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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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San Antonio suburb among the richest places in Texas for 2023, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio suburb cashes in among the richest places in Texas for 2023. Alamo Heights has been renamed the third richest place in Texas for 2023 in a recent study.

2. San Antonio home sales slowed in December 2022, report finds. San Antonio sold 36,477 homes all year, a 10 percent decrease from 2021.

3. Here are the top 5 things to do in San Antonio this weekend. Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, the Beatles and more music-centered events made our roundup of the best things to do in Alamo City this weekend.

4. San Antonio Home & Garden Show returns with HGTV star. Ati Williams will headline the San Antonio Spring Home & Garden Show, which takes place February 24-26.

5. H-E-B opens first location in growing San Antonio suburb. The state-of-the-art facility offers 110,000 square feet of floor space, providing everything from cat food to charcuterie.


Popular Pearl brunch spot remixes with new weekend DJ nights

OONCE OONCE OONCE

Though Full Goods Diner has barely been open for half a year, it has already become a San Antonio staple for working weekday lunches and lingering Sunday Fundays. Now the Pearl eatery is looking to be a hot spot after dark.

Via release, the popular local haunt just announced a new limited-time music series, Full Goods at Night. Starting on February 2, Full Goods Diner will open select evenings throughout the month.

The Full Goods at Night series will feature popular local San Antonio DJs, including El West Side Sound, Hector Gallego, DJ Plata, Steven Lee Moya, and Cami Gee. Guests can enjoy live sets while indulging in a specially curated food and drink offerings.

The menu will include some of Full Goods Diner's best—selling items, such as French toast sticks, barbacoa waffle fries, and jumbo cheesy tots. Libations like the Attaboy Negroni, Royal Bermuda Daiquiri, Pink G&T, and more will fuel the festivities.

In addition to enjoying moonlight brunch, guests can relish some prime people-watching. And, of course, the restaurant is just a hop from other nightlife destinations like Pink Hill, 3 Star Bar, and Summer Camp Bar, making it the perfect party starter.

The series runs every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from February 2-25, 6-10 pm. The complete DJ schedule is listed below.

February 2 — El West Side Sound·
February 3 — Hector Gallego
February 4— DJ Plata
February 9 — El West Side Sound
February 10 — Steven Lee Moya
February 11 — Cami Gee
February 16 — El West Side Sound
February 17 — Steven Lee Moya
February 18 — Hector Gallego
February 23 — El West Side Sound
February 24— Steven Lee Moya
February 25 — DJ Plata

4 San Antonio culinary pioneers win $21K from the Texas Food & Wine Alliance

CULINARY INNOVATION

Texas’ skyrocketing culinary scene is about to get a huge boost. The Texas Food & Wine Alliance’s grant program has awarded $107,500 to 19 culinary innovators around the state. This marks the Alliance’s 11th year providing funding to support culinary projects contributing to local communities.

The award winners were announced in a ceremony at Austin's Holdsworth Center on January 21. A private panel of distinguished culinary experts chose the winners out of 40 grant applications this year. Nine winners hail from Austin, three from Dallas-Fort Worth, three from Houston, and four from San Antonio. The awards range from $1,500 to $10,000, with a special $25,000 grant investment from Austin favorite Tito’s Handmade Vodka in honor of the company’s 25th anniversary. Grant funding will support chefs, farms, and culinary education groups, among others.

Out of the four San Antonio area winners, Talking Tree Farm received the most from the grant program, $6,250 to purchase shipping containers for storage and to buy a solar-powered cold room for their harvests. John Marshall High School’s culinary arts program will use their $5,000 grant to establish a morning café. Agricultural project Habitable Spaces and pasture-raised chicken farm Cielito Lindo Farm also won $5,000 each to purchase equipment or build infrastructure to further their endeavors in the culinary space.

Austin-area winners received the most funding from the grant program, totalling $53,750, while San Antonio winners received $21,250 in total. Dallas/Fort Worth winners were awarded $19,750, and the three Houston recipients won $12,750. All of the 2022 winners reflect just how diverse the state's trailblazing culinary scene continues to expand.

“All of this year’s funded projects will further enrich the state through innovation and giveback,” said Erika White, executive director of the Alliance. “We’re extremely grateful to each of the Texas communities, our sponsors and their support in allowing us to reward these mold-breaking projects.”

In Austin, organic farm Trosi Farms was awarded the most funding ($10,000), which will help construct a germination shed for more stable plant start production. Locavore pioneer Boggy Creek Farm won $7,500 in grants to provide ADA-compliant accessibility to their new climate-controlled Tomato House, while Texas’ first organic feed mill, Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill & Farm, received $6,250 to help purchase a building to be used as a store for the local community.

The six other Austin area grant recipients, each winning $5,000, include Vista Farms at Vista Brewing, Jamaican family business Tierra Todun ATX, coffee roasters Rising Tide Roast Collaborative, culinary educator Chef Pascal Simon from Bake Austin, East Austin food truck Community Vegan, and Latinx pastry project Comadre Panaderia (who also just earned a James Beard nomination). All winners will be able to use their grants to improve efficiency and expand their businesses, or in Chef Pascal's case, further research and development for her upcoming cookbook for Gen-Z young adults.

After starting the program in Austin, grant co-chair and TFWA past president Cathy Cochran-Lewis says it was the Alliance’s dream to expand the grant statewide.

“We’re so humbled and thrilled to now not only support worthwhile projects across Texas but also to give more than a half million dollars in funding over the last decade to help dreams come true,” she says. “This is a tribute to the culinary talent and the community mindset we are lucky to have in our state.”

The winners in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas include:

For this year's Honorable Mention, the Alliance chose San Antonio eatery Tacos Cucuy, who will soon open a brick-and-mortar space with an expanded menu. Tacos Cucuy are currently looking for support to develop a Tex-Mex charcuterie program called La Cura Carnes Especiales.

More information about the 2022 grants and its recipients can be found on texasfoodandwinealliance.org.