Texas travel usually spotlights cities like Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Lately, however, there have been whispers about San Antonio, the Lone Star state’s second-largest city. San Antonio has history, nightlife, and vibrant local art and culinary scenes. It’s a laid-back city, not tripping all over itself trying to be something it’s not.
SIX REASONS TO VISIT SAN ANTONIO
I recently moved from New York City to Houston, so I was skeptical about San Antonio. After I arrived, it was love at first sight. Here’s what I fell in love with and why you should put San Antonio on your travel bucket list
San Antonio is home to many different cultures which celebrate different occasions. Whether it’s a religious holiday or battle anniversary, there’s always a party happening. I happened to be in town during Fiesta San Antonio, the year’s biggest festival. The city holds a ten-day celebration every April to commemorate Texas’ independence from Mexico. Fiesta San Antonio is a ten-day celebration the city holds every April to commemorate Texas’ independence from Mexico, where you’ll find parades, concerts, cook-offs, and the King William Renaissance Fair.
Festivals pop up around the city year-round. Besides Texas’ independence, San Antonio celebrates Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth, Diez y Seis, Oktoberfest, and El Dia de Los Muertos, to name a few.
The city is awash in public art. There are murals around town and signature pieces like “La Antorcha de la Amistad” (The Torch of Friendship), a towering red sculpture, and a symbol of goodwill between Mexico and San Antonio. There are significant institutions like the San Antonio Museum of Art, known for its ancient Greek, Roman, Latin American, and Egyptian art collection, and the Witte Museum, with all things science, nature, and culture. The Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibit is a kid-pleaser.
You can also visit smaller galleries, like In the Eye of the Beholder, San Antonio’s only Black-owned gallery, that primarily showcases local Black artists. The works are captivating, detailing the experience of Black America. Make sure you also stop at Hopscotch, an experimental art gallery with interactive installations created by artists worldwide. The exhibit will still blow your mind, even if you are not a big art enthusiast. Trust me. It’s worth visiting.
STROLL OR CRUISE THE RIVER WALK
There’s a reason the River Walk is one of the top attractions in San Antonio and all of Texas. It’s a magical hub of activity and beauty, with its events, holiday boat caroling or holiday river parade and lighting ceremony, art shows, restaurants, bars, boutiques, artisan markets, concerts, and just about anything else you can and can’t imagine. You never know what you might see. The River Walk is 15 miles long and flows through about five miles of downtown. You can walk as much of it as you like or explore it via boat with a Go Rio cruise.
EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY
To say that eating is good in San Antonio is an understatement. Infused with so many different cultures, there’s no doubt San Antonio has a restaurant that’ll satisfy your cravings. One favorite is Boudro’s on the River Walk. Dine inside or at a table along the River Walk. This Texas bistro serves goodies like a blue crab tostada, shrimp, grits, a wood-grilled fish fillet, and blackened prime rib. There is no wrong choice.
Clementine is another restaurant you need to try while you’re in San Antonio. About 20 minutes from downtown, this family-owned restaurant is worth the trek. John Russ, owner and chef, was a 2023 James Beard Awards Finalist in the Best Chef category. From appetizers to desserts, you’ll be delighted. Start with country-fried quail or the flame tart. Go for entrees like Bycatch snapper, and top it off with carrot cake with cream cheese icing, candied pineapple, and coconut ice cream.
For some of the most creative “plant-forward” dishes, the spot is Pharm Table, an apothecary kitchen big on locally sourced ingredients, botanical cocktails, and natural wines. Make sure to order the “India Meets Mexico Guacamole,” made with cilantro, coconut chutney, seasonal herbs, berries, and heirloom corn tortillas. It may just be the best guac you’ve ever had. Also, check out the zucchini noodle bowl, sweet potato waffles, or Peruvian Nikkei ceviche.
You can’t visit San Antonio without stopping at The Alamo. A UNESCO World Heritage site, you can explore the mission-era church, gardens, and the living history encampment to hear the tales from history guides and see demonstrations of what life was like in the 1830s and more.
Don’t just visit The Alamo; All five missions in San Antonio are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mission San José, for instance, is known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Walk the grounds of the mission, visit the museum, and take the time to watch the film “Gente de Razón” at the on-site theater. It tells the story of the native people of 18th-century South Texas, their role in colonizing New Spain, and the impact of the Spanish missions.
ENJOY THE OUTDOORS
While in San Antonio, make time to visit Brackenridge Park: more than 300 acres of nature, with picnic areas along more than two miles of the San Antonio River. Other attractions include the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Zoo, Texas’s oldest municipal golf course, and the Japanese Tea Garden. Between the flowers, stone bridges, 60-foot waterfall, and ponds filled with koi, it’s no wonder everyone tries to grab a photo for Instagram here.
On the weekends, there’s outdoor fun at Pearl Farmers Market, with food from local farmers and ranchers, pottery, jewelry, and more from local artisans. The vibe is festive, with families, couples, plenty of dogs having fun, and likely somebody playing a guitar or singing. While you’ll want to walk around and taste the vendor’s goodies, there are great options like Southerleigh Fine Food And Brewery with its East Texas Crawfish Roll. Try the wood-fired pretzel or duck rolls if you want a light bite.
I was only in town for a weekend, but as I walked through the streets of San Antonio, the vibe was spirited, and happiness permeated the air. I couldn’t have picked a more perfect time to visit the city. I saw just enough to make me decide I wanted to return for more