curious but true, without having planned it this way, a quick glance at most of the years of my blissful 20 year marriage to Brandi shows that typically, in the odd numbered years, Brandi and I take a couple’s “vacation.” However, the even numbered years have yielded more of a family-fun focus for our travels. And more often than not our couple’s jaunts leave us saying, “Oh, the kids would love this” or “If ___ (fill in a child’s name here) could only see this!” Souvenirs usually don’t cut it and we end up returning to places we love. Our visit this year to San Antonio, Texas is a prime example.

Flash back five years to the serene scene of a couple celebrating fifteen years of marriage. The setting was the romantic hill country of Texas, with San Antonio getting the lion’s share of our time. Then, much like every new find we made, flash forward to find that same jubilant couple (now with their family of three kids in tow) hoping to share some of their finds of five years ago and longing to add a few more to the list of growing family memories. Such was this summer’s “Make History With Your Family” jaunt. Perhaps you can relate to this “transitional” trip more fully if made aware that our oldest graduated high school this spring and is headed on to college to pursue her degree with a history focus. San Antonio seemed to be the perfect place to both make some of our own family history while stamping the indelible mark of American History on our children.

This time we found Austin to be a great starting point. With its Tuscany-like west side homes and businesses along the hillside, to its legendary restaurants on the outskirts (like the Mexican magnet that is Fonda San Miguel or the Meat-lovers Mecca that is The Salt Lick ) Austin provides a host of things to do for the artsy, the melomane, the business traveler and all who fall somewhere in between.
In route from Austin to San Antonio, locals say you must stop in New Braunfels and float “the” river. While I’m still not sure if that means the Guadalupe or the Comal, this was our second time on the Comal and first time with family. With the promise of one of the longest floats on the river, we put Texas Tubes in our GPS and the thought of cooling down on our minds (it was 109 degrees the day we were there!) and we arrived in time to relish every bit of a two hour check-out from cell phones, traffic, emails and the rest of the world. Trust it to Texas Tubes to outfit each floater (we ranged from adult excellent swimmers to child non-water fans.) They even pick you up and shuttle you back to your vehicle at the end of the float. You haven’t been Toobin’ until you’ve done this float!

After the perfect cool down, we were back on our way to San Antonio. Certainly, no trip to San Antone is complete without some of the “staples” of the town. The city treated us to its River Walk beauty, history, and attractions.
While at the River Walk, we suggest taking one of the river cruises It was on such a cruise years ago that Brandi and I caught a whiff of a heavenly smell coming from some unknown source. When asked, the captain’s reply was simple: Texas Land and Cattle We debarked a short while later, intending to dine at the steak, seafood and chop house yet events took us another way. That smell has lasted in my foodie memory for five years. On our “make history” trip this time, neither the smell nor its source would elude us. At first bite, I’m certain I heard Matthew McConaughey’s voice reminding me that this IS what’s for dinner. It really was that good! Our family tried the gambit of deep fried pickles, garlic mashed potatoes, shrimp, chicken (the only B+ in the meal), signature smoked sirloin and a succulent bone-in rib-eye (cooked on a 45 degree angle to allow the juices to slowly drip back into the meat while cooking) with southern pecan pie for dessert. I will be back and luckily won’t have to go all the way to the River Walk to find another location.

Our appetites in check, we headed to the Alamo and were greeted by the solemn reminder (posted on a sign just outside the door) that we must: “Be Silent Friend. Here Heroes Died To Blaze A Trail For Other Men.”

In preparation for our visit, we encouraged my 9-year old to choose San Antonio as his city of focus for his year-end project in school. Maybe it was that preparation or the spirit of place but I don’t know that words can cover the surreal feeling of watching he and his siblings put together the events of what had taken place in this haven turned grave. Certainly one of the best reminders of that history can be found in the movie Alamo – The Price of Freedom showing at the IMAX® Theatre nearby. Other less weighty and certainly newer relics or stops are nearby as well. We enjoyed such places/districts as: HemisFair Park where we watched the 4D movie on Texas, then took in the sprawling city below from the view atop Tower of the Americas, went shopping in Market Square, saw Louis Tussaud’s Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum , the Historic Art Village of La Villita, and all either within walking distance or a quick ride on the trolley that conveniently circles downtown

The start of a new day found us hungry and hopeful. We took a Food Network/Guy Fieri tip and found Robert Flemming’s Magnolia Pancake Haus You too can have a tour of their menu (click on the link above to view – but be sure to play the Cab Calloway ditty “Everybody Eats When They Come To My House” as you do for ambience). While others pondered impending millennial doom with the coming of the year 2000, Robert and Sheila Fleming were rolling out their breakfast bliss and were well on their way to culinary crescendo and climax. I can’t begin to tell you where to go on the menu; everything is top grade and mouth watering. Fleming’s prophetic, true words were that, “each item is designed to be a home run.” Our family was elated and across the Haus map including the Lemon Poppy Seed Waffle, the Eggs Benedict (complete with their home made Canadian bacon), the banana bread French toast, and the blueberry pancake. And, for this foodie the well-anticipated and since longed-for coup de grâce, their signature “Authentic Munchener Apfel Pfannekuchen” with a side of the house made Corned-Beef Hash. The Pfannekuchen is out of this world! This German, apple pancake made me want to sport lederhosen and renounce my allegiance to any other breakfast sweet I have ever tasted. Yet, it wasn’t even the last bite I would have to end my meal on (and you don’t have to be a fellow foodie to know what that means.) I saved that for the hash. I’d surface from the Pfannekuchen every few seconds to work in a comfort nibble of the best Corned-Beef Hash on the planet. Perhaps the words of regular patron David Roper whom I questioned on our way out put the experience of the Magnolia Pancake Haus best in saying that the restaurant was, “upscale” and something so good that he was, “unable to duplicate any of it at home.” Fleming’s Magnolia Pancake Haus was nearly as warm and welcoming as he is and we highly recommend you not miss a breakfast or lunch (at one of his two locations) while you are in San Antonio.

As if there might be anything left uncovered in such a great “Make History With Your Kids” stay, we capped the trip off by reserving a day for Sea World and Aquatica (their newly opened water park) More often than not, when we say we vacationed to San Antonio and went to Sea World we hear pure innocence in the question, “There is a Sea World in San Antonio?” It might be the best kept secret mid-stride of either Disney property! San Antonio truly offers a Texas-sized helping of something for everyone and Sea World is definitely not an exception; more so, perhaps it is the rule when it comes to Texas/San Antonio fun. Speaking of rules, our children know that vacation in the Montoya family brings about the reminder of a seasonal rule . . . Dad gets one “force” when taking kids to do something adventurous. Great White was the “force” this year. The coaster, which leaves you with legs dangling and hearts pumping through 360 degree turns is not to be missed. My “force” was met with weak, futile resistance and rewarded (as it always is) with the kids loving the experience so much that they were found asking to use their Quick Queue (Sea World’s “Fast Pass”) to immediately ride again. Perhaps the only downfall in the mayhem was the fact that dad was reinforced with the false belief that sometimes forcing does work in parenting.
After a blissful yet sweltering day of shows and rides (which reminds me to put in a plug for Sea World’s “splash zones” or places you WILL GET WET at shows – because, let’s face it friends, we come to Sea World to get wet!) we reserved half of the day for Aquatica Whether it was the wave pool, the side by side, “I’ll race ya down” slides, the sandy “beaches”, or the awe inspiring Sting Ray Falls slide that, after sliding down, puts you out into a lazy river that takes you under the glass-bottomed Sting Ray tank for an amazing view of the rays, Sea World seems to have thought of it all!
To bring our vacation to a close, no trip to the hill country would be complete without a lunch or dinner at the gastronome’s paradise that is Rudy’s Bar-B-Q We figured our family “history” tour needed to end with dinner where Rudy’s history had begun: in Leon Springs, Texas. This community, just north of San Antonio, was founded by Max Aue; Max’s son Rudolph (Rudy) is the namesake for this barometer for all things BBQ. Don’t let the fact that Rudy’s is attached to a gas station (a company staple) fool you. Further, don’t be duped by their slogan of, “Worst Bar-B-Q in Texas.” Rudy’s was perhaps THE reason San Antonio has been voted among the top BBQ spots in the world. My wife and I stumbled upon Rudy’s on our last trip only to be told after the fact by Texan after Texan that we needed to be sure to eat at Rudy’s while there (always good to be ratified by locals that you made the right choice.) Some of our local connections tell us they eat there twice a week – once socially with friends and once “down and dirty” by themselves. Rudy’s serves their variety of oak-smoked meats (chicken, sausage, pork loin, ribs, turkey and brisket) by the ¼ lb. or greater on a tear sheet of wax paper with a hand-full of Butter Krust Thin Sliced White Bread which is made fresh for Rudy’s daily. Another local helped us through the line five years ago and remarked “you gotta get the corn.” Rudy’s cream corn might be the sole reason that corn is grown. Perhaps this go round was, like most of our family trips are, more for watching the kids eat than anything else. Their eyes grew to saucer size as the meal came to the table. At this point I should add that, while at the banquet tables where we ate, we were flanked by a police officer, a truck driver, another family enjoying their day and a couple of “good ol’ boys” just passing the time with a bone or two and some “Sause.” Rudy’s BBQ “Sause” was THE hit for my oldest son.
Ask three BBQ lovers about their preference of sauce or no sauce with their BBQ and you will certainly get three different answers. Rudy’s seems to have the answer. All their BBQ has a deep smoke ring and is ready to go for the “no sauce” purist. Yet one would be crazy not to slather their “Sause” on whatever you are eating and soak up any extra with your remaining Butter Krust slice. What a great personal/family memory to cap off our family fun stay in the hill country of Texas.
Sure, you can do the, “We’re going to the theme park for 3-5 days whether you like it or not” vacation. You can cart the family off to a “water vacation” at the beach . . . something this amateur psammologist (sand collector) typically can’t get enough of. Or, some might favor a National Park for its beauty and history. All told, if you’ve read this far, you’ve found that San Antonio has the perfect offering and mix of all three. I think one phrase sums our trip up best. What was once intended to have been merely an anti-litter campaign for the great state has since become a rally cry for Texans and “Make History With Your Family” fans like ours . . . “Don’t Mess With Texas!”