El Mercado offered TONS of souvenirs and items with a Southwest influence. There were flouncy skirts and ruffled tops, leather belts and purses, colorfully painted ceramics, silver and beaded jewelry, cloth dolls, toys, pinatas, indoor and outdoor metal sculptures, cowboy hats, plus many other items. Festive strings of multi-colored paper cut outs hung overhead.
One stall after another was filled with brightly-colored wares vying for the tourist's attention. Be sure to compare prices because they vary from one shop to another. Our grandson decided to purchase a cowboy hat with his money. I had my eye on a string of red ceramic chili peppers, but my husband nixed that idea.
El Mercado is part of Market Square which comprises a farmer's market, cafe, restaurant and bakery and art gallery. Special events are held here throughout the year. Hours are 10 am-8 pm June-Aug.; 10 am-6pm Sept. May. There is metered parking nearby and a parking garage at the Farmer's Market, maximum cost $5.00.
Our initial plan was to go across the border to shop around for some Mexican souvenirs but with everything that was going on in Laredo at the time, we decided to opt for El Mercado instead and I'm glad we did! There are so many shops in there (about 100 merchants), all filled with traditional Mexican arts and crafts, jewelry, food, etc., and prices are very reasonable. A fun experience!
What to buy: I bought a couple of hand-made, hand-painted picture frames.
What to pay: Prices are more expensive than what you'd pay if you were to go across the border, but it's worth saving the hassle
I could be cynical about El Mercado - "the biggest Mexican market outside Mexico" but I won't. I have no doubt hordes of visitors to San Antonio think this place is great. It's certainly colourful and I'm sure on a busy day, with music playing and crowds of people having a good time, it's fun but, on a quiet weekday with few people around, it all seemed a bit tawdry and contrived. Shop after shop sold exactly the same stuff so once you'd looked at one place selling ceramics for example, there was very little that was different in the twenty shops that followed, and one string of painted papier-mache fruit looks much the same as another after you've seen the first couple of dozen. Knowing what fine craft there is to be had in Mexico didn't help, the stuff on sale at Market Square seemed very mass-produced and some was downright crude in its execution.
That's just my opinion - don't let me put you off, as I said, loads of people love this place - but if you're looking for the sort of atmosphere, variety and sheer exhuberance of a truly Mexican market, you'd better head south of the border, well south - Oaxaca would be my choice.
El Mercado is the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico. Aside from going there for the sightseeing and eating, there are also more than 125 shops selling Mexican and South American products, handmade jewellery and pottery as well as local crafts and souvenier items.
They also have many annual festivals and celebrations there.
My friend, Shanna, brought me to the Mercado when we were having a mini-vacation in San Antonio. Her family regularly goes here but I had never been, nor did I even know about it. My Eyewitness guidebook had suggested this place for the restaurant Mi Tierra(but it was way too packed-2 hour wait) to get in. So we decided to shop and get out of town.
El Mercado is part plaza, part eating market, and part shopping market. The main shopping area has different stalls set up in a big building. The prices were higher at some stores and lower in others. The stalls had traditional Mexican items, and clothing too. Many "handmade" items. I'm not sure if it was "Made in China" or not but it appeared to be handmade for the most part...but definitely at ALL stalls.
In the eating market there was live entertainment of traditional flamenco/Spanish dancing. I loved the bright clothing and dancing. The entertainment was in the center of the food stalls. Most of it seemed like items you would find in a "taco truck." At the time it wasn't very appetizing to me, so I chose not to eat.
And the plaza was nice on a warm day, but when it's gets blistering (in the middle of the day in July) it was a bit crowded under the shaded parts of the plaza. Most people were waiting outside the BUSY restaurants. With the crowds on Sunday morning getting busier, we decided to leave. Wouldn't mind going back again, though.
A great history of the Historic Market Square
Market Square is owned and operated by the City of San Antonio
Historic Market Square / El Mercado Parking
-There are paystations along the streets surrounding Market Square. Click here for more information.
-Parking is available in the Farmers Market Plaza roof parking lot. Click here to view rates and map.
-VIA Streetcars run throughout downtown and arrive every 10 minutes. Please visit VIA's website by clicking here for more information.
-Just hop on the red, purple or yellow streetcar!
Summer Hours ( June - August ) 10 am - 8 pm
Winter Hours ( September - May ) 10 am - 6 pm
What to buy: I bought some traditional Mexican hats and decorations for Cinco de Mayo.
Also, bought a cheap aluminum ornament for the Christmas tree. I've seen many ornaments painted on aluminum at other destinations so I'm pleased.
Also found an elephant sculpture made out of a specific rock for my mom. She collects elephants from wherever I go. :)
A list of the current shops inside the Mercado
What to pay: Some stalls are cheaper than others. It is touristy, so I definitely wouldn't pay the outrageous prices if you don't like them, find another vendor.
The advertisement tells it is the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico.
It proposes all the Mexican stuff : food, clothes, hats, religious things, etc... in 125 shops.
We were not very fond of all this stuff and we did not buy any thing there.
A short walk from the Riverwalk is this small festive marketplace. Lots of people as you can see with a lot of bands, restaurants and stores.
What to buy: A lot of Mexican art/crafts