Tucked away on a bend in San Antonio’s Riverwalk, La Villita charms history buffs and shopping aficionados alike with its collection of preserved buildings and the arts and craft studios they house.
La Villita is easy to find, but it’s a stroll beyond the hustle and bustle of the downtown loop of the Riverwalk. Walk up the steps from the water — or find it off South Presa Street — right over the bridge over the Riverwalk.
This historic arts village brings together Mexican and local arts, traditional architecture, and a couple of nice restaurants to create my kind of shopping day. The location itself was originally settled nearly 300 years ago. A number of the buildings here, though, were moved to their current sites. The whole village is on the National Register of Historic Districts.
Sometimes I didn’t know whether to study the building or take in the shop’s wares. At Bird and Pear, I have to admit I got sidetracked by the wavy walls. A mid-century house, it was made of cedar posts chinked with caliche and plaster, a technique called palisado. I know, more than I needed to know, but I felt like I got a glimpse into San Antonio’s past while hunting for treasures to take home. Do that in a shopping mall, I dare you.
The village of shops has plazas and fountains, even a little church and a theatre. The nondenominational Little Church of La Villita with its gleaming stained glass window is pretty and quiet, a cool refuge. Its ministers and its people devoted their time to people in need almost since the time Texas became a republic.
And take a walk down a side path to see the theatre. Arneson River Theatre is an amphitheater split by the waters of the Riverwalk. The stage is on one side; seating is on another.
Every step in this little village is filled with history and charm. The shops are stocked with wares you’ll want to take home: paintings and Mexican pottery, earrings and shoes, clothing and soap. Start your day at La Villita Cafe and choose from three restaurants if your visit lasts till dinner. (Or come back for dinner. That’s what we did; loved the food in the elegant Fig Tree.)
We have to come back to San Antonio later this year. I know La Villita will be on my must-visit list.
Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman