What are the makings of the perfect golf getaway? Where to play and how many rounds you can squeeze in may be first on the mind, but don’t neglect the most important parts of your vacation, meaning, well, everything else. Whether you’re playing sun up to sundown, or a quick round in-between tourist stops with the family, the time you spend on the course is a mere fraction of your vacation as a whole. Where you’re staying, dining options, local nightlife, attractions and all “the little things” are the factors that will determine just how great your golf getaway will be.
It’s those special little things that set the city of Laredo, TX, apart from the Scottsdales, Orlandos and others typically associated with golf getaways. A city somewhat lost in the mainstream perception of a US border town, Laredo exists in a world unto itself; rich with natural beauty, a culture steeped in history, and offering a kind of rest and relaxation unlike anywhere else.
Though founded in 1755, during the Spanish effort to colonize northern Mexico, it wasn’t until after the U.S.’ annexation of Texas in 1845 — and the subsequent war with Mexico — that Laredo became a part of the United States. Centuries of Spanish, Mexican and American cultural exchanges have left an indelible mark on the city, making for an unmatched experience for anyone looking to explore one of America’s most unique regions.
Laredo’s cultural identity is defined by the city’s center, San Augistín Plaza in downtown’s San Augistín Historical District. A beautiful, tranquil park lined with brick roads neighbors the 19th century San Augistín Cathedral, completed in 1872 and run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Laredo. The building’s roots date back to the 1760s, when a small mission was built as a place of worship, later replaced by a small stone structure in 1778. Visitors can still see the outline of that stone structure outside the cathedral’s front doors, with colored bricks marking the original foundation that still rests several feet below ground.
Adjacent to the cathedral, is the gorgeous property of the original casa consistorial (think town hall), now an impeccable Four Diamond hotel, La Posada. The property was once converted into a high school — the building that now houses the main lobby, restaurant and other amenities — before becoming the city’s foremost boutique hotel, touting impressive views of the Mexican border and famed bridge crossings from the banks of the Rio Grande. The historical building flies seven flags above its doors, each representing a territorial claim on the land (see image caption below) a proud deflection from Texas’ usual “Six Flags” moniker found throughout the city.
Inside, La Posada’s quaint elegance is evident at first glance with rustic accents and refined features highlighting the property’s design and historical significance. Manicured courtyards lined with pristine gardens serve as corridors to the guest rooms, with the stunning main courtyard hosting one of the properties two outdoor pools, a poolside bar and water feature surrounded by towering plants and livened by the sound of birds singing as they bustle to and from. All in all, La Posada delivers a quintessential vacation setting. Rooms include nods to historical elegance as well, with exposed brick walls and more rustic accents characterizing the cozy, comforting and well-maintained spaces. With a top quality full service bar and restaurant, ballroom and event venue, La Posada Hotel has created its own signature brand of rest and relaxation you can only find in Laredo.
Right outside the hotel doors is The Republic of the Rio Grande Museum, Laredo’s definitive historical center. The small museum is one the city’s oldest structures, having served as the capitol building of the short-lived Republic of the Rio Grande and the former residence of the famed Bartolomé Garcia, the mayor of Laredo. Though small in size, the museum is rife with artifacts dating back to the earliest years of the territory, and authentic displays transport visitors into a day in the life of those living on the Rio in the 1800s, and a must-visit for anyone wanting to make the most of this unique cultural experience.
All You Can Eat
While Laredo’s “authentic” dining scene is dominated by latin cuisine — don’t sleep on the local gas station’s tacos — the growing metro is home to many locally-owned restaurants, and trending towards the modern craft movement with more and more casual, hip, and delicious options abound. Lolita’s Bistro is a shining example of the latter with gorgeous plates served in a delightful, social media worthy atmosphere. Unbeholden to a specific cuisine, Lolita’s menus delight with a range of Middle Eastern, American and Asian flavors alongside its stand-out Latin options. The appetizer list cannot be missed, especially with the salpicon tostadas and Baja style lobster taco waiting to dazzle your taste buds. The salpicon (shredded seasoned beef served cold) sticks to the Mexican variation — shredded beef stewed with onion, garlic, and dried spices served cold — heaped on a fresh tostada with fresh pico, avocado, queso fresco and onion coming together for an unforgettable bite. Not to be outdone, the lobster taco’s creamy texture works surprisingly well inside a tortilla, with saffron rice, chipotle avocado and black beans complimenting the fresh lobster flavor and making for an addictive teaser.
For an authentic taste of Laredo, the Palenque name is inescapable. Taco Palenque is a local fast-food mainstay for 24 hour favorites, serving the signature flavors of its tacos and quesadillas from multiple locations all across Southeast Texas. It’s more refined relative touting the same moniker, Palenque Grill wows diners with bountiful servings of North Pacific Mexican Cuisine, superb presentation, and spot-on flavors. Per Texas standards, the meal begins with complimentary chips and salsa, which you do not want to skip. Whether sweet, smoky or spicy, the sampling of house salsas disappear all too quickly, serving as a perfect compliment to anything else you order, too. Mouth watering options line Palenque Gill’s menu cover to cover — from seafood to enchiladas, parrilladas and more — meaning the most unenjoyable part of your dinner will be having to choose one. For an excellent sampler option, go for the parrilladas; enormous sizzling platters of perfectly cooked meats, vegetables and peppers served with accompanying sides and tortillas. Grilled meats show strong with or without accoutrements, but the shrimp stand without equal — stuffed with cheese and peppers, wrapped in bacon and charred impeccably.
Exceptional flavors stick close to Laredo’s premiere golf offerings as well, as evidenced by Las Islitas Grill inside The Max’s stunning adobe-style clubhouse. Las Islitas’ attention to quality is on display in any of its traditional clubhouse menu items — sandwiches, apps, burgers, salads and more. But a watchful eye on the restaurant’s specials will catch a number of affordable must-have dishes to enjoy wether you’re playing or not. Local favorite Stone and Stein pizza, meanwhile, crafts wood-oven pizzas to order in the Outlet Shoppes at Laredo (see below). The Subway-meets-Chipotle-meets-pizza concept is built to turn out fresh pies without delay, boasting all the freshest ingredients you could want on a custom pie.
For a quick fill up before a night out begins, Cultura Beer Garden is a must. The unique spot showcases Laredo’s handle on modern food trends, with live entertainment, libations, and local food trucks all in one, with amble outdoor seating and indoor space as well. Start with drink orders at the front bar before choosing from a variety of food trucks lining the back driveway — you can’t go wrong. The large community tables and live entertainment complete the beer garden vibe, and set the perfect tone for what’s to come.
From Dusk Till Dawn
When the weekend sun sets on the city center a different Laredo comes alive, fueled by bright lights, loud music, and refreshing cocktails. Siete Banderas has mastered each. The Banderas building is unique in and of itself, with its second story roof top patio bar overlooking the uncovered portion of the immense ground level — another full service bar offers covered seating at the ground level, too. The music blares from each corner of the property and through the pulsating sound system, playing top American and Latino hits that keep the crowds whooping until last call. Aside from the club scene, Laredo’s bustling nightlife is sure to suit any style of entertainment one could be looking for, including karaoke, jazz, sports bars, pubs, and everything between.
When the last call beckons and the music subsides, a walk through the city center proves as enjoyable as the day before. The perfect nighttime climate blankets the city in preparation for the next sunrise, though the city doesn’t sleep. Just across the banks of the Rio Grande, thousands of Mexican day laborers, trucks, trailers and travelers, make their way across the border 24 hours a day, and represent the city’s main economic driver. Laredo’s population balloons by the tens of thousands daily with legal border crossings, and afforded a sense of security by a presence from every branch of American law enforcement patrolling the city and surrounding areas.
As Laredo’s population and development continues to boom, the city’s finding new ways to capitalize on its unique situation. Of the thousands crossing the border each day, many make their way through the city to outlet shopping hotspots further north. In order to cut that travel distance and introduce travelers to all Laredo has to offer, the city opened The Outlet Shoppes at Laredo. The beautifully colored, open air mall touts some of the best mainstream brands, including Nike, Puma, Columbia, H&M, Vans, Rue 21, Zales and a whole lot more — with clearance prices and savings opportunities unmatched by most outlet malls. Crowds line the corridors from open to close, speaking not only to the success of the mall but also the high quality shopping options for locals and travelers alike.
Laredo as a whole is in the midst of reimagining itself, squashing the misinformed stereotypes that come with being a southern border town. With so much to offer — from top quality golf offerings to a one-of-a-kind cultural experience — the city not only deserves consideration as a destination vacation, it demands it.