Friday, July 19, 2024

Visit San Antonio, Texas for Pride

Visit San Antonio during Pride for a rainbow season flavored with the rich history and heritage of this unique city in south-central Texas.

San Antonio, Texas might seem like an unusual destination for Pride. Still, you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised by the welcoming, nonjudgmental people, the vibrant art scene, the innovative cuisine, and the pleasant energy and abundant green spaces afforded by the 240-mile namesake river that snakes its way through the city. Indeed, the River Walk is a charming landmark tourist attraction and the place to wander upon your arrival in River City. It’s also the place to take advantage of the shade, the sunlight, and a cool afternoon breeze before deciding on dinner plans. Beyond following the river, getting around town is easy—a combination of walking and Uber.

Where to stay

Centrally located and with a soaring atrium that lends the property an airy grandeur, the Hotel Contessa on 306 W Market St is a convenient and pleasing establishment situated right on the River Walk and an easy stroll to many attractions, including the Alamo and La Villita. The decor is modern with a Spanish influence, and the staff is amiable, attentive, and gay-friendly. During our visit, we were treated to Pride activities at the Ambler, which has an expansive bar and live mariachis every Friday.  

Things to see and do

CityPass is a great way to see the main sights without the hassle of booking tickets or paying cash. Download the app and save 35% on combined admission to four of the top San Antonio attractions, such as the world-famous Alamo. Based on more than 82,000 customer reviews, CityPASS® tickets have an average rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 and cost $57 for adults. Purchase at

To get your bearings, visit HemisFair Park’s 750-ft Tower of the Americas, which overlooks the city. You’ll soon see how expansive and green San Antonio is and catch up on a little bit of history. And a river cruise is a must — it’s a gentle entree into the city and some of its historic buildings. Go Rio River Cruises are your guys and offer fun and friendly commentary.

Of course, you must visit The Alamo, an 18th-century Spanish mission church and precinct now preserved as a living museum, which marks the infamous 1836 battle for Texan independence from Mexico. This is a picturesque and haunting experience, and for many, a patriotic one. For me, the takeaway was a message of independence and heroic self-sacrifice—something Texans and LGBTQ+ people know something about. It was wonderful, also, to learn of the role played by women in establishing a legacy from a battle that was brutally lost, but not without purpose.

To get the real flavor of where you are culturally (and to load up on souvenirs) step back in time at La Villita Historic Arts Village to enjoy offerings from local arts and crafts vendors. La Villita (little village) was the first village for Spanish soldiers when Mission San Antonio de Valero was created in 1718. The settlement was rebuilt after the 1819 flood and by the late 19th century, migrants from Germany and France had moved to the area. Today you might meet some of the descendants still operating businesses there. Also serving the flavor of the past is Historic Market Square, a marketplace for produce and other foods, including chili made and served by women known as “Chili Queens” in the 1820s. Today, it is the largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico. 

San Antonio Botanical Garden is a horticulturalist’s dream—and gives you a little taste of Texas Hill Country. Don’t skip this one just because you think all botanical gardens focus on roses. This oasis is uniquely Texan and is a lovely way to feel among nature without leaving the city. Plus, they have activities for adults, such as LUSH: Margarita Madness…which is exactly how it sounds!

Blue Star Art Complex is a mixed-use art zone situated on the San Antonio River in the upscale neighborhood known as Southtown. Here, you can peruse contemporary fine art and Mexican folk art and reward yourself with a local brew. Or you can arrive for a late breakfast and be ready for when the galleries open at 10 a.m.

Pride now and always

I was lucky enough to be there on June 1 to kick off Pride Month in San Antonio with their 3rd Annual Pride River Parades & Celebrations. This year, the Pride River Parade had more than 17 colorful river barges packed with LGBTQ people, performers, and allies. Throngs of locals and tourists turned along the river to enjoy all the vibrancy and glitter of LGBTQ Pride.

Pride River Parade | Visit San Antonio

I was surprised to learn San Antonio is home to the country’s largest LGBTQ night parade and I was delighted to see the River Walk’s majestic trees had all been lit up in rainbow colors. The community seems happy to acknowledge that their Pride Bigger Than Texas Festival & Night Parade is to become a beloved annual fixture in the calendar of a naturally vibrant town. Pride Bigger Than Texas is San Antonio’s official Pride celebration, complete with a full day of festival and parade fun, but festivities and events will continue all month long.

The official Pride Festival is on Saturday, June 29,11am – 7pm at Crockett Park. Known shorthand as the PBTT Festival the outdoor celebration includes food and drink vendors, LGBTQ and ally vendor booths, music, and entertainment. This year’s main stage headliners include Liz Garcia, Cuban Diva, and Trinere. And of course, the Parade starts at 9pm.

Other events this year include an after-hours splash party in Six Flags Fiesta Texas’s Water Park at the Lone Star Lagoon on June 15 and 22, featuring live music, dance areas, specialty food and drinks, select water attractions, and more. Out at the Tobin Pride Brunch on June 23 is an all-star drag brunch hosted by Kristi Waters with food prepared by The Tobin’s Executive Chef, Armando Lopez. The day’s performances include special guest Ra’Ja O’Hara from RuPaul’s Drag Race, Mehgan Iman Dlux, and Reign La Rue.  

Where the gays are all year round

The Strip on Main is San Antonio’s central hub of gay bars and clubs. These bars feature drink specials, events, and live entertainment throughout Pride Month. Here are some spots to visit on your LGBTQ+ bar crawl: Pegasus, Sparky’s Pub, Knockout, Heat, and Let’s Be Honest. And Hopscotch is an immersive art installation featuring a craft cocktail bar. It’s the perfect spot to grab a drink and take a selfie.

We noticed lots of queer girls and allies at Paramour, which hosts an outrageous Drag Brunch where you can enjoy a light buffet, a good range of Champagne and cocktails in queenly surroundings, and the bitchy banter and performance you’d expect from the town’s premier drag queens. Our hostess that morning was the incomparable Lyn-z Andrews — and friends, and the dollar bills were literally flying.

Where to eat

For breakfast or brunch to fuel you all day—and if you want breakfast or brunch at any time of day—Box Street All Day is the place. The menu has every kind of breakfast staple you could wish for but with a Texan-Mexican twist, and the cocktails are delicious. The grapefruit mimosa is dry, refreshing, and definitely moreish.

Burgerteca is an easy walk from Blue Star Art Complex. There, you will enjoy a casual ambiance, a wide range of Mexican-inspired craft cocktails, and burgers with a Tex-Mex and indigenous twist. My bartender crafted me a refreshing Paloma and served it in an authentic earthenware cup, the perfect choice on a hot day.

Tex-Mex is terrific, but if you’re a healthy eater and interested in innovative food trends, you’ll want a dinner reservation at Pharm Table, San Antonio’s signature, nationally recognized plant-forward restaurant. Helmed by Chef Elizabeth Johnson and supported by adventurous and talented chefs as well as charming and dedicated waitstaff, Pharm Table believes that food and wine should heal you, and that you can eat your way to good health. Chef Johnson earlier this year collaborated with the James Beard Foundation on a culinary event and at the time said, “Our philosophy at Pharm Table is centered around the concept that food can be both healing and delicious; and we can simultaneously take care of our planet through sourcing locally and creating little waste.”

Chef Johnson largely focuses on dishes free of dairy, refined sugar, wheat, and processed foods but also offers diners a selection of sustainably raised meats and fish to accompany the dishes. The dishes are designed according to Ayurvedic principles and combine different cuisines—from Indian to Mexican—with carefully selected wines and inventive vitality-boosting cocktails, some zero-proof. The atmosphere and the menu itself are very creative. One of only two U.S. cities designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, Pharm Table is at the forefront of this movement locally. I will never forget the delicious, totally vegan Masala Corn Chaat — an appetizer that I could’ve eaten as a meal.

On the opposite end of the foodie spectrum, Smoke BBQ on the River Walk is a meat-centric experience (the brisket and the beans were the standouts). Relax with a beer and a platter of specialties and enjoy the people-watching.

For an excellent LGBTQ+ dining choice, dinner at Ocho at the Hotel Havana offers a date-worthy pan-Latin dining experience, combining the best of Texas flavors with Cuban and Mexican tradition. Situated in a glass conservatory overlooking the River Walk, Ocho is helmed by Executive Chef Jesse Kuykendall (Chef Kirk) who hails from Laredo, South Texas. You might have seen them on Chopped (where they won). Now transitioning, Chef Kirk learned about authentic Mexican cuisine from their mother, then pursued professional training at San Antonio’s Culinary Institute of America and Oaxaca’s Season of My Heart Culinary School. Everything is good and very flavorful at Ocho, but the spicy mussels are outstanding, as is the service! And whatever you do, plan to have a nightcap downstairs in the speakeasy-style Havana Bar.

Chef Kirk is also behind Milpa Food Truck which serves Mexican street foods.

It seems fitting to cap off an excellent trip with a highlight in name and nature: the Pearl. This historic glassmaking and beer-brewing precinct has been renovated and reimagined to provide a contemporary lifestyle experience for tourists and locals alike. Here, you can sample the best of what today’s San Antonio has to offer, from shopping for fresh produce at Pullman Market, to homewares and keepsakes (my favorite is Rancho Diaz) or enjoying activities like outdoor yoga or a pop-up marketplace.

It’s a great place to shop for fresh market produce or sample some local beer. There is so much to explore here for the foodie and you’ll find it, whether you are in the mood for ice cream at Lick, fried chicken or pizza (fabulous wood-fired pizza at Fire & Farro)! The Pearl is my pick for lunch on your last day visiting San Antonio — it will leave you with a taste of the local charm and heritage that will bring you back to the River City.

To plan your itinerary, go here.

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Merryn Johns

Merryn Johns is the Editor-in-Chief of Queer Forty. She is an award-winning journalist, as well as a broadcaster and public speaker. Originally from Sydney, Australia where she began her career in journalism in the 1990s, she is based in New York City where she became the editor-in-chief of Curve Magazine and wrote for a variety of publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Slate, and more. Follow on Twitter at @Merryn1

Merryn Johns has 141 posts and counting. See all posts by Merryn Johns

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