San Antonio has its symphony and its Broadway shows and some of the most beautiful restored movie palaces in the country. But much of what the city has to offer is less mainstream. Latin influences, especially, lend sabor to some of the best local nightlife. San Antonio is the birthplace of Tejano music, a unique blend of German polka and northern Mexico ranchero sounds (with a dose of pop added for good measure). And Southtown, with its many Hispanic-oriented shops and galleries, celebrates its art scene with the monthly First Friday and Second Saturdays, extended block parties with a cultural kick.
First Friday, the original and still the largest of these mini-Fiestas, centers around the Blue Star complex and surrounding blocks. Its spinoff, Second Saturday, features less-established artists and galleries, with its hub the Freight gallery on South Flores Street and the surrounding area—which, predictably, has been rebranded as “SoFlo.”
But the Fiesta City throws big public parties year-round: Fiestas Navideñas and Las Posadas around Christmastime, Fiesta San Antonio and Cinco de Mayo events in spring, the Texas Folklife Festival in summer, and Oktoberfest in autumn. Oktoberfest in particular is fun way to tap into San Antonio’s German heritage with the city’s renewed craft brewing scene.
For the most complete current listings for the time when you’re visiting, pick up a free copy of the weekly alternative newspaper, the Current, or the Friday “Weekender” section of the San Antonio Express-News. You can also check out the website of San Antonio Department of Arts & Culture: www.getcreativesanantonio.com. There’s no central office in town for tickets, discounted or otherwise; you’ll need to reserve seats directly through the venues. Generally, box office hours are Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, and 1 to 2 hours before performance time.
The Bar Scene
Texas state law dictates that bars close at 2am, although some alternative spots stay open until 3 or 4am. Some of the hottest bars in town are also in restaurants: Ácenar and Cured make kickbutt cocktails, while Zinc has an top-notch wine selection.
Brewing Makes a Comeback
An abundance of good artesian well water, a location at the crossroads of major trade routes, and an influx of German immigrants—it’s no coincidence that San Antonio has been home to breweries since as early as 1855, when William Menger and Charles Degan opened the Western Brewery in the basement of their hotel next to the Alamo. While some of the most successful breweries have been repurposed in the last few decades—the old Lone Star Brewery now houses the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Pearl Brewery was incorporated into Hotel Emma and other structures of the Pearl complex—beer production is thriving again, thanks to the rise of craft brewers, who are quenching San Antonians’ thirst with a dizzying array of lagers, ales, and spirits. Many of these businesses have limited hours, so check the websites or call ahead before you visit.
Breweries With Tasting Rooms Or Bars—With an entrepreneurial founder and a brewmaster who is both a beekeeper and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Alamo Beer Company, east of downtown on 202 Lamar St. (www.alamobeer.com; tel. 210/872-5589), is producing some fine lighter-styled beers, perfect for cooling off in the Texas summers. Opened as Texas’ first urban distillery in 2013, Dorcol Distilling and Brewing Company, in Southtown at 1902 S. Flores St. (www.dorcolspirits.com; tel. 210/229-0607), started out with a Balkan-style apricot brandy (Kinsman Rakia) and expanded its offerings to include a line of tasty ales called High Wheel. Freetail Brewing Company, 2000 S. Presa St. (www.freetailbrewing.com; tel. 210/625-6000), makes a selection of beers year-round at their state-of-the-art brewery in Southtown, including a vast number of seasonal offerings and 22-ounce bombers for sale at local shops.
Just past Loop 410 in the northwest, another local favorite is Busted Sandal Brewing Company, 7114 Oaklawn Dr. (www.bustedsandalbrewing.com; tel. 210/872-1486); you’ll also find its beers on tap at many San Antonio watering holes and available in cans at groceries around town. (Recommended: the El Robusto Porter, featuring notes of milk chocolate and roasted coffee.) North of the 410 Loop in the northeast, Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling, 4834 Whirlwind Dr., Suite 102 (www.drinkrangercreek.com; tel. 210/339-2282), is a “brewstillery,” making local beers AND whiskeys, sold locally both through retail outlets and at bars and pubs.
Restaurants With Breweries—Specializing in a wide variety of organic brews, Blue Star Brewing Company, 1414 S. Alamo St., #105 (www.bluestarbrewing.com; tel. 210/212-55060), has been keeping the growing community of Southtown locals lubricated and fed with comforting pub food since opening in 1996. A little farther south, German-born head brewer Vera Deckard and her husband Brent are producing some of the city’s most interesting brews at Künstler Brewing, 302 E. Lachapelle St. (www.kuenstlerbrewing.com; tel. 210/688-4519), and pairing them with German- and Texas-style snacks and live music in this little gem of a brewpub. And chef Jeff Balfour brought back brewing to the redeveloped Pearl in 2015 when he opened Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, 136 E. Grayson St., Suite 120 (www.southerleigh.com; tel. 210/455-5701), pairing his Texas cross-cultural cuisine with more than 21 beers on tap.
San Antonio is more of a “movies” than a “cinema” kind of town: There’s not much in the way of an indie celluloid scene. You’ll find the typical multiplexes showing first-run films here—Santikos and Regal are the local chains—and several branches of the Alamo Drafthouse eat-in-your-seat movie theaters. (Ironically, the popular concept was founded in Austin, not in the Alamo City.) The Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro, 4522 Fredericksburg Rd. (www.santikos.com/san-antonio/bijou; tel. 210/734-4552), has long been the place to go to catch indie and short-release movies. The food and wine is decent too.
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and the McNay and Witte museums often have interesting film series. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, north of downtown at 922 San Pedro Ave. (www.esperanzacenter.org; tel. 210/228-0201), usually hosts an annual gay and lesbian cinema festival.
And you can always go to see the IMAX movie Alamo—The Price of Freedom at the AMC Rivercenter 11, in the Shops at Rivercenter, 849 E. Commerce St. (www.amctheatres.com/alamomovie; tel. 210/228-0351). It’s been running there continuously since 1988; nowadays it has reclining seats, and you can munch on more than popcorn while watching the defenders of the famous mission, located only a block away, go down in brave and glorious defeat.
Baseball—From early April through early September, the minor-league San Antonio Missions (a farm club for the San Diego Padres) play at the Nelson Wolff Stadium, 5757 Hwy. 90 W. Tickets range from $8 for adult general admission to $12 for seats in the lower box. For schedules and tickets, go to www.samissions.com or call tel. 210/675-7275.
Basketball—Spurs madness hits San Antonio every year from mid-October through May, when the city’s only major-league franchise, the San Antonio Spurs, shoots hoops. Ticket prices range from $21 for nosebleed-level seats to $400 and above for seats on the corners of the court. Tickets are available at the Spurs Ticket Office in the AT&T Center, One AT&T Center Pkwy. (www.nba.com/spurs; tel. 210/444-5140), or via Ticketmaster San Antonio (www.ticketmaster.com; tel. 210/224-9600).
Golf—Each spring (March/April) TPC San Antonio (www.tpc.com), the private club open to members and guests of the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, plays host to the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open, one of the tour’s oldest professional golf tournaments, played on the AT&T Oaks Course. Visit www.valerotexasopen.com for details.
Horse Racing—Retama Park, some 20 minutes north of San Antonio in Selma (www.retamapark.com; tel. 210/651-7000), is the hottest place to play the ponies; take exit 174-A from I-35, or the Lookout Road exit from Loop 1604. Its multi-level Spanish-style grandstand is impressive, and the variety of food courts, restaurants, and lounges is almost as diverting as the horses. Live racing is generally from July through September on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Call or check the website for thoroughbred and quarter horse schedules. Simulcasts from top tracks around the country are shown year-round. General admission for live racing is $7 adults, $4 seniors and active military, free for 12 and under. Admission is free for everyone on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Ice Hockey—The American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage play at the AT&T Center (One AT&T Center Pkwy.), where tickets cost $10 to $65. Go to www.sarampage.com or call tel. 210/444-5554 for schedules and other information.
Rodeo—In early February, 2 weeks of Wild West events like calf roping, barrel racing, and bull riding are held at the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo (www.sarodeo.com; tel. 210/225-5851). Major country music acts perform live each night during the rodeo, including concerts by big-name Nashville and Texas stars. Out in Bulverde, just north of San Antonio, the Tejas Rodeo Co. (www.tejasrodeo.com; tel. 830/980-2226) lays on a live rodeo every Saturday from March through November, followed by dancing to live bands. Another draw is the food at the adjoining Tejas Steakhouse and Saloon, created by chef Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria and La Fruiteria restaurants. Smaller rodeos are held throughout the year in nearby Bandera, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Contact the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.banderacowboycapital.com; tel. 800/364-3833 or 830/796-3045) for more information.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.