8 Reasons to Drive to San Antonio, Texas

The Lone Star state's most underrated city?

San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio River Walk | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
San Antonio River Walk | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

San Antonio is something of an underdog when compared to a Texas-sized metropolis like Austin, but hey, we like it that way. While Austin continues to grow and change at a rapid pace, San Antonio has managed to expand at its own speed, maintaining a close semblance to its rich heritage and local culture along the way. Here’s eight major reasons why all y’all road warriors should make cruising over to San Antonio a priority on your next Lone Star State adventure.

McNay Art Museum
McNay Art Museum

With murals and public installations 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 the arts. It seems like every day a new piece of street art finds its place among the many, and it’s easy to pass the time seeking out your favorites—which, coincidentally, also makes for a quality Insta photo-op. 

If you find yourself visiting during the Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival, take advantage of the moment and dive into the citywide creative bash. The festival is made up of multiple showcases scattered around the greater downtown area, featuring local artists, musicians, and performers presenting their work to the public. Similarly, First Friday is a monthly art crawl that envelopes the Southtown and King Williams neighborhoods in lots and lots of eye-catching art.

For museum -overs, San Antonio has much to provide. 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 an impromptu hang session on the grass.

Historic Market Square
Historic Market Square

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 short trip down Produce Row will easily find you at Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery, a renowned Mexican restaurant with an 80-year legacy. Its piñata-strewn ceiling and colorful murals depicting historical figures in Latin history makes the atmosphere just as appealing as the menu. Don’t forget to pop into the panaderia to grab some pan dulce and cookies for the ride home.

Hemisfair Park
Hemisfair Park | Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock

Everyone knows Austinites are all about their outdoorsy activities. With that in mind, San Antonio, in all its green glory, is a perfect travel destination for hiking, cycling, and basking in the hot Texas sun. McAllister Park, Olmos Basin, and Phil Hardberger Park are just a few of the city’s spacious outdoor recreational areas tailor-made for fresh air adventure. Picnickers flock to Brackenridge Park, with its scenic view of the river and shady rest spots, while kiddos have a blast at Yanaguana Garden at Hemisfair Park, which features climbing structures, a sand pit, and a splash pad for those sticky summer afternoons.

Arneson River Theater
Arneson River Theater | Bill Perry/Shutterstock

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 vibrant maze of walkways, bridges, and canals weaving together just below street level and rife with skyline—and people—watching opportunities. 

Your River Walk promenade begins at Rivercenter, downtown’s centrally located shopping mall, and ends at the Arneson River Theater at La Villita, where numerous waterfront shows are scheduled throughout the year. Music fans should seek out the very bridge where they filmed that iconic scene from Selena (the movie, not the Netflix series), if they can manage to navigate it. And if you’d rather take a mapless approach, you can always catch a ferry ride and let an official river guide show you around to your heart’s content.

Brass Monkey
Brass Monkey

The St. Mary’s Strip has gone through a number of 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 offer 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 homebase. And if you want to get hype to some trap music in the presence of local celebrities, Midnight Swim has you covered. However you like to get down, the Strip has your back.

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 mini 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.

The Historic Pearl
The Historic Pearl

Originally opened as a brewery, the Pearl development has transformed an old industrial site into a luxury hotel complete with upmarket restaurants, onsite small businesses, artisan shops, and highrise apartments. Pearl’s Bottling Department Food Hall has risen to the rank of 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,

Just outside the food hall is 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.

Rosario's Mexican Restaurant
Rosario's Mexican Restaurant

Southtown’s longevity as a perennially hot district is a testament to its ever-evolving cultural makeup. Staple restaurants like Rosario’s and Tito’s Mexican Restaurant juxtapose more recent additions like Sukeban and Little Em’s Oyster Bar. For the drinking set, established watering holes like Bar America and The Friendly Spot thrive among trendy newcomers like Halcyon and 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 creative mecca boasts over a dozen art galleries and private studios and has long been known as a place where culture happens. 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.

Fiesta San Antonio
Fiesta San Antonio

While Fiesta San Antonio, the city’s pinnacle street fair spanning oyster bakes, mariachi festivals, night markets, and so much more, has sadly already passed (sadly for you, of course, because we sure enjoyed the hell out of it), there’s a whole host of public bashes crowding the remainder of San Antonio’s event calendar. 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.

And if you’re really bummed about missing out on the Fiesta fun this year, you’ll be relieved to hear that Battle of the Flowers Parade, a downtown procession of marching bands and flowered floats carrying Fiesta royalty, has been postponed until 2022. And with all that extra prep time, we’re expecting quite the blowout.

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Polly Anna Rocha is a contributor for Thrillist.