While performing in San Antonio last month, comedian John Mulaney insightfully described the Alamo City as being “all places at once.” San Antonio is older than the state of Texas, yet it seems forever stuck in a cycle of being overlooked and then “discovered” by outsiders. The city’s architectural influences, which range from Spanish to Victorian to German, change from block to block, or even building to building, creating the illusion of a different place with each step. The geography is similarly eclectic, spanning the prairies of the eastern suburbs, the picturesque river that slices through downtown, and the scrubby foothills of the Hill Country. You might think all this would add up to a vibe that feels discordant or cobbled together, but it doesn’t. Instead, San Antonio feels layered in that way old cities often do—something that’s rare in Texas.
Tourists flock to the River Walk and the Alamo, of course, but there’s much more to discover only a few steps away. Just north of downtown, Tobin Hill is a centrally located, walkable neighborhood bordered by San Antonio College to the west and Trinity University to the north. This area has really begun to boom in the last few years, with mixed-use developments and city-led transportation projects underway. The result is a mix of trendy bars and music venues, cafes and restaurants, and funky vintage stores, mostly situated along the burgeoning St. Mary’s Strip.
For a quaint, private, and cozy option, book your stay at O’Casey’s Boutique Inn, located in an 118-year-old mansion in the adjacent Alta Vista neighborhood. There’s a thoughtful breakfast bar and coffee station each morning. The rooms, all named after Irish counties, are well-appointed with in-room air conditioners, king-size beds, and soft linens. O’Casey’s makes both Alta Vista and Tobin Hill walkable—nice for those who don’t want to rent a car or who prefer to take advantage of free, on-street parking and spend the weekend on foot. The award-winning Hotel Emma is also nearby, if you’re seeking a more upscale vibe; it’s always a fantastic splurge.
Dine + Drink
Start your morning on the brick patio of Scratch Kitchen, which offers pastries, eggs, and sandwiches during weekend brunch. Make sure to inquire about the daily baby quiche, available in meat and vegetarian options, and snag a few to-go cookies for your walk. For lunch, head one mile east to Singhs Vietnamese on the St. Mary’s Strip and order up the cheekily named “winghs” and a shrimp rice bowl with a side of the chile pepper sauce. Keep dinner low-key with fried chicken at the family-friendly Cullum’s Attagirl. Despite being located in a former icehouse, the restaurant boasts some very hot fried chicken, so snag a local craft beer to help wash it down. End your evening where you started it: on a patio, though this time at Little Death, a former Pierce Oil Company gas station turned natural wine shop and bar. Inside, the knowledgeable staff can guide you through the impressive wine list, composed mostly of options from small vineyards, where you’re guaranteed to find something interesting to sip on.
St. Mary’s Street is a vintage lover’s dream, with a mix of brick-and-mortar shops and weekend markets that pop up in parking lots along the strip. At Montage, find a mix of bright accessories and retro pieces alongside modern threads. A few blocks south is the Vaulti, a local favorite beloved by fashionistas and sneakerheads alike, and the spot where dedicated thrifters are most likely to find a vintage Spurs T-shirt. In between, grab an Elixir Latte—ube root lends it a dark purple hue—at Gravves Coffee, a goth coffee trailer pouring out ghoulish concoctions.
See + Do
Though not technically in Tobin Hill, the world-famous Japanese Tea Garden is about a fifteen-minute walk from the northern section of the strip and offers free fun for the whole family. Just a short walk from the garden is the San Antonio Zoo, which has undergone a transformation in recent years. Among the zoo’s features is the newly opened Pantera Walk, an elevated bridge that patrons can stand under to observe big cats pacing between habitats.
Brass Monkey is a lively bar with dedicated weekly theme nights, like Emo Night and Thursgayz, while big-name touring acts are always on the marquee at Paper Tiger. Catch a DJ set at SqueezeBox (or just people-watch in the outdoor space) or take it easy at either of two great local dive bars, Faust Tavern and Lonesome Rose. If you work up an appetite on the dance floor, an order of al pastor tacos and a quesadilla from Tacos El Regio should keep you going for another set.