Dubbed “The New Austin”, San Antonio is the cool kid of the Lone Star State. It’s scenic and sentimental, colourful and charming, and pulses with a mix of Texan and Hispanic culture.
Just an hour flight from Dallas, it ticks all the travel boxes: historical treasures, lush landscapes, memorable museums, festivals and foodie haunts. It’s impossible to see it all in one day, but you can definitely work your way through one hell of a highlight reel in just 24 hours.
To fuel up for a day of soaking up the city, go to Magnolia Pancake Haus for creamy buttermilk pancakes that’ll fill you up ’til lunchtime. Order the house special: Munich Pfannekuchen, a pancake topped with apples, house-made maple syrup and lashings of butter and cinnamon.
If you can’t eat that much, that early, head to Rosella for freshly brewed coffee and green apple toast.
When you’ve finished, make your way downtown to stroll the Riverwalk, a 4km stretch of arched bridges and cobblestoned paths that runs along the San Antonio River. Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s the most scenic spot in the city, and if you go now, you’ll be done by the time the crowds descend.
The Riverwalk is lined with restaurants, bars, galleries and museums clustered together in a section called Museum Reach. Once you get there, stop at the San Antonio Museum of Art, where you’ll find an eclectic mix of American art, European paintings, Chinese ceramics and Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts.
By now, you’ll be ready for lunch. Wander a little further to the Pearl District, which is buzzing with hotels, restaurants and boutiques. Grab a table – and a Texas Uncommon Ale – at Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, and chow down on Southern-style comfort food like chicken crackling, double-patty beef burgers, or shrimp gnocchi with toasted pecan pesto if you’re feeling fancy.
Next door at the retro-chic Hotel Emma, Supper is a foodie favourite, thanks to chef John Brand’s farm-to-table menu – think smoked cauliflower, charred vegetables, and crispy chicken breast with corn grits. Post-lunch, check out The Tiny Finch for arty accessories and Leighelena for cowboy boots (this is Texas, y’all) while treating yourself to a Lady Lavender cone from Salt Lick Ice Creams.
In the early afternoon, see San Antonio’s most iconic sight: The Alamo, located at Alamo Plaza. Just in case you missed that history class (we won’t tell anyone), it represents a crossroads – the time when Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836. It’s a symbol of pride and liberty, and skipping it is kind of like going to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower.
After you’ve crossed that off the cultural to-do list, hit up Market Square – also known as El Mercado – for a peek into the city’s Hispanic heritage in the form of kitschy shops and live performances.
If your suitcase is already bursting at the seams, forgo shopping and tuck into a “puffy taco” at Ray’s Drive Inn. Stuffed with beef, lettuce and tomato, the fluffy tortilla goes down well while listening to old-school beats from the jukebox.
Next up, check out San Antonio’s hippest hub, Southtown. Home of the Blue Star Arts Complex, the neighbourhood has a string of galleries (like Mercury Project), theatres, and boutiques as well as a flea market every Sunday.
Come dinnertime, stay in Southtown for Tex-Mex at Tito’s, Latin fusion at Azuca, or a pulled pork and pepperoni pizza at Stella Public House. Otherwise, freshen up before going back to the Riverwalk. Feast on classic American fare at Fig Tree, or a perfectly grilled steak at Little Rhein Steak House.
Then, pop into San Antonio’s oldest bar, The Esquire, for a Mezcal cocktail (The Texecutioner is tangy and delicious), or go straight to Paramour, a rooftop bar with a huge deck and glittering views over the city.
If your visit falls in February, get up close to the cowboy action at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. If you’re travelling in winter, try to catch a basketball game – go Spurs!
Peckish? No problem! San Antonio institution, Mi Tierra, whips up chilaquiles (crispy tortilla strips and salsa) and breakfast tacos well into the wee hours. How’s that for Southern hospitality?[media_embed]https://youtu.be/oy7HU0tTnGw[/media_embed]
How To Get There
- Fly into Dallas Fort Worth International Airport
- Drive 465km (4 hours, 20 minutes) via I-35W S and I-35 S
- San Antonio, Texas
(Lead image: Katie Haugland Bowen / Flickr)