Our 2007 summer family vacation was to New Braunfels, San Antonio, and Houston, TX. Here are the highlights.
I-35 northbound was amazingly backlogged between Austin and Dallas. We found three places where wrecks shut down one or both lanes, resulting in miles of backups. I had never seen anything like that before. Fortunately, we were headed southbound.
This was a typical backup:
Those vehicles in the northbound lanes were almost parked.
Rumors of heavy truck traffic were exaggerated. Sure, there were plenty of trucks, but cars hugely outnumbered trucks. If this trip showed typical conditions, the problem with I-35 is just too much overall traffic.
Southbound wasn’t too bad, although we could rarely sustain speeds over 75 mph.
County Line Barbecue
We went to County Line Barbecue on Bee Cave Road in Austin the first night. Great place, great view. Food is good, albeit a little pricey. We enjoyed it so much we also ate at the San Antonio River Walk location a few nights later. We would have purchased dessert if they had any cobbler besides apple cobbler!
1909 Gruene Road Bridge
By total coincidence, we crossed over this historic bridge over the Guadalupe River the very day TxDOT finally decided to replace it.
There’s nothing terribly exciting about it. The day we were there, water was coming down both slopes to the bridge. I didn’t understand why unless there are natural springs emptying out on the road or water was being pumped out and let back down?
Gristmill Restaurant, Gruene, TX
The Gristmill Restaurant in Gruene is all outdoors and a neat stop. Good food, nice change of pace. The adjacent Gruene community is a tourist trap, though.
Schlitterbahn was about as I remembered it from church youth group trips, albeit with a third park: Blastenhoff. The only disappointment was that our 3½ year old Alec could do almost no rides due to height and swimmer capability restrictions, so that $100 of entrance fees didn’t go very far. It would have made more sense with a large group, where some could watch the kids while others have fun.
My only real complaint about Schlitterbahn is the lengthy expanses of concrete. They tear up bare feet. The only real alternative are sandals or water socks, either of which rub feet raw after enough hours of water fun.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge Caverns is a privately-owned cave park. It’s named after this natural bridge that’s over the main cave entrance:
The caverns were phenomenal. We did both the Jaremy Room and the normal cavern tour.
The Jaremy Room was full of spectacular soda straw formations:
The North Cavern had equally spectacular sights. Recent heavy rains caused the Edwards Aquifer to rise unusually high, flooding low parts of the cavern. This is a submerged bench where you could have gone down many more feet to see a special room:
We saw a few bats:
The last part of the North Cavern tour was the most spectacular. Below are four long exposure shots I took of its largest room:
The tour guide said you could fit a whole football field in this room. I believe it.
To be clear, even though it’s privately owned, Natural Bridge Caverns is not a tourist trap. It’s well worth the expense.
San Antonio River Walk
The night after the cave tour, and two additional nights later on, we did the San Antonio River Walk.
I think San Antonio did a great job at capitalizing on this natural resource. It’s a nice, pleasant walk, and it gives easy access from many hotels to good local attractions.
This is a scene looking north from a Häagen-Daaz that stunk of an open sewer:
Here’s the River Walk closer to our hotel, which is south of the main part. Looking south from Woodward St.:
The waterfall/lock/dam, just about 1000 feet north of the hotel:
Walk a little further north, cross the street, descend again, and look under a bridge, and you see this:
Every day, they parked this city truck with the rear wheels in the water! They better hope the ramp isn’t slick!
Walk a little further north, and you see the corner to turn to get to the main part:
Take a corner to the right, and the lush part begins:
Towards the southeast corner of the Walk is a theater:
The seats, on the other bank, are grass:
This is one of several rosary bridges visible from the River Walk:
Casa Rio Restaurant
Casa Rio has an entrance from street level, and it has a lot of tables on the River Walk:
This is where we ate our first night. I heartily recommend this place. The prices were surprisingly inexpensive, the service and food were great, and the river view is nice.
Rio Rio Restaurant
We ate there our last night, and regretted it. Rio Rio sucks.
Don’t bother. Crap service, food wasn’t any better than the much less expensive Casa Rio Restaurant. It took so long just to get our food ordered that we almost just got up and left like at least two other tables that night.
Inn on the Riverwalk
Fair value. See my detail post on this place.
We really enjoyed Sea World. Alec’s inability to do most rides didn’t detract from the overall experience. There was plenty to do despite that. It was also nice that all restaurants didn’t use any trans fat-laden oils.
Obligatory picture of Shamu (mmm, tasty fish):
We didn’t sit close enough to be splashed. Alec’s cousin got freaked out by being splashed when he was 3, so we didn’t want to risk it.
A tasty fish breaching the water at a different show:
Alec feeding a tasty fish to a tasty dolphin:
($5 for 4 little fishies!)
Halfway through the day, we got Alec measured to see which rides he can do:
Alec loved the Shamu roller coaster:
That and a teacup/ferris wheel ride were all he could do. Mommy and Daddy had enough after 8 hours at the park, so Alec “only” got to ride Shamu about 7 times.
Looking back, we would have done a few things differently:
- Stayed at a nearby hotel at least the night before and the night after. Sea World takes all day and then some. There’s no point in staying downtown if you’re doing Sea World one day.
- Take a nap during the middle of the day. Alec still needs a roughly 2 hour nap. He skipped his nap that day. While he was tolerable, it sure would have been nicer if we could have left during the middle of the day for a nap.
- Get the bonus 2 day pass. We purchased tickets in advance, and we thought we saw an offer for 2 days for the price of 1 day. Had we stayed at a nearby hotel, we should have pursued this. We didn’t even get to touch the water park. We probably would have done that instead of Schlitterbahn had we realized how little we could do there.
We did Sea World the day after Natural Bridge Caverns. The cavern had a ton of steps, so Alec’s legs were sore when we started Sea World. Being a very mean Daddy, I made Alec walk anyway because I knew that they wouldn’t hurt once he really started walking. (I was right.) He retorted that his legs “are gonna break off.”
San Antonio Zoo
The San Antonio Zoo was acceptable. It doesn’t deserve acclaim, and it wasn’t particularly unique.
Alec enjoyed brushing a goat in the petting zoo section:
We enjoyed a train ride through Brackenridge Park afterwards.
Our enjoyment of the zoo and the park were tempered by sparse water fountains and oppressive heat.
I couldn’t find the basement!
Alec in front of the Alamo:
The Alamo was originally the first of several missions that are in…
San Antonio Missions National Historic Park
…the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. This “park” is really a set of 4 defunct missions on the south side of town. They are interesting historical artifacts and continue to have functioning Catholic parishes. They suggest what the Alamo compound was like in its mission days.
These missions weren’t intended to exist as missions indefinitely. The plan was apparently that once the population was sufficiently Christianized, the mission reverted to civil authority.
The missions seem to be in declining states of repair or prominence the further south they are from downtown.
Texas Transportation Museum
San Antonio’s Texas Transportation Museum is neat but run down. It’s a volunteer operation.
The staff were unexcited to have visitors, treating us as if opening up to the public is something they had to do, not something they wanted to do.
Central Texas Museum of Automotive History
Awesome. See my detail post.
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center was a complete waste of time unless you like walking through mosquito-infested undisturbed forest filled with non-notable flora. It was free, and I still felt ripped off.
Museum of Printing History
Houston’s Museum of Printing History was nice. Give yourself an hour just to read the stuff, longer if you want to take part in the exhibits.