No question: The River Walk is San Antonio’s major tourist draw. The downtown stretch of this leafy linear park is packed with visitors hailing river taxis and sipping cold drinks by day; the light-draped trees and bustling patio restaurants lend it a festive, romantic atmosphere after dark. But with its expansion north to the trendy Pearl entertainment district and south to the older Hispanic neighborhoods that are home to the historic missions, the River Walk can no longer be distinguished from the “real” San Antonio. Locals frequent the paved banks of their famed waterway almost as much as visitors do—perhaps more on the southern stretch, where throngs of strollers and bicyclists gather on the weekends.
San Antonio is not only good at bringing back neglected rivers (the San Pedro’s resurrection is now a work in progress). The city also has a penchant for revitalizing old neighborhoods, including King William, Southtown, and Monte Vista near downtown, and for converting derelict buildings into hotels, restaurants, museums, and even shopping centers (the posh Alamo Quarry Market was once a cement factory). As a result, the city is studded with historic treasures in everyday settings, well beyond such famous sights as the Alamo.
History is alive in other ways in San Antonio. The only major city in the state founded before Texas won its independence from Mexico, San Antonio was populated from early on by diverse groups with distinct goals: Spanish missionaries and militiamen, German merchants, Southern plantation owners, Western cattle ranchers. All left their mark on the city’s rich culture and cuisine and festivals—including the 10-day-long Fiesta.
Things to Do
Stroll around San Antonio's downtown to get a flavor of the city's storied Western past, especially through the plazas, one of which was the scene of a running battle with a Comanche raiding party. Learn about Texas' most important battle at the city's dearest Spanish mission, The Alamo. The show-down between Mexican General Santa Anna and some 200 Texas settlers set the stage for San Antonio's bold, independent spirit. Four additional missions, rich with 18th-century wall paintings, the scent of burning incense and the occasional Mariachi Mass, lie in a chain leading south, part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.
Turquoise beads, heavy silver bangles and colorful wool blankets fill the stalls of traditional Southwestern vendors at La Villita, San Antonio's oldest neighborhood, and Market Square. But it's trendy Alamo Heights that draws shoppers looking for upscale goods. Designer labels fill storefronts in this San Antonio neighborhood, but you'll also find custom-made Western wear like ornate cowboy boots and hand-tooled leather belts.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Graceful live oaks lean over San Antonio's River Walk, embracing the twisting, watery heart of San Antonio. Narrated tours carry visitors past noisy Mexican restaurants, elegant wine bars and riverfront pubs, all popular in the evening. The River Walk's open-air Arneson River Theatre is the place to catch Latin music and dance performances afternoons and evenings. The sounds of acoustic guitars and the soaring notes of trumpets fill the air at the theater, while traditional dancers swirl in multicolored skirts.
Restaurants and Dining
San Antonio's River Walk is the city's most popular dining spot. For a winning combination of spicy, meaty and crispy, all on one plate, served with icy margaritas, opt for Tex-Mex. Seafood restaurants serve up succulent oysters and savory ceviche fresh from the gulf coast. And, remember, you're in Texas: Sit down to at least one thick, juicy steak in an atmospheric riverside steak house. For a taste of San Antonio's German heritage, head to Schilo's near the Alamo for mouth-watering bratwurst and Sunday evening oompah bands.