When I was a kid growing up in San Antonio, the Pearl Brewery was still brewing beer. In fact, it did so up until closing in 2001. Having opened in 1881, I’d say it had a pretty good run as a brewery. It was always a San Antonio landmark, with it’s beautiful main building and tall smokestack.
Today, a whole new scene is happening at Pearl (as it’s now called), and there’s a lot for families to do any day of the week, but for this daytrip, plan to go on a Saturday. (Check the websites for updated times/dates.) Although the anchor tenants at Pearl are the Culinary Institute of America and the Aveda Institute, both are working schools and are mostly on hiatus during the summer, so this tour doesn’t include much about them (except the CIA Baker and Cafe; see below).
Bring a cooler with ice packs in the car, not only for cool drinks for the drive, but also because you may end up with comestible goodies to haul back to Austin. On the way down, tell the kids that you’re going on an X hunt. Throughout the incredible architecture of the new Pearl complex, you’ll find the iconic triple X image (xXx) that has appeared on Pearl Beer logos throughout its history (learn more about the triple X, which was actually a European beer rating system, here). Some are easier to find than others, so kids of all ages will enjoy this game.
If you leave Austin around 8:00 a.m., you can make it to Pearl in time to browse the farmers market in the cool morning for some breakfast snacks and those goodies to stash in the cooler (dinner’s done!). Pearl Farmers Market’s summer hours are 8:00-noon. (There is some parking in front of the stores and restaurants, but garage has free, easily accessible and shaded parking all the time.)
At 10:30, take the kids to a Twiglet party. What’s that, you ask? Well, San Antonio’s best bookstore, The Twig Bookshop, has a once-a-month party for kids (Twiglets), run by Miss Anastasia (if you’ve been around Austin with kids long enough, you may remember her from Toad Hall). The next parties are 8/4 (End of Summer Concert) and 9/8 (Turn Off the TV Party). Even if you go on a weekend without a party, you’re going to love browsing the aisles at this store, which has cozy places for kids and adults to sit and try out a few books before buying.
After the party, head over to La Gloria for lunch. This hip, colorful restaurant is owned by Chef Johnny Hernandez, who has lovingly developed an amazing menu of street foods from all over Mexico. Tacos, tlayudas (Mexican pizza), tortas, quesadillas, panuchos (filled corn tortillas), tostadas, ceviches … all of it is oh so good. They make their agua frescas fresh daily, and the flavors change seasonally (for summertime, they have lemonade, watermelon and horchata).
While Chef Hernandez has made a fantastic children’s menu (Salchicha, anyone? That’s a Mexican hot dog wrapped in bacon.), I would opt for sharing several things around the table because the menu is more like a tasting menu – for instance, a taco plate comes with three small tacos (mmm, the Pescado Baja Califas – battered fish tacos – yum!). Be sure and get a ceviche for the grownups. They’re really exquisite, especially the Camarones Agua Chile (shrimp in fire water). Kids will also like the ooey-gooey cheese in their version of queso flameado. Chef Hernandez travels to Mexico monthly for inspiration, so look for specials that reflect his newest trip.
If the weather’s mild, sit outside on the patio and let the kids run around in the ample green space after lunch. They’ll be enchanted by the various artworks dotting the lawn. Call them back for some Tres Leches cake (big enough to share and lightly flavored with orange zest), then get ready to walk it off on the Riverwalk.
At the Riverwalk, you have some decisions to make. If you’ve got really little ones, a peaceful ride in the stroller may work for naptime. If they’re a little bigger and having them run around next to an unfenced body of water is going to give you palpitations, opt for staying around the green space near the river (the amphitheatre would be a great place for it). If they’re big enough to enjoy a walk with lots of interesting stuff to see, head towards downtown.
Just below La Gloria, there’s a place to cross the river, but either side is fine to start out on because you can cross the river and make a loop coming back. (And even though a sign there says you can get to the zoo and Witte Museum from there, I don’t recommend that walk for kids, although I highly recommend the Witte Museum and its HEB Science Treehouse for kids of all ages – but that’s for another day!)
You’ll also see a Rio Taxi (river barge) stop on the other side of the river. The barges pick up every half hour, and for $10 per person (cash only), you can ride it as far as Lexington Avenue, which is not all the way into the tourist part of downtown, but still has plenty to see. (For $15, you get the whole Riverwalk, but again, that’s for another day!) I prefer the walk.
As you head south toward downtown, there are beautiful flowers (even in summer), sometimes ducks (got any leftover tortillas?), and barges coming by from time to time (wave!). As you get near Newell St., you’ll see some fantastic metal work framing the bridge, and just past it, some whimsical grottos done by Carlos Cortez, the San Antonio artist famous for his “faux bois” creations in concrete, which can be found around the city. Just past the next bridge (Camden St.), you’ll spot some fish, but don’t look down to the water for them, look up! This art installment by Donald Lipski is lit up at night, but is still impressive during the day. Kids will love seeing the school of sunfish sailing through the air.
Just beyond the fish, you’ll spy the San Antonio Museum of Art. Once again, probably for another time if you’re just down for a daytrip, but worth the trip. At the museum, there’s a pedestrian bridge that’ll take you to the opposite side of the river, where you can loop back to the Pearl complex. The walk takes about 20 minutes at a leisurely pace, but with kids who want to stop to check everything out, it may take a little more. Bring water if it’s summer.
When you get back to Pearl, head into the air conditioning. Adelante Boutique is just lovely, and they’ve made a special place for kids to sit and play while Mom browses the gorgeous clothes and accessories. It may not last long, but time enough to look at the bags and jewelry!
Across the way is a store called Melissa Guerra, which on the surface is a culinary store, but has so much more (including ice-cold “Mexican cokes” – real sugar sodas in glass bottles). You’ll have to keep a tight rein on little ones because of so many temptations within their reach, but it’s such a colorful and fun store that I wouldn’t miss it. Let’s face it, you can’t take kids across the border anymore with the carefree ease that you could when I was a kid, so this is a great place to show them some imported delights and maybe let them pick out a “souvenir” to take home. I loved the tiny cazuelas (dishes), and at 95 cents apiece, they’re a perfect takeaway for 5 and overs.
Are the kids getting hungry again? Then walk over to the CIA Bakery and Café. Kids will love seeing the colorful knitted covering on an old pipeline (done by the Yarn Dogz, a guy group of “yarn bombers”), and the café offers a mouthwatering selection of baked goods, light fare, coffee and cold drinks. Ahhh, put your feet up for a few minutes and stare into the fascinating light fixture made entirely of wooden spoons. If the CIA is in session, you might get to point out some of the students in their chef whites to your kids. While the school doesn’t currently have a tour appropriate for kids, there’s a big window in the café that overlooks a teaching kitchen. If there’s a class going on, you might get to watch it in action.
If you have a little energy left, walk over to the stable, a giant round building. You won’t be able to go inside (it’s a wedding/event venue these days), but can admire its architecture and history as the place where Pearl’s delivery horses were housed, which in the 1950s also had a replica of Judge Roy Bean’s Jersey Lily in it, tied to an ad campaign from the early 1900s based on the rumor that Pearl was the only beer served at the real Jersey Lilly. Around the other side of the stable is an old but refurbished train engine (Engine #2 from the Texas Transportation Company). Kids will love checking it out all over. (Note that with current construction, it may be fenced off, but not for much longer).
You could also visit a new shop just outside the Pearl complex called Roo & Me, just behind Il Sognio, which is directly across the parking lot from the café. ( Try to spot some more triple Xs along the way.) Roo & Me’s owner, Tessa Guerra, sells her own line of clothes (called “Dolls & Guns”) as well as other trendy kids stuff, like Zipz shoes and La Miniatura, the kids clothing line from season three Project Runway winner Jeffrey Sebelia.
When you’re all worn out, head back to the car in the shaded garage. Load up and strap in, then spend the trip back talking about what you want to explore next time you come to San Antonio. Is it more of the Riverwalk, especially on a barge? History at the Alamo? A fun day at the Witte? Or another day at Pearl to see what’s new, try more food, and hunt down a few more Xs.
La Gloria provided LiveMom with a small tasting lunch. No other compensation was received for this review. All opinions are my own.
Written by: Shannon Oelrich
Photos by: Shannon Oelrich, except for those in the collage that includes Chef Hernandez, which are by Jon Alonzo.