Search for shells along Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi. Remember the Alamo in San Antonio. Become mesmerized by mile after mile of cotton fields, endless open spaces, the charm of a 1920’s fillin’ station or the lilt in that young man’s voice, the one who offered to help you at HEB even though you didn’t ask.
Welcome to South Texas. Now, if you’re a liberal Democrat like this examiner, it may sound counterintuitive to plan a vacation in a red state. But Texas is so big, remember, that there are patches of everything – blue, purple, you name it. When asked in an interview how he was able to handle life in Houston — and I’m paraphrasing — the talented actor Jim Parsons, a Texas native, said he was always able to find his own crowd.
Texas may seem big, scary, gun-toting and God fearing — but it’s also quirky, full of heart, tough, resilient and tasty. The best burgers in the country are here; the tallest men in North America, perhaps; and no one will let you ladies open a door for yer-self or throw that piece of luggage onto the overhead.
Having grown up visiting a town called Alice twice a year for decades, this examiner is obviously biased. And who better than I, daughter of a Southern Baptist Texan mother and Jewish dad from the east coast, to recommend its charms?
First things first:
- Fly into San Antonio (“San Antone”, as the locals call it), but don’t spend your entire trip at the lovely Riverwalk. It’s highly recommended to see this place at Christmas, when the entire five miles that stretch along the San Antonio River is lit up in myriad colors and ways. Stay at nearby O’Brien Hotel, a charming and inexpensive B&B where you can make your breakfast waffle in the shape of the Lone Star State. Coffee and cappucinnos are free thanks to the lobby’s welcoming java-maker. The Sheraton a few blocks away, is even more spectacular, with its lavendar LED lights and long white columns in the lobby.
- Learn some Spanish. This state is quickly becoming Hispanic-dominant and just as you’d learn some French when you visit Paris, be polite here as well. Many Latino musicians and dancers line the venues at the Riverwalk and you’ll find rich history bubbling at every turn. San Antonio is only 2-1/2 hours from the border, after all.
After you’ve got your bearings:
- Head to Corpus Christi, or “Corpus” and tool around Padre Island. Don’t worry, it will be temperate even in winter. A sprawling and cosmopolitan city, Corpus boasts a beautiful natural setting as it’s bordered by the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll never feel hemmed in here, where much like LA, you’re able to “get away from it all” with just a short drive to the water. Recommended lodging includes the Residence Inn, Omni and Staybridge. Just check traveller ratings.
- Take a day trip to Alice. The oil industry has recently helped this tiny town in Jim Wells Co. rebound, after a few rough years. Come here to get a tasty What-a-burger, of course, (ask to “have it all the way”); and dine at the phenomenal genuine Mexican food establishment, El Jalisiense, at 1915 E Main Street (phone 361-661-0911). You will never look at enchiladas the same after leaving this wonderful, family-owned restaurant that is always full. By the way, this would be a great place to practice that Spanish, even though everyone there speaks English, too. After all, Alice — originally called Bandera and eventually named after the daughter of the man who owns the city’s King Ranch — was once the domain of Spaniards. There’s a neat new fro yo-cum-music venue on First Street now, just past the wedding shop.
- Head back by way of Robstown, the geographic center of Nueces County, at the intersection of U.S. HWY 77 and State HWY 44. It’s only 9 minutes from the Corpus Christi International Airport, and locals call it “the biggest little town in Texas”. It’s got a storied history related to the cotton industry.
Before heading back to L.A.:
- See the Alamo, if you never have. This would be a good plan on day two in San Antonio. For more info, click here.
- Take lots of photos out in the country. The best things to see in South Texas are the unexpected sunsets that play before that slow wooden windmill off the road, the joy of fireflies lighting your backyard barbeque, that armadillo in the road.
- Peruse the quirky roadside gas stations, rest stops, etc. Yes, there’s the ubiquitous gun store, which I wouldn’t recommend, but you’ll rejoice in the mammoth cans of beans, pecan patties, and lovely curios such as toy cowboy horses toting guns and saying, “Welcome, neigghhhhhhbor!”
To book a trip to San Antonio, click here. For more information, see: http://www.southtexastraveler.com/