Founded as a Spanish missionary colony in 1718, San Antonio offers an intriguing mix of traditional Mexican and cowboy culture. Although a pilgrimage to The Alamo – the famous 18th-century mission – usually tops visitors’ must-see lists, a deeper dive reveals a surprisingly modern city with a booming culinary and cocktail scene.
The San Antonio River Walk can’t be missed. The 24 km network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River is lined with bars, shops and restaurants. As well as defining the city, it also provides a great starting point for further exploration. From there it’s just a short jaunt to pearl district, a former industrial district that is now a great place to eat, drink and browse shops, stalls and a farmer’s market. Lounge with neo-industrial splendor in the lobby of the Emma Hotel while you weigh your options for lunch: Mon Chou Chou Brewery offers elegant comforting French cuisine classics, while Southerleigh Food & Brewery offers a modern take on cross-cultural Texas cuisine and brews 15 beers on-site.
Much of San Antonio’s appeal comes from its deep Latin heritage. Escape from your lunch in the peaceful gardens of the San Juan Capistrano Missionthe largest of the city’s five former Spanish missions, founded in 1776. After soaking up the history of the site, return to the city center for shopping and sipping a historic market squarean open-air market selling local produce and handicrafts, including jewelry, candles, and leather goods.
For a richer understanding of South Texas’ past, check out Briscoe Museum of Western Art, where a range of art and artifacts from European settlers and Indigenous communities tell the story of the American West. Another must visit is Blue Star Arts Complex, located among the old mansions of the historic King William district, just south of downtown. This former industrial space is home to multiple galleries, shops and cafes, as well as the Blue Star Brewing Companyone of the oldest breweries in town.
Food is the star of the show in Alamo Town, and there’s no better place to start than Garcia’s Mexican cuisinea family restaurant that has been serving classic Tex-Mex since 1962. Its hallmark is the brisket taco. 842 Fredericksburg Road
Being in Texas there is no shortage of barbecues, and the local consensus is that Smokehouse 2M is the current king. There’s a few seats, but it’s mostly a take-out joint, so be sure to get there early for the pork chops, smoked turkey and brisket sandwiches, as it often sells out by 11am.
It’s not all smoke and flames, however. In recent years, San Antonio has been hailed for its innovative gastronomy. The brainchild of chef Caesar Zepeda, Sangria on the Burg is a lively spot offering creative takes on Texas classics, including fun dishes like beef brisket spring rolls, sweet Chinese-style pork belly tacos, and cheesesteak sliders. Best washed down with the flight of four sangria cocktails.
After taking the San Antonio Art Museumwith its collections spanning 5,000 years, sample Italian cuisine on site Tre Trattoria. And for an in-depth exploration of Mexican cuisine, look no further than Mixed. Here, chefs Diego Galicia and Rico Torres offer a menu themed around the country’s regional history. Note: it operates a pay before you eat reservation system.
As for where to stay, check in the history Hotel Menger and stop for a drink at Menger barwhere former US President Theodore Roosevelt recruited his “Rough Riders” at the start of the Spanish-American War.