Photo courtesy of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA)

Flights to Africa are not cheap right now. The animals may not be the same, but at least San Antonians can make a short drive to a very comfortable safari tent for special-occasion jaunts into the wilderness.

"Why does it look like you're in Africa again?" questioned one of this reporter's friends via Instagram DM. It's true, we'd been in a nearly identical landscape in South Africa last winter. But this was only an hour's drive away. And make no mistake — it's still expensive, but not more so than a upscale hotel room or Airbnb at $450 a night.

Amani, the sole safari tent overlooking a vast expanse at Marble Falls' Shaffer Bend Recreation Area, may pose a philosophical question about what camping entails. If it's being in a remote area, it certainly fits the bill. The tent is situated at the end of a dirt road, off a dirt road. There's practically no chance of seeing even the odd hiker, unless they've taken the incredibly steep trail up the back way and specifically sought out the tent.

The more challenging question, is does camping include a generator? How about a shower, air conditioning, mini-fridge, plush rug, and king-sized bed? Probably not, but it certainly makes it easy to pack up and hit the woods in any weather. And if it's about enjoying nature, it doesn't really get better than being comfortable while doing so — although the noise from the generator, which powers the running water, is a necessary trade-off.

Amani LCRA interiorPhoto courtesy of LCRA

A unique idea for honeymoons, girls trips, seniors, or apartment dwellers without much room for storing camping equipment — and verified by CultureMap on an invitation by the park — this is hotel-style travel with the benefit of having absolutely no other visitors in sight. Or earshot. And although the smart interior design gives a glamper anything they'd need to make, serve, and store their own meals (using ingredients from the Marble Falls H-E-B, about 10 miles away), those who want to lean into the luxury may book some gourmet options.

Home chefs who like the idea of remaining separate from the rest of civilization can order a meal prep kit ($55-75 per person, vegan options available) to be delivered to the tent, where they can cook on the grill. The kitchenette, designed with input from a local chef who loved visiting the park before Amani existed, has plenty of grilling tools and dish ware — enough for four people to use even though the space only sleeps two.

More extravagant travelers should seriously consider the most luxurious option: welcoming in a private chef ($300). Chef Cindy Crowe grilled up Amani's first-ever private dining experience on September 16, representing the start of a new partnership between Crowe's company, Bay Kitchens Catering, and the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the government agency that managers the park and rents out Amani.

In fact, it was Bay Kitchens corporate chef, Jay Hunter, who made recommendations on the kitchenette design. And the park is no stranger to luxury dining outdoors; At one fundraising dinner, part of its "Savor the Outdoors" series, park supporters gathered at long picnic tables along the river at Pedernales Falls State Park to enjoy local foods prepared on cool live-fire rigs. The food was delicious, but the friendly breaking of bread between outdoorsy foodies was the highlight of the evening.

The spirit was similar at Amani, although, of course, much smaller in scale. Chef Crowe set up at the outdoor grill and peacefully, efficiently got to work preparing a meal that looked like it came out of an elite, bustling kitchen. Yet, despite all its sophistication, this meal retained the soul of any campsite meal: a simple grilled trout, a summery salad, and a no-bake dessert.

LCRA Amani private chef dinner troutPhoto by Brianna Caleri

Amani LCRA aerial

Photo courtesy of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA)

Amani is the Lower Colorado River Authority's experiment in ultra-secluded glamping.

More specifically, the three-course meal — called the "Serengeti Menu" — included a very tender baby greens salad with toasted pecans and feta, sweet strawberries, perfectly soft orange supreme (essentially naked orange segments), and a refreshing peach-pecan vinaigrette. The very lemony trout was served with crispy skin, a healthy sprinkling of chives, and an almost-rustic side of roasted Yukon gold potatoes and Chardonnay and honey-spiked baby carrots. Chef Crowe rounded out the menu with her Key lime cheesecake, which she dressed with a berry compote and torched Italian meringue, for a low-maintenance, high-payoff finish.

Other menus include bourbon and honey-glazed Atlantic Salmon with marble potatoes and broccolini, or a choice of steak cuts with asparagus and a twice-baked potato. Crowe points out that although the menu isn't very limited, she did have to think about what could be cooked without an open flame. (It'd be hard to cook on something other than propane during a burn ban.) Things like twice-baked potatoes and mini cheesecakes are easy to prepare ahead and hit with a finishing touch at the campground.

"It's simple food, still done well," says Crowe. "Even though I'm out here with these beautiful views cooking on a grill you could buy at Lowe's, I still want to put my stamp on the dishes."

Amani is an experiment for the LCRA, according to Crowe and Cheyrice Brumfield, the park ranger and Cherokee grandmother who appeared at my tent in full glam makeup at 10:20 am to get the water turned back on after a repair before I arrived. If Amani — which officially opened its reservations in June according to a publicist — is as successful as the glamping trend of the past few years would suggest, the LCRA plans to bring similar tents to other parks.

Crowe, during her first run-through of this particular catering experience, was not sure how many people would be join in, but she guesses she could accommodate four people. Bay Kitchen Catering also does bridal brunches and even bulk prep for other restaurants, so the scope depends more on what LCRA is willing to host than the volume the catering company is capable of achieving.

Amani LCRAPhoto by Brianna Caleri

A private chef experience is obviously not required to enjoy a stay at Amani, but it certainly elevates the occasion, and could be a nice way to mark a special occasion beyond just staying in a nice room. Amani also offers a cold cowboy pool (basically a large trough for seated dip) that a glamper can choose to heat as a hot tub, an electric bike rental for conquering the very hilly roads and exploring Shaffer Bend's 508 acres, and of course, spectacular views all around the park.

It's as easy to scoff at the extreme luxury as it is to fantasize about it (if you, like most of us, contain multitudes), but what is really special about Amani is that people like Crowe and Brumfield are making it happen. It's not one of a dozen new purchases by an international hotel chain; It directly benefits Texas parks, and it's taken care of by warm, relatable Texans.

Amani and the park's other campgrounds can be reserved at reserveamerica.com. The safari tent has a two-night minimum, bringing the minimum rental cost to $900 before tax and fees. Culinary reservations must be made at least 72 hours before the stay. More information about Shaffer Bend Recreation Area is available at lcra.org.

Photo by Getty Images

$1 billion fund for future Texas state parks going on the ballot in November

the future of state parks

A statewide proposition establishing a constitutional amendment to create a $1 billion fund for future state parks will be in the hands of Texas voters in November. The total value has been authorized by the state legislature.

About 10 million visitors flock to Texas State Parks every year, and the ever-expanding population means there is not enough supply of parks to meet the demand. The Centennial Parks Conservation Fund created by Proposition 14 would help the state acquire new parks from landowners without raising taxes on Texans, according to a release.

The measure has received bipartisan support from the Texas Legislature, and statewide polls have yielded overwhelming support for state parks within the last two decades. State Senator Tan Parker filed the Senate bill laying the groundwork for the conservation fund to make it on the ballot.

"The Centennial Parks Conservation Fund would provide dependable, long-term funding for new park acquisition that will protect the unique natural and cultural treasures of Texas, creating the opportunity to ensure our state parks thrive for generations to come," Senator Parker said.

According to Ballotpedia, funds would be "appropriated, credited, or transferred by the legislature; gifts, grants, and donations received by the Parks and Wildlife Department; and investment earnings." It would also not count against the state's appropriation limit.

State Representative Armando Walle, who sponsored the bill in the Texas House, also expressed his support for the bill. He called it a transformational, "Teddy Roosevelt kind of initiative."

Nearly 80 statewide organizations including the Bexar Audubon Society, Comal County Conservation Alliance, and Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas have come together in support of the measure through the Texas Coalition for State Parks. The coalition focuses on educating Texans about the benefits of developing the statewide park conservation fund.

If the proposition passes, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will be able to use the funds to purchase land and unique properties for future state parks.

Joseph Fitzsimons, the coalition's co-founder and the former Chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, shared his endorsement for Prop 14 in a statement.

"Open spaces are critical to our quality of life," said Fitzsimons. "The Centennial Parks Conservation Fund would help protect the places we love to hike, bike, fish, picnic, view wildlife, and spend time with family."

Voters will see Prop 14 on the ballot on November 7.

More information about the Texas Coalition for State Parks and its members can be found on growtexasparks.com.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas/Facebook

San Antonio's Six Flags Fiesta Texas gets 3 thrilling new rides and more comic book themes

New Thrills for a New Year

For the first time in more than a decade, Six Flags is adding new rides. The amusement park chain is making updates in more than a dozen locations, but San Antonio draws an especially good straw with three new rides for varying levels of thrill-seeking.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio already has a DC Universe section dominating a large part of the park, featuring rides that celebrate both heroes and villains from DC Comics.

New rides at Six Flags Fiesta Texas will include:

  • Cyborg Cyber Revolution, with four individual arms rotating in fast, intermeshing orbits
  • Shazam Tower of Eternity, a rotating family drop tower
  • Metropolis Transit Authority, which gives passengers an aerial view of DC Universe land

The park is also making improvements to some existing rides. At the San Antonio park, that means creating new DC themes referencing characters like Supergirl, Green Lantern, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, and Batgirl.

According to a release, it's part of big round of investments that include three new roller coasters — none of which are in Texas — being deployed at Six Flags parks in St. Louis, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Georgia.

Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington is getting one enviable upgrade, though.

The attraction formerly known as El Aserradero — which was the world’s first log flume when it opened in 1963 — will soon become El Rio Lento, one of the world’s longest log flumes, in 2024. The improved ride will feature one new lift hill and two big drops, including a giant, steep nosedive.

“At Six Flags, our relentless drive for innovation is powered by our passion to create moments of pure joy and excitement for our guests,” said Selim Bassoul, President and CEO of Six Flags, in a statement. “This investment is central to our strategy to create fun and memorable experiences for every member of the family and reinforces Six Flags’ position as the leader in thrills."

The announcement of the new investments coincides with Six Flags' "Biggest Sale of the Year," which offers discounts of up to 70 percent on season passes and tickets available through September 5. Season pass holders receive admission throughout the remainder of 2023, including access to Six Flags Fright Fest.

Brackenridge Park Conservancy Facebook

Brackenridge Park Conservancy presents Parktoberfest

The Brackenridge Park Conservancy will present its 12th Annual Parktoberfest celebrating San Antonio's German heritage. Parktoberfest honors the memory of Emma Koehler of the Pearl Brewing family, who donated 11 acres to San Antonio where alcohol could be served in this part of Brackenridge Park.

The event will include German music by Beethoven Männerchor and jazz music from The Dirty River Jazz Band; artists of Hausmann Millworks – A Creative Community displaying their artwork; free craft beer samples from local breweries; food and drinks available for purchase. The event will also feature Charlie Staats with his Pearl Brewing Company Memorabilia.

Rendering courtesy of Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation

Hemisfair prepares to break ground for hotel and residences around San Antonio's new Civic Park

Park Living

Hemisfair is always looking toward the next thing, but now it's time for the future to become reality. The Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation and its trio of partners have finished the agreed-upon due diligence phase and are nearly ready to break ground.

The partnership includes the following projects and entities, according to a news release:

  • A 200-room hotel by Zachry Hospitality
  • A 10-story residential tower and three-story retail building by Post Lake Capital Partners
  • An indeterminate "residential/retail building" to break ground much later by AREA Real Estate
  • In total, by all parties, "450 residential units with workforce housing, roughly 70,000 square feet of retail space ... [and] hundreds of parking spaces"

“It is great news to share that our three development partners have completed the due diligence phase of the lease agreements and are ready to get started on the next phases,” said Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar. “Our partners’ dedication to the Hemisfair transformation is critical as we are set to open one of the world’s great public places, Civic Park, in just a few weeks.”

Zachry Hospitality is leading the charge, breaking ground in fall of 2023. The hotel will be a "one-of-a-kind Curio Collection by Hilton product,” according to Zachry Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Tara Snowden. As the name would suggest, this collection features bespoke hotels with eclectic style.

Many Curio Collection hotels place a special emphasis on the surrounding natural world, and Hemisfair is about to unveil its newly improved green spaces on September 29; It's probably a good bet that the two will feature some interplay, even if it's just great views.

The new hotel will join the four others in Texas — two each in Dallas and Houston — sometime in 2025. In the meantime, Post Lake Capital Partners will be working along the Riverwalk, breaking ground in the fourth quarter of 2024, and AREA Real Estate will start wrapping things up when it breaks ground in 2025.

The Hemisfair District, as any San Antonian knows, is too busy to shut down for construction. All the work has been planned around events in the area, according to the release. The 2025 NCAA Final Four, also known as March Madness, was given special consideration; games have already been scheduled at The Alamodome on April 5 and 7, 2025.

It may also quell some San Antonio's anxieties to learn that these developments are all located around City Park, and not directly on parkland. The decision to use these spaces was made in 2014, and funds have been appropriated from Hemisfair District revenue, not tax revenue. In fact, according to the Redevelopment Corporation, the goal is to make Hemisfair financially self-sustaining.

Unveiling Civic Park is part of the second phase of Hemisfair's urban park series. Yanaguana Garden was the first phase, and the third and final phase focuses on "Tower Park," on the eastern side of Hemisfair.

More information about changes in the district is available at hemisfair.org.

Civic Park Hemisfair San Antonio

Rendering courtesy of Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation

Civic Park will be open to the public on September 29.

Photo by Courtney Warden

Splashy seafood pop-up docks at St. Mary's Strip wine bar, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor's note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From the sea to the Hill Country and lots in between, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Splashy seafood pop-up docks at St. Mary's Strip wine bar. This pop-up has come and gone, and made a big splash. It's back on August 12 for one more pop-up before it starts a residency.

2. Best places to view Perseid meteor shower's peak in Central Texas and beyond. The biggest meteor shower of the year will be most visible the night of Saturday, August 12, until the early morning of Sunday, August 13.

3. A punchy event at one of the world's best vineyards lets travelers make Hill Country wine. At Grape Punch Day, William Chris Vineyards will guide guests on a wine-making journey.

4. San Antonio logs on as 6th best U.S. city for remote workers, Forbes says. The study ranked cities based on the earning potential of remote workers, internet access, living costs, and more.

5. 9 essential things to know about Texas' tax-free weekend 2023. For kids, stocking up on school supplies is one of the only joys of going back to school. For parents who have to pay for them, not so much.

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Online home searching platform Compass buys top San Antonio-based brokerage

real estate news

National residential real estate agency Compass has acquired Realty Austin and Realty San Antonio, in a move that will expand its position as the leading national firm and its growth in Texas by more than 600 agents.

Although the sale price was not disclosed in Compass' announcement, the local brokerages completed $5.24 billion sales just in 2022 alone.

Compass added that the Austin and San Antonio leadership will have direct oversight of daily operations as part of the terms of the acquisition. Realty Austin and Realty San Antonio co-founder Yvette Flores maintains that she and her leadership team will strive for a "seamless transition" into the national firm that respects the home-grown culture they have created.

Realty Austin was founded in 2004 by Flores and Jonathan Boatwright, and has grown through the years to become one of the most innovative brokerages in Central Texas and beyond. The company expanded its operations to San Antonio in 2021.

Realty Austin and Realty San Antonio CEO Gabe Richter said in the release that Compass' leading-edge technology will help his agents foster greater successes, particularly in one blossoming San Antonio category: luxury real estate.

"Our agents have consistently set records with remarkable achievements," Richter said in the release. "Now, by aligning with Compass, they gain access to a transformative technology platform that enhances efficiency and elevated resources that empower them to secure even more luxury listings."

Compass was founded in 2012 as the largest real estate brokerage in the U.S., and preserves its stronghold as the No. 1 brokerage in Texas thanks to its milestone acquisition. The national brokerage has already surpassed $10 billion in sales in Texas in 2023, according to the release.

“With this acquisition, we've positioned ourselves as Austin's leading brokerage — our commitment to setting new standards and inspiring innovation for all our exceptional agents remains the top priority while honoring what Realty Austin and Realty San Antonio has built," said Compass Texas President Rachel Hocevar.

Fantastic visuals and original story make The Creator a must-see sci-fi film

Movie Review

In the relatively risk-averse world that is modern Hollywood, getting an original story is a rarity. The vast majority of potentially blockbuster movies these days are ones that have a connection to some kind of existing intellectual property that already has a well-established track record. So anytime something interesting arrives that’s not a sequel/reboot/remake/commercial for a product, it deserves to be celebrated.

And that goes double when it’s done as well as the new sci-fi film, The Creator. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world in 2065, 30 years after a sentient artificial intelligence detonated a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Joshua (John David Washington) is an American soldier who for years worked undercover alongside A.I.-enhanced robots, many of which are fitted with clones of human faces, to try to find their reclusive leader, Nirmata, in a part of the world now called New Asia.

A personal tragedy sends him into exile, but he’s recruited back into service by Colonel Howell (Allison Janney) to seek out and destroy a weapon that may turn the tide in the war for good. Turns out the weapon is a robot in the form of a child (Madeleine Yuna Voyles), and when Joshua discovers that fact, he finds it impossible to carry out the mission. Instead, he does everything he can to protect the girl he calls Alphie, with the military hot on his tail all the while.

Written and directed by Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) and co-written by Chris Weitz, the film is astonishing in a number of ways, but mostly for its ability to draw the viewer in visually. The CGI is amazingly believable, making it easy to immerse yourself in the storytelling. From a foreboding super-weapon in the sky called NOMAD to the futuristic landscapes to the whirring metal cylinders that appear to be the brains of the robots, the film is full of fantastic details that make it a feast for the eyes.

The concept of A.I. is increasingly being used as a storytelling tool, and here the filmmakers seem to try to play both sides of the fence. Many people in the film fear its capabilities, especially given the nuclear event. But by literally putting human faces on many of the robots, it becomes more difficult to see them as pure evil, a dilemma that’s at the core of the problem for both Joshua and the audience.

Washington, who’s fast becoming as reliably good as his father, Denzel, is the star of the film, and he does a great job in that role. But stealing the show every second she’s on screen is Voyles, who delivers a debut performance the likes of which hasn’t been seen in many years. She is utterly convincing and heartbreaking as Alphie; while the story may have worked with a lesser actor, she helps take it to completely different level.

Also putting in great work are Janney, who proves herself as badass and fearsome a military leader as any man; Mark Menchaca as her No. 2; Ken Watanabe as an A.I. robot; singer-turned-actor Sturgill Simpson as a friend of Joshua; and Gemma Chan, redeeming herself after the misfire of Eternals.

John David Washington in The Creator
Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

John David Washington in The Creator.

The Creator could’ve earned praise simply by giving us an original sci-fi story. But by accompanying it with awe-inspiring imagery and performances that elevate the story immeasurably, Edwards and his team have made a film that will likely be remembered for years to come.


The Creator opens in theaters on September 29.

Nola breaks new ground and a Hill Country eatery heads to City Hall in San Antonio food news


Editor's note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of San Antonio's restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our weekly roundup of essential food news.


The long lines at Nola Brunch & Beignets may soon double. According to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation Records, the brunch behemoth is opening a location at 1101 Broadway. The restaurant did not return a request for comment by publication time, but Nola executive chef Melissa Villanueva is listed as the tenant. It's unclear if this is a relocation or a second outpost, but the project is set to wrap up in March 2024. CultureMap will update as we hear more information.

New Braunfels will have a new dining destination when an ambitious redevelopment is completed. According to state filings, Wiggins Hospitality Group — the folks behind McAdoo's Seafood Co. — will renovate the town's former City Hall into a mixed-use building incorporating offices on the ground floor. New Braunfels Historic Landmark Commission records give more details about the unnamed eatery, including plans for a bar and courtyard. Construction is set to wrap up in May 2024.

Other news and notes

San Antonio standout The Jerk Shack will be featured in a new book from national food site Eater. The restaurant — an Eater darling since being named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Hillary Dixler Canavan in 2029 — appropriately contributed a chicken dish.

Favor gave some insight into San Antonio's ordering habits via its first-ever dining report, released September 19. Alamo City requested more orders for barbecue than any other city in the state but surprisingly fell behind Austin in overall taco orders. The delivery app also shared a few tidbits about how San Antonians customize their meals. Locals favor lean brisket, flour tortillas, chorizo, and — controversially — chili with beans. Read all the findings at favordelivery.com.

Not content at only being a Food Network personality, chef Braunda Smith is now set to break the internet. The owner of Lucy Cooper's Ice House will soon be featured on the popular web series America's Best Restaurants. The restaurant confirmed the filming via a Facebook post but did not share when the segment will be aired.