Austin’s status as a world-class travel destination is well-established: events like SXSW and the Austin City Limits Festival attract visitors from around the world, who promptly find themselves waiting in hours-long lines for food and interacting with a lot of other people who are in from out of town. San Antonio, meanwhile, is a delightful city to visit even as its charms are too often reduced to “just a Riverwalk” by dismissive tourists and/or Charles Barkley.
But those two cities nonetheless find themselves in the same company on this year’s list of the “Best New Hotels On The Planet” from Travel & Leisure. Specifically, San Antonio’s Hotel Emma and Austin’s South Congress Hotel, both of which opened last fall, took two of the ten spots reserved for hotels in the U.S.
The South Congress Hotel is probably unsurprising—it’s a boutique hotel in one of America’s trendiest cities, smack-dab in the middle of one of Austin’s most tourist-friendly neighborhoods. It’s a fine hotel, but it’s also exactly what you would think of when making such a list—a hotel exactly where you’d expect it, highlighting exactly what people know best about Austin.
Hotel Emma, meanwhile, is a pleasant surprise. The 146-room hotel is miles away from what’s traditionally been considered San Antonio’s tourist hub. Rather than setting up shop on the Riverwalk or near the Alamo, the location is in the middle of the city’s Pearl Brewery development. Pearl is one of the more happening spots in San Antonio, and definitely deserves more attention. Although there are plenty of pleasant places to stay in the heart of downtown San Antonio, the fact that the city’s getting international attention for what it has to offer in other parts of town is a comment on how its identity is shifting. As the list puts it: