Photo of San Antonio's Japanese Tea Gardens.

Rock quarry turned garden oasis.

A 10-gallon cowboy hat tip to Colleen Pence, the mastermind behind San Antonio Mom Blogs, for giving me the idea of creating this list of free things to do and see in San Antonio from all of my San Antonio Tourist blog posts. Colleen has created a Free in San Antonio Pinterest page that you’ll want to check out.

Even though I was not a child of the Depression, my mother was, so I was raised looking for bargains. You can’t get much more frugal than FREE. San Antonio offers a wealth of free things to do and see for fun, like the gorgeous Japanese Tea Gardens pictured above. Do you have any other favorite freebies I should add? Please post a comment below. ¡Viva San Antonio!

Madison Square Park

Medina River Natural Area

Olmos Park and Olmos Sports Complex Park

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto of the Southwest

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church

Museum Reach River of Lights

Crownridge Canyon Natural Area

Trinity University and Landa Library

St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church

Salado Creek Greenway (McAllister Park to Lady Bird Johnson Park)

Salado Creek Greenway (Loop 410 to Lady Bird Johnson Park)

Phil Hardberger Park (east)

Phil Hardberger Park (west)

San Antonio River Walk Christmas Lights

Síclovía

Mission Reach Hike and Bike Trail (walking is free)

San Antonio Museum of Art (free on Tuesday afternoons)

McNay Art Museum (free on Thursday afternoons and First Sundays)

Japanese Tea Gardens (also known as the Sunken Gardens)

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If you’re ever in the mood for a slice of New York-style pizza, no need to jump on a plane for LaGuardia. Just head over to Florio’s, a family-owned restaurant located at 7701 Broadway at Nottingham on the edge of Lincoln Heights.

New Jersey transplants and siblings Pat and Joe are the real deal. Pat handles the orders while Joe makes the pies. I always feel like I’m walking into a New York City restaurant when I’m there. The siblings may have been in San Antonio for 30 years, but they haven’t lost their accents. Plus, the restaurant’s walls are covered with every New York City memorabilia imaginable.

Patrons line up to place their orders for small (12-inch), medium (16-inch) or large (18-inch) pizzas. Topping choices include pepperoni, mushrooms, jalapeños, garlic, sausage, black olive, onions, pepper & onions, extra cheese or sliced meatballs.

My husband and I opted for their white pizza (ricotta, olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and provolone) on our last visit. I recently had a slice in New York City that I couldn’t get out of my mind, and I was relieved to find out that I don’t have to book a trip back to the Big Apple to have some.

Florio’s also offers a variety of sandwiches, including a Cold Italian Hero, Mama’s Meatball Parmesan, and Sausage Pepper/Onions Parmesan along with Calzones. They’ve also recently added a Chicken Parmesan Sandwich to their repertoire. For those with a sweet tooth, Patty’s Delectable Desserts (special cake of the day, spumoni and cannoli) are also in their arsenal of good eats.

I must admit that I get so laser-beamed focused on their pizza that I’ve never tried any of these in all the years I’ve been going, but I hear they’re delicious…especially their Cold Italian Hero.

Florio’s, open Tuesday through Saturday, delivers between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to a limited area. Call (210) 805-8646 to place an order. Mangia!

 

 

Animated GIF of the San Antonio Book Festival logo.Just when you think that San Antonio can’t get any better, a new event is added to the city’s long list of hip happenings that makes the Alamo City even more fabulous.

The San Antonio Book Festival, now in its second year, is that event. My daughter and I attended last year’s book festival and were blown away by the talent gathered in one place, downtown’s Central Library. This year’s event, scheduled for Saturday, April 5, promises to be even bigger and better. And to top it all off, it’s FREE.

More than 90 authors of every genre (children’s, young adult, mystery, history, romance…you get the idea) will attend this year’s festival. Former San Antonio Light Reporter Laura Lippman, author of the Tess Monaghan series, will be in town, as will former Today Show Anchor Jane Pauley, who will talk about her book “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life” for those over the age of 50. I’m also happy to see that my TriPoint YMCA gym buddy, Jenny Browne, a professor at Trinity University, is in the schedule. She will read from “Dear Stranger,” her newest book of poetry.

Last year, my daughter, a voracious reader, had the sweet gig of escorting authors from the VIP holding area to their scheduled speaking destination. She had the pleasure of visiting with authors Carmen Tafolla, Sandra Cisneros and Chitra Divakaruni and experiencing them read from their books. Plus, we had the added bonus of running into author Naomi Shihab Nye, one of my all-time favorite people, at Chitra’s reading.

Photo of Chitra Divakaruni performing her children's book, "Grandma and the Great Gourd," at the San Antonio Book Festival in 2013.

Chitra Divakaruni reads from “Grandma and the Great Gourd” at the San Antonio Book Festival in 2013.

Photo of Naomi Shihab Nye, Chitra Divakaruni and Aedan Richter at the San Antonio Book Festival in 2013.

Naomi Shihab Nye, Chitra Divakaruni and Aedan Richter at the San Antonio Book Festival in 2013.

I had a total fangirl moment when I ran into former San Antonio Express-News columnist Rick Casey in the elevator. He was there to moderate a panel with another of my all-time favorite people and writers, Robert Flynn. I can’t wait to see whom I’m going to bump into this year.

The book festival’s schedule is extensive, so plan on spending the day. The event runs from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Although entry to the festival is free, bring some money with you so that you may purchase books from the exhibitor tent and something to eat from local food trucks.

The Central Library is located downtown at 600 Soledad Street. Parking is available in the library’s garage, meters along the street and surrounding lots. Better yet, take the bus! It will give you extra time to read on your way home.

 

 

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Madison Square Park is definitely off the beaten track. Nestled in downtown San Antonio near the Baptist Medical Center, this 5-acre park doesn’t have the visibility of other downtown parks, like Travis and Milam. I predict it won’t be on the lowdown for very long, though. Madison Square Park has something for everyone: walking trails, a children’s playground, fitness equipment, picnic tables and a dog park.

On the day I was there, some park visitors sat on benches, enjoying the beautiful day. A mom and dad pushed a stroller carrying their child. Kids played on the playground. Dogs frolicked while their owners chatted. One of the dog owners lives in the adjacent Cadillac Lofts across Dallas Street. She said the dog park gets packed after 5 p.m. with downtown dwellers and their pooches.

Just across Camden Street is Madison Square Presbyterian Church, which has overlooked the park since 1882. The church’s Gothic Revival architecture stands out among the more modern buildings nearby. According to the historical marker in front, the church helped Trinity University move from Waxahachie to San Antonio in 1942. Madison Square Presbyterian Church’s mission is to be “a community that is open and welcoming to all people, without regard for nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status.”

Madison Square Park, within walking distance of the Interstate 35/McCullough at Quincy Starbucks, is located at 400 Lexington. On VIA’s #7 Sightseer Special route, it’s open from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. daily. Grab a cup of coffee before heading over to the park to sit, sip and watch the world go by.

 

 

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El Milagrito, a Tex-Mex restaurant located at 521 E. Woodlawn at St. Mary’s, has been open since 1969, 10 years before I settled in the Alamo City. I started going to El Milagrito while I was a student at nearby Trinity University. The inexpensive food was a draw, but the real reason I went to El Milagrito was to be waited on by Gilbert, the owner’s son, who had more tattoos than I had ever seen. Gilbert never met a stranger. Before he’d take your order, he’d look you in the eye with a twinkle in his and say, “Lookin’ good!”

Though Gilbert stopped working at the restaurant after his parents sold it to a family from Monterrey, his presence remains. A portrait of Gilbert hangs on the wall, and it’s a nice reminder of his charming self. Rumor has it that he now works at an auto supply store on Rittiman Road, so I’m going to drop in one day.

These days, I head to El Milagrito after my Zumba class at the TriPoint YMCA. I pick up bean and rice tacos on corn tortillas to eat at home. The tacos come with a green salsa that is more typical of northern Mexico. I prefer a red salsa, so the new owner is nice about switching it out. Two tacos set me back $3 and hit the spot. More proof that San Antonio is a great city.

The $5.99 daily specials are further proof: Huevos Rancheros with a Pork Chop or a Chilaquiles Plate, both served with coffee, for breakfast; and Chicken Mole or Chicken Mole Enchiladas, both served with tea, for lunch. If that doesn’t suit you, El Milagrito’s menu is extensive. (Click on the pages to enlarge.) You’re bound to find something you’d like. I didn’t realize El Milagrito served hamburgers until I did reporting for this post. They looked yummy.

Those eating at El Milagrito may dine indoors or out. Indoors contains some of the best gumball and ball machines in San Antonio. Bring quarters! Plus, colorful art by Naomi Leissner brightens the walls. Outdoors boasts a covered patio where you can watch the world go by on St. Mary’s Street.

El Milagrito is open seven days a week. Their Monday through Saturday schedule is 5:30 a.m. until 2:45 p.m., and their Sunday schedule is 7 a.m. until 2:45 p.m. Call (210) 737-8464 to place a to-go order.