Road Trip USA: Houston, Gulf Coast and San Antonio

Visiting the two largest cities in Texas, Houston and San Antonio, might not sound like such a good idea, but they were on the route for my Road Trip USA from Memphis to Las Vegas.

San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio River Walk

The New Orleans section of our journey would take a lot of living up to, but I approached these Texan cities with an open mind – very open, because I must admit I knew very little about them.

In the event, we more or less bypassed Houston, by staying at Alvin in the southern suburbs – very convenient for the Space Centre. The Gulf Coast proved a relaxing diversion on the way to San Antonio – a city that proved to be a very pleasant surprise.

That is the great thing about this type of journey. There are famous places that you know you will enjoy visiting, but the real pleasure comes from finding interesting, exciting places that you didn’t expect. Such a place is San Antonio!

Newest Exhibit at Houston Space Centre
By the Entrance to Houston Space Centre

Highlights of Houston and San Antonio

• The Space Center Houston was not quite as impressive as the Cape Kennedy Space Center in Florida that I had visited three years before. There are not quite as many rockets in the rocket park and there isn’t the excitement now of Space Shuttle launches and landings, but it’s still well worth a day’s visit.

Viewing the Mission Control Centre and remembering Apollo 13’s “Houston, we’ve had a problem here” brought a shiver down my spine!

Mission Control Houston
Mission Control Houston

Entry for those 65+ is $27.95 – not unreasonable compared with many places we visited later on this trip.

Texas Gulf Coast. The direct route from Houston to San Antonio looked to be rather uninteresting, so we opted for the longer coastal route via Galveston.

This route follows the Gulf of Mexico for about 40 miles along an attractive string of islands, crossing the St Luis Pass toll bridge ($2 per vehicle)  halfway along. The houses along the way are all raised well above ground level to help when hurricanes strike.

Don Bright's General Store
Don Bright’s General Store

Just over the toll bridge is Don Bright’s general store. We found this a great place to stop for coffee and to learn from Don about the local area and how good it is for pig-sticking! He totally refused to accept any payment for the coffee.

• The San Antonio River Walk (also known as Paseo del Río) is promoted as a major visitor attraction. I must admit it didn’t sound that exciting to me. However, having ventured down, quite literally, to the five mile network of walkways one story below street level, I was quite mesmerised by it.

San Antonio River Taxi
San Antonio River Taxi

Up above the noisy traffic passes by on the busy streets, but along the walkways, lined with bars, shops and restaurants, life flows at a much more pleasant,  leisurely pace.

• A spur from the River Walk leads to The Alamo, where in 1836 a band of Texan fighters took on the Mexican army. Although defeated, the site is now considered a ‘Shrine to Texas Liberty’. The events were made famous in the film ‘The Alamo’ in which John Wayne played the part of Davy Crockett.

The Church at the Alamo - Crockett Hotel
The Church at the Alamo – Crockett Hotel

Displays in the two buildings remaining from that time, the Church and the Long Barrack, provide an interesting account of the history of the area and the importance of the siege of Alamo. I found the massive exhibition of ‘Firearms of the Texas Frontier’ to be rather less engrossing.

• The Tower of Americas is just a short walk from The Alamo. This 750 ft high observation tower gives great views over San Antonio. I found it interesting to try to trace the path of the San Antonio River way down below.

The tower entrance ticket (with a $1 discount for Seniors) also gives admission to a 4D theatre with a film about Texas, complete with a moving seat and various extra effects!


Tower of Americas, San Antonio
Tower of Americas, San Antonio

There are several Holiday Inn Expresses in the Houston area, many with very similar addresses, hence my excuse for arriving initially at the wrong one! When eventually we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express Alvin, we found a relatively new hotel with spacious suites and great complimentary breakfast.

We stayed at the Staybridge Suites NW Medical Center, just 20 minutes drive from downtown San Antonio. All was of an excellent standard, with complimentary evening receptions providing tasty Mexican food along with beer and wine.

Both hotels were booked with IHG Senior Discount rates, giving the flexibility to change the bookings at short notice.

Road Trip USA articles:

1. Memphis to Las Vegas via Houston – Planning This includes a route map.
2. Memphis the Rock & Roll City
3. New Orleans and Mardi Gras
4. Houston, Gulf Coast and San Antonio
5. Across Texas to El Paso and Tucson
6. Sedona, Petrified Forest, Canyon de Chelley
7. Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon
8. The Final Fling – Route 66 to Las Vegas

Posted 23rd February 2015 by Steve Hanson