Trip Guide: San Antonio’s Southtown

Let the other out-of-towners swarm the Alamo while you slip away to Southtown, a two-square-mile swatch just a few blocks below San Antonio’s touristy epicenter.

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Cruising past Liberty Bar on South Alamo Street.
Cruising past Liberty Bar on South Alamo Street.

Photograph by Sarah Lim

Let the other out-of-towners swarm the Alamo while you slip away to Southtown, a two-square-mile swatch just a few blocks below San Antonio’s touristy epicenter. Here, tucked into historic pockets are grassroots art communities and notable architectural gems (not to mention the local enthusiasts working to preserve both) as well as more than enough unpretentious watering holes and good restaurants to make you consider taking up permanent residence.

 SEE + DO

Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum // Founded in the mid-eighties, this 160,000-square-foot space is now the crown jewel of the revitalized Blue Star Arts Complex, where former warehouses have been turned into galleries, studios, specialty shops, and restaurants (find the full list here). Rotating exhibitions, which showcase artists from around the state and around the world, aren’t the only draw: lunchtime chats with featured artists, satellite exhibitions around the city, workshops, performance art shows, and the popular First Friday art walk round out the robust calendar each month. (Note: the museum is open Thursday through Sunday.) 116 Blue Star, 210-227-6960

Lone Star/South Flores Art District // If your visit coincides with the second Saturday of the month, you’ll want to head to this flourishing arts district for its festive gallery crawl. You’ll get to sneak a peek at local artists’ latest works and enjoy live music, food trucks, and (often) a free glass of wine or two. Various locations near South Flores & Lone Star Blvd

Villa Finale // The King William Historic District is one of the stateliest neighborhoods in Texas. Along its tree-lined streets are the opulent nineteenth-century manses of many of the city’s well-to-do German pioneers. Thanks to decades of preservation efforts, a number of homes—including this Italianate mansion—have been meticulously restored. Villa Finale’s last owner, Walter Mathis, was an ardent collector and some 12,000 of his prized objects and artworks are on view just as he left them. Although self-guided tours of the first floor are welcomed, you’ll get to see the second floor too if you take one of the official tours offered twice a day from Wednesdays to Saturdays (oh, and a heads up that you’ll have to put booties over your shoes!). 401 King William, 201-223-9800

Plus . . .

San Antonio B-Cycle // The best way to explore the neighborhood is to rent a three-speed ride from one of several kiosks in the area, though be sure to check your bike back in every thirty minutes to avoid an additional fee.

Puffy tacos at Tito's Mexican Restaurant.
Puffy tacos at Tito’s Mexican Restaurant.

Photograph by Sarah Lim

EAT + DRINK

Bliss // Inspired by his last name, chef Mark Bliss stands by a “food is bliss” credo that you will whole-heartedly (and whole-stomachly?) agree with after sharing a few small plates (perhaps the roasted bone marrow or the oyster sliders) and entrees like a spice-crusted Australian lamb loin, a beef tenderloin pan seared with a mint-marigold béarnaise, or peppery Szechuan duck. Be sure to make a reservation. (Read our latest review here). 926 S. Presa, 210-225-2547

The Friendly Spot // This classic outdoor ice house is impressive by its numbers alone: 76 beers on draft, more than 250 bottled brews, sixteen-ounce mimosas for $5 every Sunday. Factor in tasty eats and an unquantifiably laidback atmosphere that includes brightly colored chairs, free WiFi, a large projection screen for watching Spurs games, and a playground for the kids, and it all adds up to, yes, one very friendly neighborhood hangout. 943 S. Alamo, 210-224-2337

Hot Joy // “This is not your grandmother’s Chinese restaurant” is a humorous understatement unless your sweet granny has her house done up in red lacquer and glittery Buddhas and proclaims a penchant for “funky, spicy, and radically flavored” culinary mash-ups—like tator tot chaat and steamed country ham and scallop dumplings—which she likes to wash down with a crisply sweet Riesling, Hot Joy’s beverage du jour. (Read our latest review here.) 1014 S. Alamo, 210-368-9324

Rosario’s // You’ll be seeing life—and your plate of Tex-Mex comfort food—through the rose-hued light that bathes the interior of this festive restaurant, which becomes even livelier after a round or two of prickly pear margaritas. A couple of favoritas to take note of on the menu are Griselda’s Tacos Callejeros, served with a cabbage-lime slaw, and the Flautas Especiales, a trio of tortillas topped with chicken or potato and a tomatillo avocado sauce. (Read our latest review here.) 910 S. Alamo, 210-223-1806

Tito’s // Do as the locals do at this restaurant/cantina and order one of two favorite pairings: barbacoa and Big Red or puffy tacos and a mango chamoy margarita. Early birds are treated to a breakfast menu that includes dozens of tacos in addition to huevos rancheros, migas, and other hearty classics. 955 S. Alamo, 210-212-8226

Plus . . .

Alamo Street Eat Bar // Late-night munchies for everything from burgers to boudin balls are sated at this food-truck park, which opens just in time for happy hour six nights a week.

El Mirador // This beloved San Antonio institution serves its famous sopa azteca only on Saturdays. Write that down.

Feast // Enjoy dinner and/or brunch al fresco on the patio of this sleek gray bungalow. (Read our latest review here.)

Guenther House // The former home of the Pioneer Flour Mills family has been turned into a museum, a store, and a restaurant where you can learn all about biscuits and then eat them too.

Liberty Bar // Now housed in a pink former convent, this San Antonio fixture, which has been around since 1984, knows it’s not too late to “get in the habit” of treating yourself to homemade breads, pastas, and other “serious” eats. (Read our latest review here.)

SHOP

Blue Star Bicycling Company // Whether you’re looking to rent an electric bike or purchase that two-wheeler you’ve always wanted, the cycling enthusiasts (and mechanics) who work at this garage shop will have you rolling away happy in no time. 1414 S. Alamo, 210-858-0331

The Jewelry Box // Sparkly real estate baubles, sterling silver jewelry, and velvet armfuls of long necklaces explain the name right off the bat, but the boutique’s charm lies in its breadth of offerings, which also include vintage purses and clothing, decorative crosses, and collectible skeleton figurines. 734 S. Alamo, 210-270-0333

La Vida Gallery // Your next Day of the Dead celebration would benefit from a few splurges here—a couple exquisite “catrinas” (elongated female skeleton figurines) or a vibrant hand-embroidered Oaxacan table runner to adorn your home or, perhaps, a cotton huipil to adorn yourself.  716 S. Alamo, 210-782-3340

San Angel Folk Art Gallery // Like its neighbor, the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, this gallery also deserves credit for helping to cultivate San Antonio’s creative class over the years. Unlike the museum, however, all the cubist metal animals, whimsical diablos, wooden owl totems, and other spirit-lifting (and sometimes eyebrow-lifting) art works here are for sale. You can also walk away with handmade or vintage guayaberas, some of which are traditional (black linen, “business shirt blue”) and some of which are decidedly not (red with black polka dots, a “Buddha In the Flesh” design, and so on). 110 Blue Star, 210-226-6688

The exterior of Villa Finale (left) and the lobby of King William Manor (right).
The exterior of Villa Finale (left) and the lobby of King William Manor (right).

Photographs by Sarah Lim

 STAY

King William Manor // It’ll be easy to imagine you’re just another Southtown resident when you take up temporary residence in this historic inn’s 1901 guesthouse; along with its main house, an 1892 Greek Revival next door, the property has been many things over the years (a private residence, a community theater, apartments, a bookstore). Now, its nine rooms are spacious but simple alternatives to the chain hotels that clog downtown. There are coffee makers in each room, a lending library in the foyer, a pool out back, and a complimentary breakfast at the Liberty Bar just down the street. 1029 S. Alamo, 210-222-0144

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  • jnmsimpson

    Come and hitch a ride on a pedicab, tour a wonderful old
    house, dine at fabulous restaurants
    offering discounts to ticket holders. What? The King William Home Tour.
    When? The first Saturday in December (6 Dec 11 am
    to 5pm). Where? King William Historic
    District, the oldest residential historic district in San Antonio. Who?
    The King William Association
    210-227-8786.

    Right in the middle of Southtown. There will be 5 housesopen as well as Villa Finale and the Steves Homestead.

    http://www.kingwilliamassociation.org/kwa/