Our new series on weekend road trips aims to inspire you for what's to come as we slowly return to travel.
Covid-19 Disclaimer: Make sure to check the status of the states, regions, and establishments in which you’re planning to visit prior to travel. Many regions continue to see high infection rates and deaths, while many states and counties remain under varying stay-at-home orders. Those traveling from areas with high rates of Covid-19 should consider avoiding travel for now in order to reduce spread.
San Antonio has always been a fun destination, with its big theme parks, incredible food, the famous Riverwalk, and, of course: The Alamo. The last decade has seen increasing growth in tourism as the city increasingly focuses on culture, dining, and the arts, bringing a reinvigoration to some of the city’s older districts. It would be easy to just eat your way through San Antonio and that be your entertainment on its own, but then you’d be missing out on the great museums, historical buildings, and fun tourist traps—and that’s the last thing you’d want to do.
San Antonio is an easy, straight shot down I-30 W from Houston, clocking in at right around three hours for the journey.
Once you get into San Antonio from I-10, start making your way north toward the city center on Probandt Street, rather than hopping on I-37. From there you can grab a bite at Burgerteca for lunch, a place where the humble burger is elevated by traditional Mexican flavors in surprising ways. Try the mole fries, a chilaquiles burger, and wash it all down with an agua fresca. After lunch, grab a coffee at Halcyon Southtown and pop into some of the art museums of the Southtown District. Find wonderful options for contemporary art at Ruby City, a highly acclaimed contemporary art museum that opened in November 2019, as well as Blue Star Contemporary that includes a special gallery space for local high school artists.
After a leisurely early afternoon, check into your accommodations, get settled, then head over to Historic Market Square, the largest Mexican Market in San Antonio. The outdoor plaza stretches over three blocks where you’ll find plenty of specialty and produce vendors. Even if you don’t want to shop, you’ll have fun just window shopping and taking in the area culture. There are plenty of places to eat in the area, but La Margarita Mexican Restaurant & Oyster Bar will do you right. Enjoy a long, two- or three-margarita dinner over Gulf oysters and shrimp, enchiladas, and fajitas. After that dinner, you may be tempted to head to your accommodations, but try to muster up a second wind and stroll over to Mariachi Bar for cold beers, stiff drinks (and tequila flights!), and live music from Mariachi Oro y Plata every night of the week, starting at 9 p.m.
Saturday may be a busy day to spend on San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk, but being part of the bustling crowds is part of the fun. Though you’ll be pretty busy today, if you want to linger at your hotel for the morning, now is the time to do it. That way, if you’re moving on to another hotel, you can go ahead and check out before venturing into the heart of San Antonio’s tourism area. First, make your way to one of Texas’ most historical sites, The Alamo. Get to know “a story bigger than Texas” through a guided tour, an audio tour, or just walking around the grounds. After your time at the Alamo, it’s probably close to lunchtime, and the Riverwalk is calling.
Lunchtime includes plenty of options; consider trying BBQ at County Line or a gourmet sandwich or salad at Boudro’s Texas Bistro. For Mexican food, try Casa Rio—they’ve been around since 1946, so they know a thing or two about the cuisine. After lunch, head out to explore more of the Riverwalk. When you’re ready, take a break to have fun at a real tourist trap (in a good way), Dick’s Last Resort. The servers are funny, sarcastic, and they make for a great time while you enjoy drinks and an appetizer. If you’re not up for drinks, experience a leisurely view of the Riverwalk on a boat tour from Go Rio. They offer 35-minute narrated cruises that help to connect visitors with the city’s history, culture, and architecture.
As the afternoon starts winding down, it’s either time to check into another hotel, or head back to freshen up. You’ll be spending this evening at the famed Pearl District, where a mixed-use development has sprung up from the old Pearl Brewery. Make the difficult decision about where to eat at Pearl before you head out (some places may need a reservation). For a more casual, healthy vibe try the menu at Green for the city’s only 100% kosher vegetarian restaurant. A unique dining option is available at Savor, where advanced Culinary Institute of America students offer up 3- or 4-course meals that are delicious and educational. Southerleigh is another wonderful choice, thanks to its tasty Texas-based cuisine with a coastal flair and its on-site brewery that’s bringing beer-making back to Pearl.
Wake up and start your day fresh by visiting the Pearl Farmers Market early in the morning to pick up locally made products, food items, and produce. You may be tempted to eat there and to linger a bit, and that’s okay. If you’d rather grab breakfast nearby, however, Bakery Lorraine is a great bet for a beautiful, tasty meal, plus treat to take home. After breakfast, spend the morning and early afternoon visiting the wide array of museums in the San Antonio Museum District that surrounds Mahncke Park. Choose your own adventure by spending your time at just one museum, or try to squeeze in as many as you can before heading home. The San Antonio Museum of Art is in the Pearl District, so if you’re museum-hopping and love art, make this largest collection of Latin American art in the country your first stop.
If you’ve got extra time and want to see some more museums and sights, the San Antonio Botanical Garden recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a $20 million expansion and renovation. Not only does it have the incredible flowers, trees, and plants you’d expect to see in a botanical garden, but you can also learn how to cook, grow your own food, and even make tasty cocktails in their outdoor garden kitchen. The Japanese Tea Garden is also a nice place for plant lovers looking for a bit of quiet reflection amongst the pathways, koi ponds, waterfall, and beautiful plant life. The Witte Museum is a good choice to experience a little bit of everything—Texas culture, nature, and science are all represented through a variety of exhibits, some of which are interactive, making it great for kids and adults alike. If you have kids with you, the DoSeum is a must-visit with plenty of hands-on experiences to make learning memorable and fun.
After the museums, head further south to grab a late lunch before getting on the road. There are two great options in Southtown, both viable contenders for best Mexican food in San Antonio; you’ll have to make the tough choice between Rosario’s and Queso Pan y Vino on your own, but you can’t go wrong, either way, as you say farewell to San Antonio, its food, its culture, and its people.
WHERE TO STAY
San Antonio boasts some of the nicest, most creative hotels around, thanks to its growing popularity as a tourist destination. That makes it a little harder to ultimately choose a hotel, but if you don’t mind hotel-hopping, that’s always an option. Consider staying your second night at The Hotel Emma, housed in the luxuriously restored former Pearl Brewery, and one of the anchors of the popular Pearl District. This allows you to take in all that this district has to offer, including amazing food and cocktails, without having to take a cab back to your hotel.
For options near the city center, Hotel Valencia Riverwalk and Mokara Hotel & Spa give ample opportunities to treat yourself in style. A more affordable option is the LaQuinta Inn & Suites, either downtown or Riverwalk location (both also have a pool, free Wi-Fi, and free continental breakfast).
If you don’t mind driving and want to indulge in more luxury resort-style accommodations, both La Cantera Resort & Spa and JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa make wonderful options, but you’ll need to cut out some of your activities to be able to enjoy your time there.
WHEN TO GO
San Antonio is a great place to visit year-round, but the one holiday that it’s becoming known for is Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). This week-long celebration happens over the week after Halloween. Since this itinerary doesn’t involve a lot of water activities, visiting during late fall/winter and spring will be more pleasant than the blistering heat of a Texas summer.