Each year millions of tourists visit San Antonio’s Seaworld or Fiesta Texas theme parks and its Riverwalk without ever realizing that its uniquely charming King William Historic District is less than a mile from the Alamo.
King William is a neighborhood of elegant homes dating back to the late 1800’s, when prosperous immigrant merchants from what was to later become Germany made it their home. Much of it has been renovated in the past two decades following a long period of decline.
The District can be reached from downtown by following the Riverwalk south, but I usually opt instead for a healthy dose of neighborhood atmosphere by walking through La Villita to the intersection of Alamo and St. Mary Streets. There Rosario’s Mexican Café & Cantina sits behind an historic storefront at the hub of a collection of restaurants, bars, and galleries.
Rosario’s serves authentic Mexican (not to be confused with Tex-Mex) food in a fun atmosphere full of neon and great people-watching; San Antonio residents come here from all parts of the city.
This place has been a favorite of mine since it first opened in a location just down the street, and a meal here is a ritual part of my every visit to San Antonio.
On most Friday and Saturday nights, when there’s often live music, a waiting line spills onto the sidewalk. Fortunately, the place is cavernous and the line moves quickly.
More info at: http://www.rosariossa.com
The historic flavor of this little business district also survives at the whimsical Filling Station a block to the north.
Across the street and to the south is Tito’s Mexican Restaurant. A turn into the streets behind it ushers sidewalk strollers into to quiet neighborhood of broad streets that frame two dozen blocks packed with delightful architectural images of an even earlier time.
At the heart of King William is the community of Germans who settled Texas in large numbers beginning in the 1840’s. Their traditions of brewing, sausage-making, and music fueled a fusion of American, Mexican, and German cultures unique to Central Texas.
Within a generation of the Germans’ arrival, the ablest among them owned San Antonio’s largest flour mill, meat packing house, and breweries. Their newfound prosperity led them to create a residential compound convenient to downtown along a stretch of the San Antonio River.
While homes in parts of King William are modestly charming and their architecture distinctly Texan, they become more elegantly extravagant with each passing block.
There is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, and bed-and-breakfasts scattered about the neighborhood present a great alternative to downtown’s mega-hotels and cheesy motels.
The tower of the old Pioneer Flour Mill stands watch at the southernmost end of King William. The name of the Guenther family which owned it survives today both as the name of the District avenue that passes it, and as the name of the Guenther House restaurant which sits in the tower’s shadow.
More info at: http://www.guentherhouse.com
The King William District is part of artsy, funky Southtown, and if you’ve still got spring left in your step after walking King William you may want to wander less than a mile further south on Alamo, where the Blue Star Brewing Company serves up artisan beers right next door to the Blue Star Contemporary Arts Center.
More info at: http://www.bluestarbrewing.com
More info at: http://www.bluestarart.org
Even further south, if not walkable, is the San Antonio Missions Trail, and if you, too, were disappointed by the Alamo mission’s unassuming profile and footrpint this is where you’ll find Franciscan missions that can hold their own with the missions of Southern California.
More info here: http://www.nps.gov/saan/index.htm
If your visit is timed to include a First Friday of the month, street vendors selling art and jewelry join Southtown’s mix of galleries, art spaces, vintage stores, and live music fills the air.
Whether in daytime or nighttime, a trip to San Antonio without visiting King William is incomplete.