I wasn’t born in San Antonio, Texas, but I was born and raised in Laredo, a small town roughly two hours and a half away. Growing up, there wasn’t much to do. As anyone from a small town knows, it’s easy to get caught up in a vicious and repetitive routine, seeing the same people while frequenting the same shops, movie theaters, and restaurants. Thankfully, if you’re like me, you had a “big” city to escape to on the weekends. San Antonio was mine.
My family’s weekend trips to the Countdown City (San Antonio’s unofficial nickname thanks to its 210 zip code) are some of my most cherished memories. I can easily recall the sheer excitement of my 10-year-old self being told we would be taking a road trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas for roller coasters and funnel cake, going back-to-school shopping at North Star Mall, and, of course, cheering for the San Antonio Spurs at home games. To me, San Antonio was (and still is) everything.
As I grew up, the purpose of my visits naturally changed. Trips in the backseat of my mom’s white Suburban became solitary journeys in my own white Ford Mustang. Days that were spent at theme parks became late nights partying on The Riverwalk; trips to shopping malls became vintage shopping excursions. It’s not to say I’ve forgotten the spaces of my childhood, but as I’ve gone through my own fair share of changes, so has the city.
Despite not being a traditional San Antonian, I feel helplessly connected to the city. Home to the historic Alamo, there’s a unique blend of Mexican and American culture that has remained. As a proud Mexican American, perhaps that’s why I’ve always felt right at home here and why I always make it a point to return.
The magic of San Antonio is one-of-a-kind and is something the individual must experience for themselves. If a real visit is something you crave, read on to find out all the best places to stay, eat, drink, dance, and shop. Whether you decide to head down south today, or sometime tomorrow, San Antonio will be waiting for you. Bienvenidos!
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Emma: It's hard to believe the Hotel Emma used to be a brewery. Founded in 1849, it hasn't lost its old-world charm, but former fermentation tanks are now private banquettes at the Sternewirth Bar and Clubroom, an old ammonia compressor remains smack-dab in the lobby, and exposed brick can be found at any turn.
Hotel Contessa: Located right along The Riverwalk, Contessa is quintessential south Texas. Palm trees decorate the eclectic and modern lobby. But its undisputed crown jewel is its decadent heated rooftop pool, perfect for scoring a much-needed tan or for taking a nighttime swim under the Texas sky.
Hotel Havana: If you're looking for a little distance from the touristy crowd, let Havana be your home away from home. As a premier boutique hotel, each of its 27 rooms is decorated with colorful regional art, perfect for sparking your creative side. Should you get hungry before dinner, head down to Ocho for a coffee and decadent pan dulce.
Emily Morgan Hotel: Ever thought about staying in a haunted hotel? Look no further! Legend has it that the luxurious Emily Morgan is a hotspot for paranormal activity. USA Today named it the third most haunted hotel in the world in 2015. After several multi-million dollar renovations, its cozy library and outdoor pool will make up for a few ghosts and spooky happenings if that's not a draw for you.
WHERE TO EAT:
Hot Joy: The name says it all. This rare gem of a restaurant is perfect for munching on smoked brisket dan dan and miso butter-infused mushroom fried rice before hitting the clubs. Sip on signature craft cocktails, like the Lime in the Coconut and Tamarind Cinnamon Mule, under moody paper lanterns for the ultimate in fusion cuisine. You'll love the prices, too.
Feast: A Southtown institution in and of itself, Feast is known for offering compelling and sophisticated dishes, even for picky eaters. Treat yo' self to some mouth-watering petite quail in a sumptuous mole or keep it classic with their "Chilli" mac n' cheese. Can't make it for dinner? There's no better place to visit for brunch!
Botika: San Antonio loves a good fusion restaurant. Take Botika's tantalizing Peruvian- and Asian-inspired menu, for instance. At the helm is executive chef Geronimo Lopez who makes a mean (and inventive) daily bento box for lunch. The term "happy hour" has never been more true thanks to refreshing pitchers of sake sangria, which go perfectly with an order of mouth-watering house empanadas.
La Gloria: Of course, no San Antonio restaurant guide would be complete without some good, old-fashioned Mexican food. La Gloria (The Heavens) is anything but a cheesy Tex-Mex franchise trap—it's as authentic as you can get. Its menu is a heavenly celebration of traditional street foods: tacos, tortas, sopes, and everything in between. Naturally, no feast at La Gloria would be complete without an ice-cold cerveza (beer), and the outdoor patio is the perfect place to take it all in. Salud!
WHERE TO DRINK:
Hi-Tones: Not sure where to begin your night? Hi-Tones is the perfect starting point. Expect strong drinks and a wide outdoor patio, which is perfect for taking a much-needed breather during their usual live music acts. Here, you can ditch your usual vodka-soda in favor of a reinvigorating pickle shot, or if you prefer something on the sweeter side, take a gander at their Piña (Pineapple) and Bomba Roja (Red Bomb).
Frank's St. Francis Room: If you've ever wanted to sip a cocktail inside a church, look no further. Say a prayer or two while enjoying a variety of classics like a dirty martini or negroni. If you find yourself visiting on the First Friday of the month, the tables are removed to make room for a staggering dance floor brought to life by electronic cumbia and remixed versions of your favorite songs. Should the drunchies come and get you, head down to the basement where Frank's prepares all fried foods you could desire. Take us to church!
Paramour Bar: In Manhattan, rooftop bars are a dime a dozen, however, San Antonio's first rooftop, Paramour, is a force to be reckoned with. It boasts an impressive 24-foot bar top and has stunning views of The Riverwalk below. The inside is an homage to several bygone eras: cheeky portraits of a semi-nude Burt Reynolds grace the walls and 1950s pinups are screen-printed onto couch cushions. Ahh, the nostalgia.
Jazz, TX: Located in the cellar at the Bottling House at the historic Pearl Brewery lies a part-upscale jazz club, part-gritty Texas dance hall called Jazz, TX. From the moment you enter, you are instantly transported to another time. Is there a better way to enjoy a drink than with some jazz? Didn't think so.
WHERE TO DANCE:
Kremlin: Want a taste of Russia? Then Kremlin is the place for you. Let all kinds of loose under a giant disco ball, or keep up with the tempo guided by go-go girls before getting some much-needed fresh air from handheld club canons.
Brass Monkey: There's no better place to lose yourself on the dance floor than at Brass Monkey. Offering a soundtrack of scintillating electronic, cumbia, hip-hop, and Top 40 mixes, the music at Brass Monkey alone will have you dancing for hours. If you're still in Stranger Things mode, their '80s Never A Cover weekend is the perfect party for you.
Hotel Discotheque: The days of legendary early '00s L.A. clubs like Les Deux may be far gone, but the same bougie feel can be experienced at Hotel Discotheque. Plush red velvet walls, a massive alien-esque chandelier, and bottles of Champagne wrapped in sparklers make for a more conventional night out. Don your best wrap dress and dance the night away.
The Bonham Exchange: If there's one club you go to in San Antonio, it has to be Bonham Exchange. Since it first opened in 1891, Bonham has been a gymnasium and a U.S. Post Office storage facility—even a USO office! It wasn't until 1981, that it became a pillar of San Antonio's LGBTQIA+ nightlife. Each of its three stories offers something different for partygoers: EDM, Latin, R&B—you name it.
WHAT TO DO:
San Antonio Missions National Park: The Alamo is great and all, but if you want an even richer taste of Texas history (and some breathtaking Instagram backdrops), you won't want to miss out on a visit to Missions National Park. The park boasts four major missions: Concepción, San Juan Capistrano, San José, and Mission Espada, all located along the San Antonio River.
McNay Art Museum: Of course, no trip would be complete without a little culture. Previously a 1929 mansion, the McNay offers viewers the chance to come face-to-face with incredible American and European masterworks, in addition to hosting special exhibitions—like this year's Nightmare Before Christmas one, that features set pieces and puppets from the iconic Tim Burton film.
Japanese Tea Gardens: One of the coolest things about San Antonio is the fact that one minute you're in a bustling city, and the next, you're completely surrounded by nature. If you find yourself wanting to relax and forget about the daily stress of life, then a trip to the Japanese Tea Gardens is just what you need. Walk over stone bridges as you take in the view of waterfalls spilling into koi ponds. Put your zZn into full throttle with a cup of tea from Jingu House, that you can sip under a pagoda.
Artpace: San Antonio also has a burgeoning contemporary art scene, best experienced at Artpace. Anything goes at this gorgeous and modern gallery space. Bonus: Admission is free and open to the public.
WHERE TO SHOP:
Montage: Vintage-seekers, rejoice: Montage has everything you're looking for. Be the envy of all your fiendish fast fashion friends with vintage high-waisted denim shorts and billowing skirts. Guys aren't left behind as well: Montage offers classic wardrobe staples like bowling shirts and cowboy boots.
Leighelena: Want to bring back a little Texas with you after your trip? Need a gift for your frenemy or a co-worker? Leighelena's got you covered. You'll find just about anything in this eclectic brick-and-mortar, like political figure prayer candles, artisan salts, and gorgeous handmade leather cuff bracelets. We'll take one of everything, please.
The Mermaid Farm: Let your inner Nana run free in this little cabinet of curiosities. Here, you'll find precious antique relics like typewriters, Victorian dollhouses, pretty much anything that was made before you were born. There's something comforting about this place; you'll know what we mean when you visit.
Hogwild Records Tapes & CDs: Collecting vinyl requires dedication, perseverance, and, obviously, a good record store. The records here at Hogwild are phenomenal, to say the least, with some priced as low as $1.