Few U.S. cities embrace their diversity like San Antonio, Texas. At the intersection of American, Texan and Mexican culture, the seventh-largest city in the United States knows how to celebrate traditions while making everyone feel welcome. (Can we all please take a cue from San Antonio!?)
This season, though tricky Halloween festivities still abound, it is the Mexican holiday of Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) that treats visitors most in San Antonio.
The traditional Mexican holiday, dating to pre-Columbian time, professes that during November 1, the distance between living and dead is at its closest point, creating the perfect opportunity to honor our dearly departed loved ones.
Considered the largest Día de los Muertos celebration in the United States, San Antonio builds traditional altars, throws parades and delivers delicious Mexican food offerings that remind you it’s tastier on this side of the divide.
Spend a day exploring San Antonio’s Mexican heritage, dating back to 1821 when the area officially belonged to our southern neighbor. Less than three hours from the border, the city continues to be a cultural gateway between the two countries.
Rent a car for the day to facilitate exploring outside the city center, then make a pit stop for a Tex-Mex breakfast of chorizo and egg tacos at Tito’s Restaurant. Next, let the music move you–regardless of your religious beliefs–when the traditional mass incorporates the music of a Mexican mariachi choir at the historic 18th century Mission San José (Sundays at 12:30 p.m.). Afterward, make your way to Charro Ranch for a Charreada (usually once monthly at 3 p.m.), a Mexican rodeo featuring rope tricks, music, dance, and impressive synchronized horseback choreography by sidesaddle-riding women in traditional dress.
Head back downtown to peruse the shops of Market Square, the largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico, for authentic souvenirs ranging from artisanal pottery and brightly-painted dolls to kitschy “lucha libre” masks and bedazzled sombreros. Steps away, feast on heaping plates of chicken enchiladas in móle sauce at the 24-hour Mi Tierra Café and Panaderia. Family-owned since 1941, Mi Tierra serves classic Mexican dishes with a wide selection of tequilas and margaritas. Finish your meal with a cinnamon-laced Mexican hot chocolate and the signature pan dulce (sweetbread) while listening to the sweet serenade of trovadorers. Stick around at the bar to tackle a jumbo margarita or two, then cab it over to Alamo Street Eat Bar, the city’s gourmet food truck park, serving beers and mobile eats till 2 am on Fridays and Saturday nights.
This Veteran’s Day celebrate some down-home fun with vets and civilians alike on the lawn of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post 76. Originally organized by veterans of the Spanish American War, the oldest post in Texas invites all of San Antonio to celebrate with outdoor parties and free live concerts (usually Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm) overlooking the San Antonio River Walk.
Sip on cold, cheap beers ($2.50 for non members) and join the honky-tonk dancing locals, jamming to a rotating roster of bands, under the bright, Texan stars.
To plan a weekend escape in San Antonio, check out my article published in New York Magazine.