Texas’ second-largest city is like a pretty Mexican piñata cracked open, spilling out surprise and delight for visitors and locals alike. Like colorful bits of confetti, fun spots are scattered all over—from one end of the famous River Walk to the other, from Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park to Sea World, from historic Mission Trail to the Hill Country. Here’s a quick guide to help you map out a few must-sees in this hot metropolis of music, salsa, and more.
Stroll along the The San Antonio Riverwalk
But Don’t Forget The Alamo
Forget the Alamo. The River Walk is San Antonio’s most enchanting attraction. This corridor of quiet walkways, rambling just below street level, was begun in 1939 as a project of the WPA and features arched bridges, shade trees, and lush landscaping. Restaurants, galleries, and shops line narrow walkways. Float on a river barge by day, dine beneath colorful umbrellas at dusk, and hear live music after dark.
Kids love the kitschy Buckhorn Museum and Saloon and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Nearby the Battle of the Alamo blasts the big screen at the Rivercenter I-Max Theatre. Blocks away in Market Square, mariachis serenade you over a Tex-Mex meal at Mi Tierra’s. Stroll through delightful shops at La Villita Historic Arts Village, or take a glass elevator to the top of the Tower of the Americas in HemisFair Park.
For a budget-friendly hotel near the heart of it all, check out Courtyard by Marriott San Antonio Riverwalk downtown. It’s convenient to the River Walk, RiverCenter Mall, The Alamo, and all the best attractions downtown.
Get the kids a babysitter and enjoy a libation at the “Teddy Roosevelt Bar” in the historic Menger Hotel or at the hidden basement bar of the Hotel Havana. Grab a show at the Majestic Theatre, where terraced balconies depict a Spanish village scene so enchanting it steals the show. Splurge and take the kids to brunch at the Omni El Mansion del Rio hotel’s Las Canarias. That hotel, with its romantic Spanish Colonial style, is always a good choice for a lodgings along the River Walk.
Of course, you’ve got to see the Alamo. Smack-dab in the middle of the city, with hotels and big buildings all around, the Alamo looks small and special—which it is. Once part of the old Spanish Mission San Antonio de Valero, the old church speaks to Texans of the many who died defending this place—including Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William Travis.
With lovely gardens surrounding the old mission church, the walled grounds and the chapel itself seem sacred. Knowing you stand on the spot where so many died is a humbling experience, and the story of the bloody battle will make you proud to be an American. It won’t take you long to tour the mission itself, but spend some time in the adjacent Low Barracks building to see artifacts from that era, listen to a free talk on the story of the Alamo outside in the garden, and visit the museum and gift shop before heading south to see more of the Alamo City.
One of San Antonio’s best-kept secrets is the five historic Spanish Missions situated along the San Antonio River. Once self-sustaining communities of native peoples and Spanish friars lived and worked here. Today, you can hike, bike, walk, or drive from one mission to the next, visiting these National Historic Parks properties.Vibrant Arts Scene
Just a short trolley ride from downtown, Southtown’s hip bohemian enclave offers an eclectic mix of art galleries, taco joints, fusion restaurants, tapas bars, sushi spots, vintage clothing stores, and hot music venues. By day, it’s a quiet strip where you can sip coffee and pop into shops, but by night the street pulses to a sassy salsa beat.
During “First Friday Art Walk, galleries stay open late, but almost every night, music and art spill onto the streets, and margaritas cool down the steamy scene. The Blue Star Brewing Company offers Jazz on Tuesdays. Spice it up at Azuca Nuevo Latino Restaurant & Bar, where you can sip mojitos and sample paella.
The old Pearl Brewery area has been revived since an expansion of the River Walk turned it into an arts and entertainment complex near the San Antonio Museum of Art. Chic restaurants and exciting art installations along the river are a big draw, and farmer’s market days are held there, too. Take a river taxi boat ride to get there.
A few miles away, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center hosts events year-round, including a Tejano Conjunto Festival, ballet folklorico performances, and film festivals.
Head North & Find Miles and Miles of Texas
Stay at the Fabulous Westin La Cantera
To the northwest, The Shops at La Cantera are the cure for those craving high-end stores, and the golf courses, pools and grounds at the Westin La Cantera Resort and the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort attract families visiting nearby Sea World and the Six Flags Fiesta Texas Theme Park.
Perhaps my favorite place in that area is the Westin La Cantera Resort. Standing at one of the highest points in the city just northwest of downtown, La Cantera gives visitors a taste of Texas Hill Country. The resort has stunning views of live oak groves, white limestone outcroppings, and green fairways. And though you’re close to downtown, you feel as if you’re hidden far away at a place that lets you enjoy the “miles and miles of Texas” and “all the stars up in the sky,” as the famous old cowboy song goes.
La Cantera is home to multiple pools, hot tubs, a health club and spa services, tennis courts, fabulous restaurants, a kids’ club, golf, and flexible, spacious meeting spaces. The resort offers villa accommodations where you can enjoy the amenities of a world-class hotel while experiencing a truly private luxury getaway. The resort is close to the Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park, making it a perfect place for families to stay.
My favorite restaurant at the Westin La Cantera is Signature, Inspired by Chef Andrew Weissman. Signature offers contemporary interpretations of classic dishes—fresher, brighter versions of traditional cuisine enlivened with unconventional Texas spirit.
Head just a little farther north of town on I-10, and you’ll be up to your boots in cowboy culture in the Hill Country. Saddle up at a dude ranch in the Old West town of Bandera, meander through shops in the hamlets of Boerne and Comfort, and taste the jäger schnitzel at the Welfare Café in Welfare. Book a B&B and visit a biergarten in the German settlement of Fredericksburg or climb to the top of Enchanted Rock, a giant granite batholith nearby. Wineries, lavender farms, wildflower centers, and ghost towns like Gruene and Luckenbach, which Willie Nelson made famous in song, are hidden in these hills.
No map is large enough to chart all the fun you can have, but here along the cattle trails where cowboys once roamed, all things converge to create a Texas-sized adventure in San Antonio. So go ahead: Remember the Alamo next time you’re planning a vacation.
For more information. please visit www.visitsanantonio.com.
Janis Turk is an award-winning travel writer who lives in Seguin, Texas.
This story was previously published in Tidewater Women.