San Antonio City Guide
Photograph by Tamir Kalifa
San Antonio has always existed at a crossroads. That was true in 1691, when Spanish explorers arrived in the area and began building a network of trails, or caminos, to use as trade routes, drawing on the same paths Indigenous peoples had used for thousands of years. It’s true even now, as the city’s street names, cuisine, and architecture still invoke a blend of the Native, Mexican, European, and African American influences that have shaped this place for more than three centuries. Within a stone’s throw of downtown, you can visit the state’s oldest Spanish mission, marvel at the beautiful Victorian homes built by German immigrants in the King William Historic District, and snack on pan dulce while wandering through the stalls of Market Square—the largest Mexican market in the country. This complex history doesn’t clash with the present, though; instead, it enlivens the city with ghost stories, legends, and traditions.
This rich culture has produced filmmakers (Robert Rodriguez), musicians (Steve Earle, Flaco Jiménez), and political leaders (the Castro brothers). Other creative types, such as artist Cruz Ortiz and writer Sandra Cisneros, moved here for the vibrant sense of community, affordable housing (at least while it lasted), and excellent food. Author John Phillip Santos writes of San Antonio as “a secret Mexican city . . . always hearkening to its rural Mexican colonial past in the memories and dreams of its silent Mexicano majority.” It’s the birthplace of Texas’s Chili Queens, puffy tacos, Fritos, and Fiesta. Yes, it’s also home to the Alamo and the River Walk, but the city is so much more than its two most famous attractions.
I was born in San Antonio, raised as a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs fan, and grew up on a diet of tacos and Jumex juice. It was easy to take the city’s magic for granted. It wasn’t until I left that I came to appreciate the small pleasures of life here: a frutería or panadería just a short drive away, the agua fresca and paleta vendors who kept the summer heat at bay, and the sounds of Tejano music mixed in with the Top 40 hits. There were bigger things, too. In San Antonio, Mexican Americans were an essential part of the Texas story. Our culture wasn’t an afterthought; it was central to the heart of the city.
Here, I grew up watching cowboys and vaqueros at the rodeo. I watched my cousins don dresses and sombreros to ride their horses in competitive escaramuza events—the all-female sport within charrería. For a few years, I attended school in the same district where my aunt walked out in 1968 to protest education inequality.
That sense of history, of community, is what makes San Antonio special. No matter how much the city has grown, it still feels like the biggest small town in the world—the kind of place where you’re likely to run into a neighbor, a teacher, or an old friend any given day of the week. San Antonio is ever-changing, but the best parts of it always stay the same.
1024 S Alamo St, San Antonio, 78210
This elegant establishment lives up to its name, with a curated menu of seafood, sushi, and steaks in a remodeled deco-style building.
812 S Alamo St, San Antonio, 78205
Acclaimed chef-owners Diego Galicia and Rico Torres explore Mexican cuisine from ancient to modern times with a ten-course tasting menu that changes each season.
107 W Houston St, San Antonio, 78205
A massive, farmhouse-style building and engaging outdoor space are home to one of the city’s most exciting barbecue joints—don’t miss the decadently glazed “candy paint” pork ribs.
136 E Grayson St, San Antonio, 78215
The grand jewel of the Pearl development, this luxury hotel is housed in the original Pearl Brewing Company brewhouse, built in 1894; there are nods to the past around every well-appointed corner.
Canopy by Hilton
123 N St Mary's St, San Antonio, 78205
One of the newest hotels on the River Walk, Canopy is located in the former Civil War–era Alamo Fish Market; its Otro Bar offers panoramic views of the city.
204 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, 78205
Just one hundred yards from the Alamo, the Victorian Menger is said to be the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi—don’t miss the historic bar, which is reportedly where Theodore Roosevelt recruited some of his volunteer Rough Riders regiment in 1898.
849 E Commerce St, San Antonio, 78205
The beating heart of the city, the River Walk is full of restaurants, bars, and prime people-watching; taking a boat tour is an easy way to see it all.
150 Camp St, San Antonio, 78204
World-renowned architect Sir David Adjaye designed this permanent home for Linda Pace’s contemporary art collection based on a vivid dream she had just before she passed away.
Japanese Tea Garden
3853 N St Mary's St, San Antonio, 78212
Located in Brackenridge Park, this garden is more than a century old and features koi ponds, arched bridges, and a sixty-foot waterfall.
Where to EatSee More
A Father-Son Duo Keeps the Barbecue Station Relevant
After thirty years, this San Antonio joint continues to improve while staying true to its loyal customer base.