By: Casandra Karpiak | From: Media Decision

San Antonio may not receive as much national attention as Austin, Dallas, or Houston, but with a bold new expansion project on the horizon, it's quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing tourist scenes in Texas.

The proximity of San Antonio to the border with Mexico has greatly influenced its culture over the years, resulting in a city that blends American and Mexican traditions into one rich tapestry.

But San Antonio's culture extends far beyond its Spanish and Mexican heritage. The seventh-largest city in the United States showcases picturesque architecture that pays homage to its rich history, while its modern hotels and restaurants exemplify the city's forward-thinking nature.

Travel + Leisure named San Antonio one of its travelers' favorite cities last year, with the Alamo City coming in at No. 10 on the list. A new study released this month hands it the second spot for most affordable cities to vacation in the U.S. 

No longer a city falling under the radar of visitors, San Antonio is quickly becoming a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the true essence of Texas. San Antonio International Airport had its busiest year ever in 2023, and officials recently announced $30 million in federal funds for airport expansion, including a new terminal.

"There are many reasons more than 36 million visitors choose San Antonio each year," says Marc Anderson, President and CEO of Visit San Antonio. "Simply put, there is no place like it in the world. Our iconic blend of cultures, deep-seated history, vibrant cultural options, and flourishing culinary scene continues to draw leisure travelers from around the country and around the world. 

"The nation's seventh largest city, and its fastest growing city, will only get better and more accessible with the 2028 opening of San Antonio's airport expansion. San Antonio International Airport's current $2.5 billion expansion will add new flights, new airlines, and a new terminal. We look forward to welcoming even more visitors to the unique and diverse Culinary Capital of Texas."

Award-Winning Luxury

The Pearl District, located in the heart of one of San Antonio's trendiest neighborhoods, is undergoing massive revitalization. Once home to the historic Pearl Brewery, this area boasts an award-winning five-star hotel.

Hotel Emma was named the best hotel in Texas and No. 13 in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report. The luxurious spot also sits on Forbes' Travel Guide's 2024 Star Awards. Hotel Emma's namesake, Emma Koehler, took over as CEO of Pearl Brewery following her husband Otto's death in 1914.

Located near downtown San Antonio, the 146-room hotel, established in 2015, serves as an anchor for the Pearl. The hotel boasts luxurious amenities, including a rooftop pool, unique culinary experiences, elegant guest rooms, and an extensive library of books donated by esteemed San Antonio author Sherry Kafka Wagneron.

Upon entering the hotel, visitors marvel at the refined industrial elements that nod to the building's original purpose as a brewery. The towering engine, standing at 8 feet tall and painted in a striking rust-red hue, proudly resides in its original location — the former engine room of the brewhouse. 

Chandeliers crafted from stemware once used in the brewery's bottling house illuminate the space, while three colossal cast-iron fermentation tanks are now plush, pillow-covered booths in the hotel tavern.

But the Pearl District is not just about luxury accommodations. It also features a weekly farmers' market showcasing local produce, artisan goods, and several restaurants serving delicious cuisine from renowned chefs.

Don't miss stopping by Bakery Lorraine for their delectable macarons, homemade pop tarts, and other mouthwatering pastries.

Eat Your Way Across the City

One of the best food tours I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing was with owner Julia Rosenfeld of Food Chick Tours. Guided by Rosenfeld, who spent 14 years as the restaurant reviewer for San Antonio magazine, I discovered and explored the city through food and history.

This South Texas city appeals to history enthusiasts while its fusion of Tex-Mex, BBQ culture, and farm-to-table boasts a plethora of exciting dining destinations for culinary connoisseurs.

Rosenfeld's favorite restaurant in the city sits in the Pearl district, where we began our tour. 

Ladino, a modern Mediterranean grill house, is where "the food is just amazing, and the service is just sparkling — the creativity of the menu. I go home after every meal here and try to reverse-engineer how they did something so I can make it at home. I fall in love with the food here," shares Rosenfeld.

Another culinary gem just south of downtown, albeit more casual, is Lala's Gorditas. Owner Steven Pizzini's puffy tacos and bean cups are some of the best Tex-Mex foods I have ever eaten. And yes, it is authentic Tex-Mex. Pizzini showed me how he uses the original stones from a moline circa 1932 that his uncle Frank manufactured and invented to grind his corn.

Aside from the classic Tex-Mex dishes, San Antonio has a prominent Texas barbecue scene with numerous restaurants serving brisket, ribs, and sausage. 

After indulging in one of Rosenfeld's tours, consider a stroll back along the river from the Pearl to your hotel to walk off all the food. It's a beautiful, safe walk and provides a different perspective of this charming city.

And no matter what your day entails, cap it off with a cocktail at The Moon's Daughters, a rooftop bar with stunning city views and delicious handcrafted cocktails.

Experience the History of San Antonio

No trip to San Antonio is complete without a visit to its most iconic landmark - The Alamo. This former Spanish mission-turned-fortress played a crucial role in the Texas Revolution and is now a popular tourist attraction.

But the city's history goes much deeper than the battle at The Alamo. Visitors can explore other historical sites, such as the San Antonio Mission National Historical Park, which includes four other missions besides The Alamo that offer a glimpse into the city's past.

For a taste of San Antonio's Spanish colonial heritage, head to La Villita Historic Arts Village on the southern bank of San Antonio's River Walk, a charming area filled with local artisans and shops. The King William neighborhood is also worth visiting, known for its stunning Victorian and Italianate architecture.

People can no longer walk through beautiful Fort Sam Houston, a former military post that now serves as the headquarters for the Fifth United States Army. But you can see its beautiful red-roofed buildings by walking around the fort or learning about its history at the Fort Sam Houston Museum and the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum

Spanning an impressive 40,000 square feet, this facility artfully tells the story of the Army Medical Corps, tracing its roots from 1775 to the present day.

A City Full of Surprises

San Antonio may be known for its rich history and delicious food, but it also has plenty of surprises in store for visitors.

For sports fans, San Antonio is home to the NBA's five-time champions, the San Antonio Spurs. Catching a game at the Frost Bank Center is a must for any basketball enthusiast.

If you're a fan of amusement parks, San Antonio also has you covered with Six Flags Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld. And amusement parks aren't the only place you will find cotton candy. The Tuscan-inspired restaurant Range served me the most decadent and flavorful cotton candy I've ever tasted. At a steakhouse, no less!

And for those who love the outdoors, there are numerous hiking trails and parks to explore, including the iconic River Walk, which offers stunning views of the city's famous riverfront.

San Antonio's vibrant arts and culture scene is the biggest surprise of all. From the iconic McNay Art Museum, the Western Art Museum, and the San Antonio Museum of Art to the Historic Market Square, numerous art galleries, museums, and cultural events showcase the city's diverse heritage.

If You Go

The Hotel Contessa, nestled along the vibrant River Walk, offers a delightful accommodation alternative. This all-suite property rests in the heart of downtown and boasts rooms with views of the river or city. Check out the rooftop pool and spa and enjoy a leisurely meal on the River Walk.

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort is perfect for those seeking a getaway in San Antonio to escape from it all. The stunning 600-acre property, situated just 30 minutes outside the downtown area, offers unobstructed views of the Hill Country terrain and boasts an astounding array of amenities.

A 36-hole PGA TOUR golf course, 9-acre River Bluff Water Experience with multiple pools, hot tubs, sandy beach, 1,100-foot lazy river, tube and body slides, and private cabanas with private water loungers entice guests to the resort.

For those who wish for ultimate wellness and relaxation, a 26,000-square-foot world-class spa is the answer. And if that's not enough, guests can enjoy dining at one of seven on-site restaurants.