60. Play Tourist At El Mercado

Mexican ceramics abound at El Mercado. - Courtesy
Mexican ceramics abound at El Mercado.

No matter if you're a tourist or a native San Antonian, you could easily lose yourself in Market Square. Hey, it's not a bad thing, don't be ashamed.

Across from Milam Park lies a three-block outdoor plaza filled with the sights, sounds and cuisine reflective of old Mexico – one of the most famous outdoor markets in the country, according to Frommer's.

More than 100 shops, galleries and stalls occupy areas known as El Mercado and Farmers Market Plaza. Browse curio shops with everything from hand-embroidered Mexican dresses and hats to musical instruments and decorations.

Shopkeepers play a variety of Mexican music, adding to the atmosphere.

Most of the shops, such as Old Mexico Imports, a fixture here since the 1960s, remain family-owned.

"This is all I've known," shop owner Michael Herrejon said matter-of-factly.

Hungry patrons may visit the food court or an assortment of food booths. Just outside are traditional Tex-Mex spots like La Margarita Restaurant and Oyster Bar (120 Produce Row)and Mi Tierra Café and Bakery (218 Produce Row).

Adorned with Christmas lights and other decorations, Mi Tierra is open around the clock. It's a spot popular with tourists, locals celebrating a special milestone and late-night partygoers seeking a pre-bedtime meal. Mariachi musicians stroll around and offer to play a few tunes for willing diners.

Market Square buzzes with even more activity on weekends and in certain seasons. Artists and live musicians, food and beverage booths and outdoor family activities bring in big crowds during Fiesta and Easter, as well as around Cinco de Mayo, Halloween and Christmas.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio's Educational and Cultural Arts Center sits within the Market Square plaza area. Its presence as the former Museo Alameda, lined by colorful walls, complements the adjacent restaurants and shops.

Merchants such as Herrejon acknowledge that some individuals may see Market Square as a tourist trap. But he feels it offers something more.

"People are fascinated with Hispanic and Mexican culture. They appreciate that this place has some charm of old Mexico," he said.

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