San Antonio might be home to the Alamo and the River Walk, but this quickly growing city has much more to offer than its two most famous tourist attractions. I was born in San Antonio, raised as a dyed-in-the-wool Spurs fan, and grew up on tacos and Jumex juice. I might be biased, but I’ve traveled around Texas enough to know that my hometown is the capital of Tex-Mex food. It’s a place where the first beads of sweat on a summer day can be forgotten with a sip of watermelon agua fresca or a cold cup of horchata. It’s where brightly colored buildings and jokes told in Spanglish reveal just how deep our Mexican roots are. It’s a place that artists and writers like Sandra Cisneros have called home, where we still pay tribute to Selena, and where Tejano music is king. Here’s what I’d recommend for a three-day weekend in the Alamo City:
Let’s begin with a culinary staple: the humble, delicious breakfast taco. It might be a bit of a detour, depending on your travel route, but the convenience and quality available at local institution The Original Donut Shop is well worth it. Grab a taco and a glazed donut to start the day right. With your breakfast in tow, head east to Brackenridge Park and set up camp. Within the grounds of its 343 acres, you’ll find more than enough shade to cool down in the summer heat. Stroll to the San Antonio Zoo, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Witte Museum, or even the park golf course. If you’re looking for something sweet after hiking around, drive about ten minutes for made-from-scratch cupcakes at Bird Bakery in Alamo Heights, or enjoy shaved ice and other fruity treats at Las Nieves Fruit Cups & More. There are a couple of B-cycle bike rental stations in the park, as well, which make for an easy way to get from the park to the nearby Pearl Brewery. A San Antonio institution since 1883, the former brewery is now a mixed-use development featuring retail and dining attractions, including a weekly farmer’s market on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The brewery’s Hotel Emma is a popular place to stay for visitors seeking a luxurious experience. Snag hand-embroidered Mexican pieces at shops like Mi Golondrina or squeeze in some “me time” at Hiatus Spa + Retreat. As the sun starts to set, make your way to one of the dozens of highly rated restaurants in and around the Pearl for dinner. The Granary delivers on barbecue staples, chef Johnny Hernandez serves his take on Mexican street food at La Gloria, and Southerleigh combines the cross-cultural influences of Southern cuisine into inventive dishes.
The only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas, the San Antonio Missions are a must-see. The designation includes five missions established by the Catholic Church, dating back as far as 1718, with the most famous of the sites being the Alamo. If you have enough time to see them all, the easiest way is to drive to each site from Mission Espada up to Mission Concepción. You can also rent a city bike to take the bordering Mission Reach Trail. Afterward, head to the Guenther House for some well-deserved Southern sweet cream waffles and bacon. The restaurant is nestled in the city’s King William Historic District, where you can take a stroll or a guided tour of the beautiful nineteenth-century mansions that line its streets. Those who prefer more active pursuits can take advantage of the San Antonio river, where companies like Mission Adventure Tours lead kayak trips, including a tour and beer tasting at the nearby Blue Star Brewery. Or visit the Blue Star Contemporary and the Presa House gallery, which showcase the city’s vibrant art scene, both featuring local and international contemporary artists. Walk toward Hemisfair Park, where you can view the city from the 750-foot tall Tower of the Americas, and kids can cool off at the sizable splash pad (an actual oasis in the middle of the city in the summer). The River Walk is just a short walk away, but I’d advise you to hold off until the sun goes down, and head to Market Square instead. If you can make it there before 6 p.m., you’ll find booths and shops set up underneath colorful papel picado, where vendors sell food, handmade art, and clothes in what’s been called the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico. A trip to Market Square wouldn’t be complete without stopping at Mi Tierra, where mariachis serenade guests, and you can dine on authentic Tex-Mex or fresh-baked pan dulce in their bakery. Double back and head to the River Walk, where you can hop on one of the river barges, or pop into any of the bordering bars for a taste of San Antonio’s nightlife. If you’re looking for a place to stay near the centrally-located River Walk, you can’t go wrong with the Omni’s La Mansión Del Rio or the historic and trendy Hotel Havana, where their restaurant and bar combine Mexican and Cuban influences. Alamo Plaza is just a couple blocks away for anyone who’s never seen the city’s claim to fame. For those with kids, or anyone who’s looking at an early start on Sunday morning, the free light show at the nearby San Fernando Cathedral is the perfect way to cap off the night. With shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 9, 9:30, and 10 p.m., “San Antonio, The Saga” is a mesmerizing projection onto the cathedral’s walls that details the history of the city in vivid, kaleidoscopic colors.
Consider a short trip to Boerne—a small town with German roots outside the city. Just a thirty-minute drive from downtown San Antonio, you’ll find a number of breakfast and lunch options along Boerne’s historic Main Street, including The Dienger Trading Co and Peggy’s on the Green, housed in the historic (and allegedly haunted) Ye Kendall Inn, where the burgers, steaks, and pork chops shine. After a bite, mill around the city center, take a walk along the river, or stop into one of the many antique shops and boutiques. If shopping’s not your thing, stick around in San Antonio to catch the noon Mariachi Mass at Mission San Jose (a family-led tradition for 50 years). Before heading home, experience another weekend tradition: the classic combination of barbacoa tacos and Big Red. Head to Tellez Tamales & Barbacoa or to El Milagrito for a true local experience.