12 Reasons to Drive to San Antonio
Remember the Alamo—not to mention the restaurants, the theme parks, the distilleries, and more.
If you haven’t been to San Antonio in the past year or so, you’re way overdue for a visit. The once-sleepy South Texas city has grown into a legitimate metropolis thanks to decades of defying expectations while staying true to its unique history and heritage. For first-timers, a visit to the Alamo has to be checked off the list, but there’s so much more to this vibrant, colorful, and overwhelmingly friendly getaway destination. You better make the short drive down to our Capital City soon, because we’ve got a full dozen reasons to support your decision.
Unless you’re of the camping-in-a-tent persuasion or prefer asking friends to sleep on their sofas, you’re going to need a comfortable place to put your feet up after a long day of exploration. The highest concentration of hotels can be found on the River Walk or very nearby. If you’re looking for something on the quieter, less-commercial side, Hotel Emma at the Historic Pearl District comes with a hefty per-night price tag, but it’s an exquisite experience. As for the more bustling section of the River Walk, you can’t go wrong with any of these fan favorites: the brand-new Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk, Omni La Mansion del Rio, Mokara Hotel & Spa, Hotel Valencia, and San Antonio Marriott Rivercenter. And if you’re in the market for a resort situation, La Cantera Resort in the Hill Country is close to the screams of Fiesta Texas, but also a serene oasis you may never want to leave.
Stashed in the heart of downtown, Maverick Whiskey Distillery & Brewery caters to imbibers of both spirits and suds all under one roof. They distill a variety of whiskies, a dry gin, and an agave spirit that can’t legally be called tequila but tastes just as delicious, each available mixed into creative or classic cocktails upstairs in the renovated circa 1918 former bank building. Grab a bottle or six as souvenirs to take home on the way out. Beers change based on the whims of the brewmaster, so there’s always something exciting in store. And absolutely make reservations for dinner, because chef Josh works magic in the kitchen—especially when it comes to Dean & Peeler premium beef.
When you’re ready to switch over to wine, Re:Rooted Urban Winery pours vino by the glass or growler from their specially calibrated keg system. Their Texas-born vintages are produced in nearby Fredericksburg, but they also serve local ciders and sake, too.
Start at the cocktail lounge (and/or food truck, if hunger strikes) then work your way through Hopscotch, a 20,000-square-foot art installation that drops you in the center of the action via 14 different interactive pieces. The Ball Pit will make you feel like a kid again, Laser Graffiti by Todd Moyer will transform you into a smooth criminal, and Perspective by Gary Sweeney will really mess with your senses (that goes double if you’ve carried along one of the cocktails with you for your tour).
San Antonio’s home to some of the biggest and baddest amusement parks in the state, drawing in adrenaline junkies of all ages. A brief overview: Six Flags Fiesta Texas is in line for the world’s steepest dive coaster this summer, Sea World San Antonio has already welcomed the world’s tallest and fastest screaming swing to its park, and Aquatica San Antonio just debuted a dueling water slide where you can race another team to the very wet finish line at the bottom.
A stop into one of the three local locations of La Panadería, a bakery and café serving breakfast, lunch, and a whole lot of incredible pastries, is a San Antonio no-brainer. Try the Croncha, a marriage between a croissant and a traditional Mexican pastry, but save room for the superstar. The bakery’s signature item, the Almond Tequila Croissant, simply can’t be missed. Flaky and tender with an almost custard-like center, it’s the only respectable way to toss back a shot of tequila before noon, Bloody Marias excepted.
With eye-catching murals and cool public art lurking around every corner, one simply needs to take a short drive, bike ride, or stroll through downtown to see just how dedicated San Antonio is to creative expression. It seems a new piece of street art hits the pavement every single day, and it’s easy to pass the time seeking out your favorites—which, coincidentally, also make for quality Insta photo-op.
First Friday is a monthly art crawl that envelopes the Southtown and King Williams neighborhoods in lots and lots of vibrant art. And if you really want to take a deep dive into the city’s colorful side, November’s Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival is definitely worth planning a trip around. The festival is made up of multiple showcases scattered around the greater downtown area, featuring local makers, musicians, and performers presenting their work to the public.
For museum-lovers, San Antonio has much in store. Stop by The San Antonio Museum of Art, a downtown labyrinth complete with vast rooms filled wall-to-wall with ancient and contemporary pieces, or check out the McNay Art Museum, nestled away in residential Terrell Heights and constantly raising the bar with modern art installations spanning the likes of Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, and Yayoi Kusama. The latter museum’s grounds are also notably picturesque, making the museum a hot spot for wedding, quinceañera, and graduation photoshoots or just an impromptu hang session on the grass.
San Antonio’s Latin heritage is on full blast at Market Square. Its staple feature, El Mercado, includes a long list of Southwestern and Mexican vendors and artisans whose goods range from luchador masks to traditional pottery to handmade jewelry. In the market’s center is a stage where mariachis, bands, and Folklorico dancers often perform, filling the space with Latin music and festive spirit.
A trip to Market Square wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery, a renowned Mexican restaurant with an 80-plus-year legacy. Nearly every square inch of the space comes to life with piñatas, papel picado, and twinkle lights in abundance, plus colorful murals depicting historical figures in Latin history. Don’t forget to pop into the panadería to grab some pan dulce and cookies for the ride home.
It might seem like one of the most glaringly obvious suggestions, but the River Walk lives up to its reputation as the literal number one tourist attraction in all of Texas. Aside from the plethora of Texas-centric restaurants and bars that line the San Antonio River, the River Walk itself is a lively maze of walkways, bridges, and canals weaving together just below street level and rife with people-watching opportunities.
Your River Walk stroll can begin anywhere along the route, but Rivercenter, downtown’s centrally located shopping mall, makes a great place to start. Make sure to stop at La Villita, or “little village,” where you’ll discover shops, restaurants, and galleries alongside a healthy dose of history.
Music fans should seek out the very bridge where they filmed an iconic scene from the 1997 movie Selena (hint: it’s right by Omni La Mansion del Rio). And if you want the full tourist experience, learn the backstory of the River Walk by getting your bearings onboard a Go Rio narrated river cruise or catching one of their river shuttles for a much more scenic mode of transportation than a rideshare.
The St. Mary’s Strip has gone through several transformations over the decades, but it’s never abdicated its throne as San Antonio’s premier nightlife destination. The eclectic variety of bars, clubs, and restaurants truly offers something for every taste. If you want to dance the night away to some Lady Gaga deep cuts, ThurzGayz at Brass Monkey is the place. Prefer headbanging to some doom metal while throwing back craft beers? Faust Tavern is your home base. Or for an eclectic array of live music across every imaginable genre, Limelight keeps the party going late.
No St. Mary’s pub crawl is complete without a bite to eat, and you can bet there’s a whole delicious mess of restaurants and food trucks to satisfy those inevitable late-night cravings. One popular stop is Tacos El Regio, known locally as Taco Truck, which boasts some of the best street tacos in town. If you’re in the mood for noods, Ka-tii at El Buho’s generous mounds of Pad Thai and heaps of Mango Sticky Rice awaits. Or carb-load before the evening begins with a fat, juicy burger with all the toppings from Burger Boy.
Originally opened as a brewery, the Pearl development has transformed an old industrial site into a total entertainment destination complete with upmarket restaurants, local retailers, artisan shops, a weekend farmers market, and apartment complexes. Pearl’s Bottling Department Food Hall has risen to the rank of a must-visit culinary hub since opening in 2017 thanks to resident gems like Caribbean street food peddler Mi Roti and tasty ramen emporium Tenko Ramen. Other mandatory restaurant visits at the Pearl include Best Quality Daughter for Asian fusion, Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery for oysters and fried chicken, and Brasserie Mon Chou Chou for a taste of Paris.
Outside the food hall sits the Park at Pearl, an expansive lawn where you can catch a concert, fiesta, or dance party on any given evening. The lush green space sets the stage for romantic picnics, casual hangouts with friends, and playtime for children, who tend to make a beeline for the adjacent splash pad.
Southtown’s longevity as a perennially hot district is a testament to its unique cultural makeup. Staple restaurants like Rosario’s and Tito’s Mexican Restaurant juxtapose more recent additions like Sukeban and Little Em’s Oyster Bar. Take advantage of San Antonio’s great year-round weather by snagging a table at The Good Kind, an almost-entirely outdoor venue where you’ll find an eclectic menu of sandwiches, Asian-style chicken wings, and Fish Tacos. For the drinking set, established watering holes like Bar America and The Friendly Spot thrive among trendy newcomers like Halcyon for coffee and craft cocktails, and stand-up comedy bar Jokesters 22.
Southtown’s something-old-something-new aesthetic lies at the core of its appeal, and no single outpost exemplifies this phenomenon quite like Blue Star Arts Complex. Home to the original Blue Star Brewing Co, this cutting-edge mecca boasts over a dozen art galleries and private studios. Brick at Blue Star, an event space at the heart of the complex, is especially notable for its countless artisan markets, local performances, and buzzy food pop-ups.
While Fiesta San Antonio, the city’s pinnacle street fair spanning oyster bakes, mariachi performances, night markets, and so much more, has sadly already passed this year, there’s a whole host of public bashes crowding the remainder of San Antonio’s dance card. For a full list of upcoming arts, culinary, cultural, family-friendly, music and entertainment, outdoor, and sports happenings, keep an eye on Visit San Antonio’s packed agenda. Festivals always make a great centerpiece for building a vacation itinerary.
Steven Lindsey is an enthusiastic eater who’s never turned down a craft cocktail, glass of wine, or cold beer. He thinks dogs are the greatest creation ever and anxiously awaits his Covid hair growing long enough to finally donate to a children’s charity. But when it comes to travel, he prefers people leave their kids at home and that’s why he founded Travel Like An Adult.