Day Trips

The historic hotels of San Antonio.

The Menger Hotel
The Menger Hotel (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The historic hotels of San Antonio offer a combination of romantic luxury with a unique style reminiscent of the glory days of oil and cattle. Whether you're visiting the ornate lobbies or spending the night, these old hotels have not lost their grandeur.

Although many of the famous hotels in downtown San Antonio have been taken over by large hospitality companies, the allure of these guest houses has not been tarnished. To the contrary, several of the hotels probably would have fallen victim to the wrecking ball without the infusion of renovation money. The rooms tend to be smaller than at modern inns, but the service and ambience is often worth the extra cost. Room rates quoted here are for comparison only; most offer a wide range of discounts if you ask.

The Menger Hotel has more history behind it than some cities. William Menger, an Irish brewer, built the first two floors of the hotel in 1859, making this the oldest hostelry in America still in its original form. Over the years the building has been added to until it encompassed a full city block across the street from the Alamo.

Presidents from Ulysses S. Grant to Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon have stayed here, as have famous writers and film stars. Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders in the Menger Bar and stayed here while he trained his troops at nearby Fort Sam Houston. Modern-day patrons have said they have seen his ghost return to the dark little barroom off the main lobby. A former San Antonio resident, O. Henry included the hotel in several of his short stories.

Despite all of the stories, the hotel maintains a simple charm that belies the world-class service. Although it has been remodeled several times, the lobby still displays the Western ambience that made it famous.

At 204 Alamo Plaza at Crockett Street, the hotel offers covered valet parking. Rates run $132 to $546 per night. 210/223-4361 or 800/345-9285.

The Fairmont Hotel has been one of San Antonio's upscale hotels since it was built in 1906. The red brick building gained a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records when it was moved six blocks to its present location across the street from HemisFair Plaza in 1985.

The result is a modern, small luxury hotel that offers outstanding comforts in a casually elegant environment. Guests are pampered with extra amenities that make this a favorite with honeymooners and international travelers. The hotel's Polo's Restaurant has a reputation as one of the city's finest dining spots.

At 401 S. Alamo St., the hotel only has 20 guest rooms and 17 suites. Rates run $145 to $475 per night. 800/642-3363 or 210/224-8800.

The Holiday Inn Crockett Hotel is rather plain from the outside, but don't let the 1909 facade fool you. Inside is a cheery atrium that also serves as a courtyard cafe. The 202 rooms in the hotel are modern and spacious. Directly behind the Alamo and across the street from the Menger, it is in walking distance of the Riverwalk, the convention center, and the Alamodome.

At 320 Bonham, the Crockett Hotel has a landscaped pool and a rooftop hot tub and sundeck. Rates run $80 to $150 per night. 800/292-1050 or 210/225-6500.

The Sheraton Gunter Hotel opened in 1909 and was the largest building in San Antonio at the time. This is one of the most magnificent old hotels in downtown San Antonio and still has the feel of a cattle baron's lair. It was designed by the same firm that did the Hotel Adolphus in Dallas and the Galvez in Galveston.

Across the street from the Majestic Theater, the hotel has attracted its share of visitors from Hollywood, including Mae West. Cowboy film star Tom Mix had his picture taken registering from horseback. John Wayne stayed here while filming The Alamo. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman stayed in the presidential suite.

The 320 renovated rooms offer all the modern conveniences. At 205 E. Houston, the hotel has a heated pool, hot tub, and sundeck on the roof. The hotel has a couple of excellent restaurants, but the Gunter Bakery is a favorite of residents and visitors alike. Room rates range from $189 to $700 for the Presidential Suite. 800/222-4276 or 210/227-3241.

The St. Anthony Hotel stands one block north of the Gunter near a section of the Riverwalk that is less crowded than portions closer to the Alamo. Built in 1909, the lobby is reminiscent of the European luxury hotels. Now part of the Wyndham chain of hotels, it has been consistently rated four diamonds for its outstanding service and amenities. Overlooking Travis Park, the hotel has been a home away from home for presidents and celebrities.

At 300 E. Travis, a recent renovation has only enhanced the old-world persona. Rates range from $129 to $529 per night. 210/227-4392 or

The Ramada Emily Morgan Hotel did not start as a hotel, but rather as a medical arts skyscraper in 1924. It was remodeled by the Ramada Company in 1984, to resemble a historic hotel. Named for the mulatto slave who distracted Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto and inspired the song "The Yellow Rose of Texas," the hotel offers modern conveniences and reasonable prices. The swimming pool and health club are favorites among visitors.

The hotel is at 705 E. Houston and Avenue E, and many of the 177 rooms afford spectacular views of the city. Rates run $95 to $216 per night. 210/225-8486.

Coming up this weekend ...

Troy King Memorial Hug-In in Luckenbach features music and games all day and dances at night, Feb. 9-11. 830/997-3224 or

Winter Jazz Festival continues at the Cypress Creek Cafe in Wimberley with a full lineup of great bands, Feb. 8-11. 512/847-9884 or

Coming up ...

Cajun Mardi Gras in Southwestern Louisiana has been one of the most active celebrations since the 19th century with a "courir" or run on horseback across four parishes stopping at the end of the day for a communal gumbo. For information on events, check out the LSU at Eunice Web page at

Romantic Inns & Hotels around the country are listed at

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