When most tourists think of San Antonio, they likely imagine visiting the Alamo, strolling the River Walk and dining on barbecue or Tex-Mex.
Samantha Brown, host of the PBS travel show “Places to Love,” wants tourists from around the world to learn a different, homier side of the second-largest city in Texas, one of eight stops made for her show’s fifth season.
“The overall goal was to show this very popular tourist destination was more than just a destination, it is where community lives,” Brown said via phone from her home in Brooklyn.
The San Antonio-focused episode airs Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. on local public television station KLRN-TV. In the episode, Brown visits familiar fixtures including the Dos Carolinas guayabera store and manufacturing facility, the missions and the 20 million free-tailed bats of Bracken Cave just northeast of the city, but also probes deeper into the local fabric to uncover new and unexpected adventures.
Brown took advantage of an urban feature born out of the loss of tourism during the early months of the pandemic: kayaking downtown for locals. Brown credited Mission Adventure Tours owner Sarah Neal with making the best of a bad situation.
“It’s that ingenuity of what people do to create a community, to create a gathering space for all that brings joy, that’s still safe,” Brown said.
Another outdoor gathering space she visited was Echo Bridge, once regarded as simply a regular feature of the city’s infrastructure. Hot Wells resident artist Justin Parr discovered the unique acoustical qualities of the bridge’s underside, where sound travels perfectly from a concrete platform on the south side of the bridge across the river to the northern side.
After hosting private performances, Parr and artist Jeff Wheeler converted the Echo Bridge into an impromptu concert venue for local musicians such as Erik Sanden, Claire Rousay and Grupo Tan Tan.
For Brown’s visit, Wheeler arranged a special show by accordion legend Santiago Jiménez Jr., whom Wheeler called “quintessential San Antonio.”
Wheeler said the whole experience with Brown and her television crew was “just so joyful and happy,” and said the host’s televised enthusiasm is genuine. “She’s actually having as much fun as she seems,” he said.
Echo Bridge shows also feature visual art from the nearby Space C7 art gallery which Wheeler runs with his partner Courtney Wynn Sheets. Brown said she found the venue to be an ingenious use of the city’s signature river.
“We’ve never seen anything like that, … this architecture of a bridge that just happens to have perfect acoustics” and is also “a perfect spot to show art,” she said. Sheets made homemade micheladas to top off the puro San Antonio experience.
In researching before her October visit, Brown first learned of the city’s UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy designation, a distinction shared by only one other U.S. locale. Chef and Pharm Table restaurant owner Elizabeth Johnson played a key role in landing the designation for the city and hosted Brown for a meal. Brown also enjoyed traditional Mexican carnitas at Carnitas Lonja made by chef Alejandro Paredes, one among several James Beard Award-nominated chefs working in San Antonio.
In summing up her memories of her visit to the Alamo City, Brown — a Dallas native — said, “San Antonio is a city that feels like … a welcoming, close-knit town filled with the hospitality that Texans are known for. … It was just an absolute pleasure to be there.”