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San Antonio, Oklahoma City urban waterways anchor cities' pride, vision

San Antonio, Oklahoma City urban waterways anchor cities' pride, vision

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, May 17, 2009

By JUDY WILEY / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

One is a beloved historic river with a brilliant new attraction incorporating 12 art installations and parks designed for soothing reconnection to the waterway. The other is a smartly designed canal created out of optimism for a prairie city with a tragic past.

Luckily for North Texans, both the San Antonio River Walk and Oklahoma City's Bricktown Canal are less than a day's drive away and also accessible by train – ideal for a long weekend. They're as different as a slice of tres leches cake and a wedge of apple pie, which adds to the fun of planning summer getaways.

San Antonio River Walk

FILE 2007/Staff photo
FILE 2007/Staff photo
The River Walk is a popular spot for celebrations. Alaina Arnold (in yellow) marked her wedding day with family and friends during a cruise.

SAN ANTONIO – The end of this month is the time to visit one of the most cherished landmarks in Texas. A new stretch of San Antonio's River Walk will open May 30 and, of course, the city is having a party.

The Museum Reach extension is punctuated with tranquil parks and shimmering public art. The stretch, threaded with a pathway, will add more than a mile to the River Walk, and a new persona.

"This part has a totally different feel – not restaurants, not T-shirt shops. Very, very kind of quiet," says Karen Adams, spokeswoman for the nonprofit San Antonio River Foundation, which raises funds for enhancing the river. "It gives visitors really an opportunity to reconnect with the river in a more natural state. It's really organic-feeling."

The Museum Reach was created by dredging a once-inaccessible part of the San Antonio River, from the Holiday Inn El Tropicano Hotel at Lexington Avenue, past the San Antonio Museum of Art, to the Pearl (the old brewery). Care was taken to maintain a calm setting. The stretch is filled with public art and spaces for relaxing.

Adams suggests taking a water taxi from Lexington through the new lock and dam, which lifts taxis 9 feet before they continue toward the museum and brewery, and perhaps strolling on foot after a stop at the museum.

An exhibition called Waterflow will showcase works of Texas artists inspired by water. It will run through Aug. 23. The museum's new landing has a pavilion and a terrace overlooking the river.

Among the 12 public art installations along the reach:

• Shimmer Field by British artist Martin Richman has reflective, suspended elements to mark the entry and exit of the Museum Reach.

• 29{+0} 25' 57" N / 98{+0} 29' 13" W by San Antonio artist Stuart Allen at the McCullough and Brooklyn Avenue underpasses is a work of minimal, suspended panels.

• F.I.S.H. by Philadelphia's Donald Lipski is a school of 25 7-foot-long fish hanging below the I-35 overpass at Camden Street.

• Sonic Passage by sound artist Bill Fontana under the Jones Avenue bridge near the museum will have speakers broadcasting recorded and live sounds from other locations along the river.

• Under the Over Bridge by New York painter Mark Schlesinger at the Ninth Street overpass uses the overpass concrete as a canvas for glowing coatings and compounds he developed.

• The Grotto by faux bois concrete artist Carlos Cortes includes a huge tree and concrete waterfall. It's the final installation before the turnaround at the Pearl.

The Pearl also is enjoying a renaissance. Opened in 1883, it brewed its last cold one in 2001, but the river extension gave rise to new life for the 23 acres. Even this winter, well before the new reach was completed, the complex was a good destination for a few relaxing hours.

Located in the brewery's former transportation barn, the Aveda Institute offers beauty services at bargain prices. Manicures by students are just $11; pedicures, $20. Other services are priced according to the student's skill level. Next door, lunch at Texas Farm to Table could be natural chicken panini or a salad of hydroponic greens.

The Pearl's only shopping is at Melissa Guerra's Tienda de Cocina, which stocks carefully chosen kitchenwares from Mexico and elsewhere. The Stable, which once sheltered draft horses, is a state-of-the-art venue that seats 500 for weddings, meetings or concerts.

The Museum Reach, two years in the making, also is sprinkled with pocket parks where residential streets dead-end at the river.

The 1.2-mile reach is a small part of a monumental design that ultimately will stretch along 13 miles of the river, winding to San Antonio's historic missions.

Bricktown Canal

OKLAHOMA CITY – Bricktown feels easygoing and kid-friendly, a clean-cut all-American entertainment district that marries baseball and bowling, ribs and big retail, all linked by a neatly carved canal.

City leader Jim Cowan sits in Nonna's Euro-American Ristorante and Bar, a casual-elegant surprise on Mickey Mantle Drive, eating an enormous beef sandwich as he describes the planning and thought that went into the immaculate historic district's revival.

It's OKC's answer to LoDo, Denver's bustling brewery-baseball-dining-shopping mecca that grew up and out of the seediness that haunted the city's downtown for decades. In fact, the Oklahoma City visionaries studied LoDo as well as the San Antonio River Walk before the canal debuted 10 years ago, says Cowan, executive director of the Bricktown Association.

Those forward-thinkers pushed into reality a mile-long, man-made channel that stretches east from the railroad downtown, to AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, then turns south toward the Oklahoma River. City water flows inside the channel.

Although the blues blared from a club the evening I arrived, Bricktown is windswept and quiet outside Nonna's the next day. The bright yellow water taxis aren't running because of the wind, and it's not baseball season yet, so I have the place pretty much to myself. The morning starts with Starbucks, then a walk among the old brick buildings leading new lives as restaurants and clubs, a smattering of shops, and baseball sculptures around the ballpark.

Chad Huntington, who runs both the water taxis and Red Dirt Emporium (where you can find Oklahoma souvenirs), braves the gusts to give me a ride.

The round-trip from the dock across from the ballpark's third-base entrance to Bass Pro Shops and back takes about 40 minutes. The route stops at a movie theater and winds past the Oklahoma Centennial Land Run Monument, a work in progress involving 46 bronze sculptures by Paul Moore, sculptor-in-residence at the University of Oklahoma. The work commemorates the Land Run of 1889, when tens of thousands of settlers raced on horseback to homestead millions of acres. The nickname "Sooners" came from settlers who staked their claims before the official start at noon April 22.

Back at the dock, I disembark and walk around the ballpark, home of the Triple-A minor league Oklahoma City RedHawks. The team plays dozens of home games morning, afternoon and evening until September.

Minor-league baseball games are a good reason to come here, Southlake travel agent Steve Cosgrove said after a trip to Bricktown.

"They're much more intimate, much more the baseball you have in your mind," he says. "The players are accessible for autographs, much more so than for Arlington, much more reasonably priced. The stadium is smaller, so you don't have the 20-minute walk to get to the parking lot."

Post-game, the dining choices run from Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill to a sit-down Sonic (the chain's corporate headquarters are in Bricktown). Later, there's always a movie, or a drink at the Purple Bar atop Nonna's. The same establishment also houses one of the best shopping stops: Painted Door, which carries boutique purses, jewelry, pottery, Oklahoma jams and soups.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial, a massive tribute to those who died and survived the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, is downtown but a lengthy walk from Bricktown. If you choose to visit the memorial from Bricktown, and have children, a trolley or taxi would be wise.

Judy Wiley is a writer in Grapevine.

When you go

Museum Reach

• The opening ceremony will be at 10 a.m. May 30 with city officials at the Brooklyn Bridge. Barge rides and walking tours will follow, as well as activities at the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Pearl, Turner Bowling Alley, El Tropicano Hotel and other sites. "Walk and Roll on the River" is planned May 31 at the Pearl.

• Details: www.sanantonioriver.org

Getting there

San Antonio's River Walk is downtown. The new Museum Reach section begins at the Lexington Avenue bridge and ends at the Pearl (at Josephine Street).

• On Amtrak, round-trip coach fare from Dallas' Union Station to San Antonio is $76 plus taxes and fees. Get tickets online (www.amtrak.com), by phone (1-800-872-7245) or at stations.

• To get there from the Amtrak station or airport, you need a cab.

Where to stay

• Holiday Inn El Tropicano River Walk, 110 Lexington Ave.; 210-223-9461; www.eltropicanohotel.com. At the start of the new extension. Doubles from $103.20.

• Grand Hyatt San Antonio, 600 E. Market St.; 210-224-1234; www.grandsanantonio.hyatt.com. Contemporary vibe. Doubles from $199.

Where to eat

The new stretch isn't a dining destination, but Texas Farm to Table at the Pearl (312 Pearl Parkway; 210-444-1404; www.texasfarmtotable.com) is an easy place for lunch; sandwiches from $6.95.

Resources

• www.visitsanantonio.com

• www.sanantonioriver.orgWhen you go

Getting there

• The Bricktown Canal extends nearly a mile through the entertainment district in downtown Oklahoma City. It's accessible downstairs from several points along a raised walkway. For example, stairs from the water taxi ticket booth (on Mickey Mantle Drive across from the ballpark) lead to a dock for boarding. There also are docks west of Bass Pro Shop and near Harkins Bricktown Cinemas 16 movie theater.

• On Amtrak, round-trip coach fare from Dallas' Union Station to Oklahoma City is $68 and includes a 3 ½ -hour layover in Fort Worth. To avoid the wait, board at Fort Worth; tickets are $50 plus taxes and fees. Get them online (www.amtrak.com), by phone (1-800-872-7245) or at either station.

• Bricktown is one block west of the Amtrak station.

Where to stay

In Bricktown proper, choices include:

• Residence Inn, next to Bass Pro Shops. The water taxi connects to a walkway here. A suite for three is $152 per night. 400 E. Reno Ave.; 405-601-1700; www.marriott.com/okcbt

• The newest hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites, starts at $129 per night for two adults and one child. 300 E. Sheridan; 405-232-3600; www .oklahomacitybricktown suites.hamptoninn.com

• I stayed at Courtyard by Marriott, near the sports arena, Ford Center. The walk from there to Bricktown is short but crosses busy streets. Rooms for three start at $139 per night. 2 W. Reno Ave.; 1-800-217-9905; www.marriott.com

Where to eat

• Nonna's serves lunch and dinner. Dinner menu ranges from blackberry duck to gnocchi gorgonzola gratin. Lunch entrees start at $10; dinner, $23. 1 Mickey Mantle Drive; 405-235-4410; www.nonnas.com

• Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill serves down-home fare: chicken-fried steak, ribeye, black-eyed peas, calf fries. Entrees from $13.99; kids' meals, $5.99. 310 Johnny Bench Drive; 405-231-0254; www.tobykeithsbar.com

Shopping

• Painted Door, 124 E. Sheridan (also at Skirvin Hilton Hotel, 1 Park Ave. downtown); 405-235-4410; www.painteddoor.com

• Red Dirt Emporium, 115 E. California; 405-415-6779; www.reddirtemporium.com

Activities

• Baseball: RedHawks general admission is $7. Check www. oklahomaredhawks.com for specials.

• Basketball and ice hockey: The Oklahoma City Thunder (www.nba.com/thunder) plays at Ford Center, as do the Oklahoma City Blazers (www.okcblazers.com) of the Central Hockey League.

• Water taxis: All-day pass, $7.50 from Water Taxi of Oklahoma City, 115 E. California Ave.; 405-234-8294; www.bricktownwatertaxi.com.

Resource

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