10 things we think you’ll love about San Antonio
San Antonio is probably best known as home of the Alamo, but there’s so much more to explore. A favorite Texas destination thanks to its vibrant mix of history and modern energy, it’s also a master at recycling old factories and industrial buildings and turning them into attractive museums, restaurants and hotels. In May 2018, the city celebrated 150 years of its annual weeklong extravaganza known as Fiesta San Antonio. If you plan on visiting any time soon, here are 10 things we bet you’ll love about Alamo City.
Once home to a brewery, The Pearl is now like a tiny village square featuring excellent restaurants (don’t miss Bakery Lorrainefor breakfast pastries and Southerleigh, a brewpub, for Sunday brunch) and the stellar Hotel Emma. Locals bring their kids to frolic on a central expanse of lawn with a popular water feature, and adults hang there, too, to enjoy year-round live music. The Culinary Institute of America has one of its three campuses here, and the town’s largest farmers’ market operates on Saturdays and Sundays.
ART ON THE RIVER
Hop on a river taxi or stroll the paths to explore the city’s most famous attraction, the tree-lined River Walk, which is dotted with outdoor cafes and stone bridges. On foot, you can walk from The Pearl to the San Antonio Museum of Art to view some unusual installations such as “The Grotto,” a cave-like waterfall by Carlos Cortes. The museum itself has excellent Latin American and Asian art collections.
On Tuesday nights in downtown San Antonio, parking is free in most lots and spaces after 5pm. Starting at 4pm, the Briscoe Western Art Museum’s stellar collection of western art housed in a beautifully restored 1930s art deco/neo-classical library building is also free for viewing. Arrive at San Antonio’s lovely historic Main Plaza (dating back to the early 1700s) by 9pm for the evening’s first projection of San Antonio/The Saga light show (always free) onto the exterior of the San Fernando Cathedral—the oldest cathedral sanctuary in the nation. This video art installation tells the history of San Antonio in a colorful nutshell. For a nightcap, grab a drink at the newly updated Esquire Tavern, described by a cabbie as renovated up “from tomato to tomahto.”
WORLD’S BEST MOJITO
Just a 15-minute stroll along the River Walk from downtown, the Hotel Havana’s gorgeous conservatory dining room is the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing cold drink, most notably its tasty mojito with crushed mint. The hotel itself operates in a recently restored Mediterranean Revival-style building dating from 1914. Guest rooms at this small boutique property are spacious and feature dark wood details and high ceilings.
JAPANESE TEA GARDEN (OR IS IT CHINESE?)
Oddly, the arch leading into the town’s traditional Japanese Tea Garden reads “Chinese Tea Garden.” It was so renamed during World War II, when anti-Japanese sentiment was high, and never changed back. But it is indeed the Japanese Tea Garden. Standout stonework hails from the town’s old rock quarry, and features include a large koi pond with aquatic plants and a 60-foot waterfall.
The up-and-coming (again) King William Historic District is filled with vintage homes once owned by the prominent German merchants who settled this district. Have breakfast or lunch in the Tea Room of the 1859 Guenther House, where breads and pastries are made with flour milled by the founder’s original flour mill still located across the way; then do a self-guided tour of the small house museum. Cross the street to visit the grand Victorian that is the Edward Steves Homestead Museum, featuring a French mansard roof, 13-inch thick limestone walls and 14-foot high ceilings.
SUNDAY IN THE PARK
Built to host the 1968 World’s Fair, Hemisfair Park has been redone. The new Yanaguana Garden section features a playground, splash pad, giant chess board, a giant sand box and an inexpensive paleteria dispensing fresh fruit popsicles. Adjacent to the park, Dough Pizzeria Napoletana offers park-view outdoor seating and a menu of delicious artisan pizzas prepared with house-made cheeses and baked in a 900-degree oven covered artistically with copper pennies.
Visitors can take in the city’s lively culture in the three-block outdoor plaza that is Market Square. The largest Mexican market in the U.S., it’s lined with restaurants, shops and produce stands, and sometimes Mariachi bands and dancers also entertain. A block-long indoor market—El Mercado—contains shops and stalls that sell a plethora of items from Mexico that make the perfect souvenir. A meal or snack at festive Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia is a must. Run by the same family since the 1940s, it features elaborate Christmas decor, a detailed wall mural and a solid Tex-Mex menu (the chilaquiles and a fruit margarita are hard to beat).
A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Four rustic Spanish colonial missions established in the 1700s make up the San Antonio Mission National Historical Parkthat was recently, along with the Alamo, declared a UNESCO site. The San Antonio Mission Trail begins at the Alamo and winds southward along a nine-mile stretch of the San Antonio River. You can drive, walk, bike or bus between them.
REMEMBER THE ALAMO (WITH TREATS IN HAND)
But first, to fortify yourself for the long line to get into the actual mission church at the super-famous site, make a stop at nearby La Panaderia to grab a pan dulce (the deliciously over-stuffed tequila-almond croissant is justly popular) and a superb “dirty” Mexican hot chocolate that includes a shot of espresso.