The Texan city of San Antonio is the final American metropolis in the Lone Star State before reaching the Mexican border. Serving up culture and captivating cuisine by the truckload, this is a state that is diverse by nature and determined to keep it that way.
Once a Spanish outpost and the first civil settlement in Texas, it’s heavily influenced by neighbouring Mexico and incorporates German, Anglo and African American cultural influences. This blended city delights without trying too hard.
Its location on the eponymous San Antonio River makes it a magnet for life in the city. In fact, San Antonio is the second most-populous city in Texas. The River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, traces the waterway for 15 miles and is filled with colourful shops, bars and restaurants.
Visiting the city’s blue artery is a great opportunity to get a full-bodied dose of the fun atmosphere. The river is split into three districts: Downtown (populated with hotels, restaurants, shopping, attractions, and where you can enjoy tour boat rides. The Museum Reach – a stretch lightly populated with condos and apartments, museums and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. And the Mission Reach – a section boasting riverine features and riparian woodlands, home to native plants and a lively aquatic habitat. This is an area focused on ecotourism and sustainability, and aims to support people in exploring the locale via foot, bike or kayak.
Journey back into the past
Remnants of 18th-century Spanish structures speckle San Antonio – with the most celebrated being the Alamo. Meaning ‘Cottonwood’ in Spanish, this settlement harks back to the city’s colonial times and the architectural imprint this era left on the place. The historic Spanish fortress, along with the four missions that make up the National Historical Park, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Head downtown to the Spanish Governor’s Palace, another testament to the Spanish and Mexican history here.
A visit to La Villita Historic Arts Village, south of the River Walk in downtown San Antonio, is another must. Originally settled nearly 300 years ago as one of the city’s first neighborhoods, in 1939, La Villita Historic Arts Village was established and the neighborhood was adapted into a center for teaching regional arts and crafts as well as serving as a market for local artists. Today, nearly 30 shops and galleries offer distinct handcrafted items by artists from San Antonio and surrounding areas, including paintings, folk art, textiles, sculptures, copper wares, jewellery, and more.
You can also enjoy art on a grand scale via the city’s giant street installations – check out artist Bob Wade’s huge cowbow boots near North Star Mall or head to The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center to view the world’s largest Virgin Mary candle for culture that channels Texas’ trademark quirky-cool.
Treat yourself to a foodventure
San Antonio is one of just two cities in the US that have been designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy – so you’re sure to have not just an impressive meal but a true culinary adventure. This is the spiritual home of Tex-Mex cuisine so expect fusion to be ingrained in the gastronomic offering. Cult street eats sit comfortably next to haute cuisine while next-level steakhouses impress as equally as cool breweries. The city’s food scene is continuously evolving and growing – since early 2020, over 50 new restaurants of every imaginable style and cuisine have opened, and this Autumn Tasting Texas Wine + Food Festival Flavored by The James Beard Foundation (a culinary arts organisation) will be held in San Antonio from October 27-30.
Texas is brimming with Mexican marvels, and El Mercado – the largest Mexican market in the United States – is in San Antonio. With local crafts, live music, potteries and pastries, the city’s Historic Market Square is where it all comes to life at the outdoor plaza and Farmer’s Market stage. Expect dancing, music and more as the city descends into a mini fiesta each weekend.
Hit the heights – and the depths
For a good view of all this and more, climb up the Tower of the Americas which once stood as the tallest observation tower in the US. At 230 metres it’s still the highest occupiable structure in San Antonio and the panoramas reach out over the city and to the Texas Hill Country beyond. Alternatively, descend below the city to explore the Natural Bridge Caverns. This underground wonderland, discovered in 1960, is an incredible collection of caves full of stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones and chandeliers.
Once your exploration of San Antonio is complete it’s time to sink into the evening scene. From creative craft cocktails to live music in myriad venues, this city knows how to keep you entertained as the sun goes down and the evening stretches out ahead of you. A final dose of culture for the day in a city that just keeps giving.
For more ideas on what to do, see, and experience during your stay, check out Visit San Antonio