This first day of highlights is pretty much set in stone for everyone. If you’re not sleeping downtown, the smartest thing is to leave your car in a downtown lot and retrieve it after dinner. It’s easy to visit the downtown attractions (#1, #2, #3) in the morning on foot if the weather’s nice (it usually is in the early morning), then take a river taxi to #4, after that using ride-shares or (much slower) public transportation. You'll be going from downtown to the Broadway Cultural Corridor, then circling back downtown.
1. Mi Tierra and Market Square
San Antonio’s ties with Mexico may have been mightily tested at the Alamo, but a century and a half later, all seems friendly as can be—especially when it comes to food. Fortify yourself for a long day of sightseeing with desayuno at Mi Tierra. Come as early as you want—the restaurant is open 24 hours a day. This is the quintessential San Antonio restaurant, where everyone from abuelas with grandkids to power brokers to tourists gathers, while strains of strolling mariachi music drift by your table—yes, even in the morning. If the stalls at Market Square are open when you’re finished, give them a glance for future reference but keep on moving.
2. The Alamo
Even if you’re not interested in military history, you can’t say you’ve been to San Antonio and didn’t see the Alamo, the 18th-century mission that became the site of one of the country’s best-known losing battles in 1736. The church and long barrack are good examples of frontier colonial Spanish architecture, typical of the region. It’s a stretch of the imagination, given all the tacky tourist attractions that are now there, but Alamo Plaza was the original atrio of the church—a walled plaza for celebrating Mass when there were too many celebrants to fit into the church.
3. River Walk
Because it kept flooding its banks, the San Antonio River was once the problem child of the city’s center. The solution was a feat of engineering that became the ever-expanding River Walk. From Alamo Square, take the entrance on Losoya Street, which descends to the first section of the River Walk to be developed; it’s still the prettiest, with its old-growth tall cypress and palms and ornamental flowers, but also the most congested, because of the many restaurants and hotel entrances. Escape from the loop and head north along the newer Museum Reach section. Walk a little way to get a feel for the storied waterway, and then take a river taxi—look for the GO Rio Shuttle signs—to your next stop.
4. The Pearl
The converted 1883 Pearl Brewery complex, a shopping and entertainment hub centered by the happening Hotel Emma, is the hottest culinary ticket in town, gathering some of the best restaurants in a single sprawling public space. For a quicker, more casual meal, head for the Bottling Dept. Food Hall. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a weekend, don’t miss the farmers market in all its grazing glory.
5. Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum
About a 10-minute drive northeast of the Pearl, the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum has its main collections housed in a lovely Spanish Colonial Revival mansion set on 23 landscaped acres (don’t miss the Japanese garden). The museum is especially strong in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, along with contemporary art in the Stieren Center wing and a trove of theatrical set designs in the Tobin Collection.
6. Tower of the Americas
In this longest transportation leg of the day (about 20 min. by car), you'll be heading to the southern part of downtown. Here, the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas, built for the HemisFair world exposition of 1968, is the tallest building in San Antonio. It has an observation deck, but to get the same glorious sunset views without an entrance fee, go for a cocktail in Bar 601 at dusk. (Weekday happy hours from 4:30 to 7pm offer bargain prices.)
7. Return to River Walk
After you've had your drink, stroll a few blocks north to the nearest entrance to the River Walk. Sure, you saw it in the morning, but it looks entirely different at night when the trees are softly illuminated by strings of tiny fairy lights. There are lots of excellent restaurants along the river in all price ranges and noise levels.
8. San Antonio: The Saga
If you’re in town on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening—and have any energy left after this long day of sightseeing—emerge from the River Walk and head over to Main Plaza to see San Antonio—The Saga, a delightful 24-minute show by French artist Xavier de Richemont, with video clips exploring the city’s history projected onto the facade of the San Fernando Cathedral at 9, 9:30, and 10pm.
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.