Photo courtesy of Natural Bridge Caverns

Caving for the first time may have adventurers praying to their saint of choice (that would be Barbara, FYI, patron saint of miners), but guides on a new tour at Texas' Natural Bridge Caverns are ready to shepherd newbies from a more earthly perspective.

The new St. Mary’s Adventure Tour is an expansion of the offerings at the iconic Texas attraction and perfect for people who have never tried their hand at caving. It also offers access to parts of the caverns never before seen by guests.

“This wild area in our cavern has always been one of our favorites,” says Natural Bridge Caverns president Brad Wuest in a press release. “The challenge has been that experiencing it also requires some specialized equipment and training. Now … we have the equipment and rigging in place to make the experience accessible to guests who are ready for adventure.”

The existing expedition, called the Discovery Adventure Tour, is more of a challenge, with “muddy and tight crawl ways” (stomach churn) that take two-and-a-half to three hours to explore. The St. Mary’s tour is more upright, with no crawling and a little more climbing, for an hour less of total exploring. The company says both are good for beginners, who will wear protective equipment that can be hooked up to safety lines anchored to the rock.

Sections of the new tour have never been seen by modern guests of Natural Bridge Caverns, but this cave isn’t newly explored. The team estimates, from evidence in this area of the cave, that explorers have been visiting as early as the 1950s. Visitors can see crystals, curtains of sediment called flowstone, and spiderwebby “boxwork” from ancient water erosion.

“Experiencing these passages just expands your appreciation for the astonishing wonder of the natural world,” says vice president and expedition team member Travis Wuest. “Our hope is these experiences will inspire our guests to learn about and then advocate for protection and responsible stewardship of these delicate environments.”

Super enthusiastic cavers are invited to join the St. Mary’s tour in the morning, break for lunch, and continue on to the Discovery tour. Yours truly at CultureMap will cheer you on from the sidelines. (Do caves have sidelines?)

For more information and links to book both above and below-ground tours, visit naturalbridgecaverns.com.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Emma

Stunning San Antonio hotel occupies spot among Texas’ most lucrative properties

Keying in on revenue

Hotel Emma continues to check in among the top moneymaking hotels in Texas. The San Antonio stunner is one of the state's top properties in terms of revenue, according to a new report.

The report, issued by San Antonio firm Source Strategies Inc., shows that based on revenue per available room (RevPAR) — a key financial indicator in the hotel industry — the Emma ranked as the No. 3 most lucrative Texas hotel in the first quarter of 2019. The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas took the top spot and Four Seasons Austin took No. 2.

Hotel Emma stood its ground, remaining in the No. 3 spot for revenue. In the first quarter of this year, RevPAR reached $304.58, up from $289.52 during the same period last year, according to Source Strategies.

Hotel Emma, a 146-room boutique property at the popular Pearl District, continues to draw accolades from reviewers. For instance, the hotel in January earned a coveted Five Diamond Award from AAA.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the Ritz-Carlton ranked as the most lucrative Texas hotel in the first quarter of this year. It had held the No. 2 spot in the first quarter of 2018 but moved up to No. 1 in the fourth quarter.

The Ritz-Carlton’s RevPAR jumped from $337 in the first quarter of 2018 to $345.36 in the first quarter of 2019, according to Source Strategies.

Paul Vaughn, senior vice president of Source Strategies, attributes the Ritz-Carlton’s success, in part, to its desirable location in Uptown Dallas.

“It is a high-end luxury brand, and they charge a premium for their rooms. And people are willing to pay,” Vaughn says. “The amount of money they make per room puts them consistently at or near the top of our list.”

The Four Seasons Hotel Austin also held its position, remaining at No. 2 from the fourth quarter of last year to the first quarter of this year.

The 291-room Four Seasons saw its RevPAR slip from $345.95 in the first quarter of 2018 to $344.48 to the first quarter of 2019. (The first-quarter figure for the Four Seasons is not even $1 less than The Ritz-Carlton’s comparable number of $345.36.)

The Four Seasons “just underwent a three-year renovation,” Vaughn says, “so it looks like they’re getting some good demand out of the recent improvements.”

Even though Dallas’ 218-room Ritz-Carlton reigned as the revenue king of Texas in the first quarter, Austin boasted seven of the state’s 10 most lucrative hotels. Aside from the Four Seasons, they are:

  • The Driskill at No. 4, with RevPAR of $304.58.
  • Hotel San Jose at No. 5, with RevPAR of $287.22.
  • Hotel Van Zandt at No. 6, with RevPAR of $283.77.
  • South Congress Hotel at No. 7, with RevPAR of $271.35.
  • JW Marriott Austin at No. 8, with RevPAR of $257.23.
  • InterContinental Stephen F. Austin at No. 9, with RevPAR of $248.72.

Vaughn credits SXSW and the recently concluded state legislative session with helping pump up Austin’s hotel performance in the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile in Dallas, the only other local hotel in the top 10 was Hotel Crescent Court (No. 10), with RevPAR of $248.54. That’s up significantly from $183.28 in the first quarter of 2018, when the hotel ranked 49th in the state for RevPAR. Vaughn says Hotel Crescent Court got a revenue boost from its recent $33 million overhaul.

The highest-ranking hotel in Houston was the JW Marriott Downtown Houston, at No. 29. RevPAR in the first quarter of this year was $206.37, up slightly from $205.32 during the same period in 2018.

Source Strategies says the Houston hotel market is still struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“The Houston metro continues to see revenues recede after the strong emergency demand from the end of 2017 and in early 2018,” Todd Walker, president of Source Strategies, says in a release. “Some areas of the metro are performing well, but others have experienced sharp declines in demand, occupancy, and revenues.”

Vaughn says that after Hurricane Harvey hit in August 2017, some hotels in the Houston area “were taken out of service and are slowly filtering back into the market.”

Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau

San Antonio boasts one of the most walkable neighborhoods in Texas

Hometown Glory

A lot has been said about traffic in Texas, but we rarely give as much thought to getting around here on foot. Redfin remedied that by taking a look at the Walk Scores for major Texas cities and chatting with real estate agents to determine the most walkable neighborhoods in Texas.

Downtown San Antonio nabs the No. 7 spot, with a Walk Score of 81. While the area boasts all the attractions of an urban core, the real draw for pedestrians, says Redfin, is the famed River Walk with its lively bars and restaurants.

Lest we assume that it only attracts tourists, Redfin agent Erin Pierce reminds that it's popular with locals too. "The River Walk is an especially popular destination for local families and their kids,” says Pierce. "[It] creates a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of the downtown streets."

Three areas in Dallas (downtown, Oak Lawn, and Knox/Henderson); three in Austin (downtown, West Campus, and East Austin); two in Houston (Midtown and Neartown/Montrose); and one in El Paso (Virginia) complete the top 10.

Downtown Dallas struts its stuff as the most walkable of them all.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Sudden shutters, buzzy burgers, and jam-packed events crowd 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.

Openings and closings

A downtown pub won't be around to celebrate St. Patrick's Day 2024. Via a September 17 Instagram post, Maddy McMurphy's Irish Sports Bar announced its immediate closure after a five-year run. The watering hole teased the news a few days prior, promoting a "Last Hurrah" party on September 15. Neither bulletin offered any explanation for the move. Sibling concepts in owner Terry Corless' portfolio, including Mad Dogs British Pub and Prost Haus, will continue to operate.

Local fast-casual joint Biff Buzby's Burgers observed National Cheeseburger Day by announcing a second location. The outpost will be located at the former site of the short-lived Windmill Ice House on 2769 Nacogdoches Rd., confirming the latter's July temporary closure was permanent. Judging by Facebook photos, Biff Buzby's is nearing completion, though the owners weren't quite ready to declare an opening date. They did share that the original location's popular car shows would not be revving up at the new space.

Drive-thru coffee shop 7 Brew is also in expansion mode. A press release spilled the beans on an upcoming second San Antonio location at 6202 North I-35 Frontage Rd. The Arkansas-based company opened its first local outlet in July, introducing the Alamo City market to original creations like the Smooth 7, a white chocolate and Irish cream breve. The new location will host soft opening events September 22-29, leading up to the September 30 grand opening.

Other news and notes

While America's craft beer industry is struggling, Alamo Beer Co. is making a bold move. The Eastside brewery is merging with VIVA Beer, according to a release. The move will allow the latter to grow the brand in San Antonio and beyond.

Embracing the de facto return of fall, if not the return of crisp weather, the food scene is preparing for a flurry of events. The Big Red & Barbacoa Festival has announced the dates for its 11th year. Single-day tickets start at $10 and are available online.

Can't wait until October for festival season? The San Antonio Brunch Festival runs from 11am to 3 pm on September 23. More than a dozen local eateries will be participating, offering unlimited bites. Tickets, ranging from $85-$150, are no longer available online but will be available at the door. More details are available here.

The University of Texas San Antonio's popular Ven a Comercelebration returns on September 29. Several activities are planned to support UTSA's renowned Mexican cookbook collection, including a series of dinners at Mixtli, a DIY cookbook workshop, a community pachanga, and a party at Carriqui. As always, the event's showcase will be a fundraising dinner on September 29 featuring local chefs Alexana Cabrera and Sofia Tejeda, mezcalero Pedro Jimenez Gurria, and James Bears Award winner Iliana de la Vega of Austin's El Naranjo.

Ladino is marking its first anniversary with a grill-out party on October 1. The shindig will feature unlimited bites, a live DJ, and games for $40. Cocktails will be available for purchase.

Here are the top 7 things to do in San Antonio this weekend

Weekend Event Guide

Music and more live entertainment are making a strong case for being out and about in Alamo City for the next few days. See Maluma live in concert, or have a laugh with Deon Cole. For those looking to welcome fall with a bit of flair, Fright Fest returns to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Check out the top seven things to do in San Antonio this weekend. For a complete list of events, visit our calendar.

Thursday, September 21

Mission Marquee Outdoor Family Film Series: Selena
Enjoy a free screening of the blockbuster 1997 film Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez, on the outdoor silver screen at Mission Marquee Plaza. Guests are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs, blankets, and snacks for the most comfortable movie experience. Additional attractions include food trucks and live entertainment. More information about the film series can be found at missionmarquee.com. This is a pet-friendly and all-ages event.

San Antonio Botanical Garden presents "Lush: Twilight in the Garden"
The after-hours entertainment series at San Antonio Botanical Garden continues. This month’s activities are inspired by the theme "Knight at the Garden" and will include extended garden hours, live music, entertainment, a signature beverage, and an array of floral displays for ambiance. For more information and to snag your tickets, go to sabot.org.

AT&T Center presents Maluma in concert
Latin music sensation Maluma stops by San Antonio’s AT&T Center for one night only. The Colombian voice of hit songs like “HP” and “Felices Los 4” performs live in support of his new album, Don Juan. Go to Ticketmaster for more details.

Friday, September 22

Six Flags Fiesta Texas presents Fright Fest
Six Flags Fiesta Texas undergoes a terrific transformation into the spookiest space in San Antonio with the return of Fright Fest. Park visitors can enjoy nighttime attractions such as haunted houses, scare zones, thrilling rides, and more. Fright Fest programming continues through October 31. Visit sixflags.com for additional information.

Aztec Theatre presents "Deon Cole: My New Normal"
Actor and comedian Deon Cole comes to Aztec Theatre for one night of major rabble-rousing and humor. The Black-ish star and seasoned stand-up comedian makes the stop in San Antonio in support of his My New Normal tour. In addition to his appearances on television, Cole is also known for his comedy specials, including Charleen’s Boy on Netflix. Get tickets on Live Nation.

Saturday, September 23

Ballet San Antonio presents "Ballet in the Park"
Art in motion is set against the backdrop of the night sky at this special Ballet San Antonio event. "Ballet in the Park" is a two-part evening that includes a free children’s ballet class and a live performance by the company’s professional dancers. Admission to the show is free and open to the public.

Hill Country Council for the Arts presents Boerne BierFest
Venture out to Boerne for a day of Texas beer with German-inspired festivities at the Agricultural Museum and Arts Center. BierFest highlights include live music from headliner Gary P. Nunn, traditional strength competitions, a live auction, art displays, food, and more. Attendees will also get to sample from more than 30 Texan craft breweries with a commemorative tasting stein. Festival information and ticketing details can be found at hccarts.org. For those looking for an elevated experience, VIP packages are also available.

Maluma / Facebook

Maluma performs live at the AT&T Center on September 21.

San Antonio foundation pounces on bold program to return ocelots to the wild


In Texas, wildlife conservation is far from a simple equation. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, over 93 percent of the state is privately owned, including vital habitats for big cats. Balancing protection measures with the desires of landowners requires a deft hand.

Still, one San Antonio nonprofit is hoping it has found the right formula for ocelot recovery. The East Foundation, a local ranching operation and agricultural research organization, is proposing the Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, to support reintroducing species into the wild. A 30-day public comment period began September 15.

Following the proposal, the East Foundation will release ocelots onto a section of its San Antonio Viejo Ranch in Jim Hogg and Starr Counties — an area marked as unoccupied ocelot habitat. Landowners in neighboring counties can voluntarily sign up to allow the cats passage on their acres, exempting them from future conservation activities.

Working with the Recover Texas Ocelots project, East Foundation has assembled large amounts of data on ocelots, ranging from prey habits to behavior with other carnivores. This research informed the organization's conservation strategy.

The need for protection is dire. The distinctively spotted wild cats have been officially listed as endangered since 1982. The state's sole breeding populations live in far South Texas, where much land is devoted to ranching.

"The largest population of ocelots remaining in Texas (and, by extension, the United States) occupies East Foundation ranch land in Willacy County," explains Dr. Jason Sawyer, Chief Science Officer for the East Foundation, via a release. Several estimates place that population between 50 and 100.

"So, we have demonstrated that good land stewardship associated with normal ranching activities is not in conflict with ocelot recovery," he continued, "and we want to continue ranching operations while also providing an opportunity to expand these populations."

Plan details and other conservation efforts can be found online. Comments will be accepted through October 16, with full specifics available at the Federal Register.

"The assurances provided in the Agreement offer a path for lasting and effective partnerships that accomplish conservation goals while removing the barriers that have historically impeded these efforts," said Neal Wilkins, Chief Executive Officer for the East Foundation. "We are excited to lead an effort like this in South Texas, where we successfully operate, and where wildlife conservation and ranching have been vitally important for more than 100 years."