From a seventh-floor hotel balcony in downtown San Antonio, the holiday lights on the River Walk sparkle like someone shot a cannon full of glowing confetti sky-high.
I soak in the twinkling view a few more minutes, then button my jacket and head downstairs to join the festive crowd.
I love San Antonio at Christmastime. I try to visit sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, so I can wander the holiday-lit cypress-lined path along the river, pick up a white paper box full of pastries at Mi Tierra and eat a plate full of Mexican food at one of several favorite eateries in the nearby King William district.
This year I zipped down the last weekend in November, staying in the posh Mokara Hotel and Spa directly across the River Walk from La Mansion del Rio. (Need a massage? They do that. Need a “bath butler” to draw a hot bubble bath? They do that, too.)
But the best surprise of this year’s trip? I discovered a new museum — the Briscoe Western Art Museum at 210 W. Market St., where I lost myself in paintings and sculpture of the Old West, ogled a replica of a Wells Fargo stagecoach, perused a collection of spurs and saddles and inspected a diorama of the Alamo. The museum itself is housed in San Antonio’s 1930s-era central library, and it’s a fully restored beauty.
Even better, the museum is hosting an exhibit of photographs by Ansel Adams through Dec. 15 that’s worth the hour-and-a-half trip from Austin right there. “Ansel Adams: Distance and Detail, Photographs from the Bank of America Collection” features landscapes and more taken between 1931 and 1976.
I loved this bit of information from a placard at the exhibit: “(Adams) was oft quoted as saying the negative was the score and the print was the performance. By that, Adams meant that his photographs were not really accurate depictions of reality because of his work in the darkroom.”
All the regular River Walk holiday attractions are worth the trip, too, of course, from the carolers who will glide along the river aboard boats every evening through Dec. 18 to the glowing luminarias lining the walkways at dusk Dec. 16-18.
Or time your visit to coincide with La Tamalada at the Witte Museum, 3801 Broadway St. On Dec. 10, the museum will host a tamale-making workshop. Participants will make a half-dozen bean tamales, which they get to take home with them. Cost is $25; make reservations by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 210-357-1910.
The historic Guadalupe Theater, 1301 Guadalupe St., will host an unrelated event called La Gran Tamalada, also on Dec. 10. Members of the Cortez family, which operates the famous Mi Tierra restaurant, will lead a free community tamale-making lesson, complete with storytelling.
Also on my hit list? Dinner at Rosario’s (try the shrimp in jicama packets as an appetizer), a stroll to the Alamo (just avert your eyes from all the junk across the street, including the Guinness World Records and Ripley’s Believe It or Not museums) to take in the mission and the holiday tree at its doorstep and brunch at Tito’s Cafe before climbing in the car and returning to Austin.