Our Favorite Places to Eat, Sleep, and Explore San Antonio

The second biggest city in Texas is full of first-rate restaurants, art museums, and trails.

<p>Allan Baxter / Getty Images</p>

Allan Baxter / Getty Images

With a population of almost one and a half million people, San Antonio is the second-biggest city in Texas. Though it has yet to have a soap opera named after it and it may not get as much national press as Austin or Houston, it is a first-rate city with a vibrant culture all its own.

Perhaps most famous for The Alamo (thanks to AP history and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure), there’s so much to see in and around the city that you could easily fill your itinerary without a stop by the famous mission. The River Walk is a beautiful introduction to the city and a great home base for those who want to explore on foot (though a car is recommended).

While there’s plenty of art, history, and shopping to take in, the food might be the star of the show. The convergence of Tex-Mex, Texas barbecue, farm-to-table, and fusion cooking means the city is chock full of exciting places to eat, from white tablecloths to drive-ins.

Where to stay

If you’re looking for a luxury experience in the heart of one of San Antonio’s hippest neighborhoods, look no further than Hotel Emma. The 100+ rooms in the Roman and Williams-designed hotel offer everything from great views to spacious suites and porcelain tiles. The rooftop pool and multiple dining options certainly make a day at the hotel appealing, but the culinary concierge they have on hand will help you figure out the events and activities that are right for you. Alternatively, La Cantera Resort is perfect for folks who want to get away to San Antonio and then get away from it all. With a golf course, spa, three pools (with cabana rentals to boot), and tennis courts, there is plenty to do—though we won’t judge if you decide to do nothing at all.

For something a bit buzzier, the Hotel Contessa is located on the bustling River Walk, so you’re right in the middle of the action. It’s an all-suite hotel, and the rooms offer views of the riverwalk or the skyline, so you’ve always got something to take in. There’s an on-site restaurant and cocktail bar, and the spa has rooftop views.

Are you really at a trendy hotel if you don’t have your own bathrobe? The Hotel Havana San Antonio has that and much more. This spot is within walking distance of some of the city’s best sights but remains away from the major tourist hubs. The beautiful historic property was renovated and designed to show off the best of the building’s architecture while adding colorful and current amenities, such as minibars housed in Smeg refrigerators and luxe linen bedsheets.

Up for a bit of a drive? The JL Bar, Ranch, Resort and Spa is a few hours outside of San Antonio but a top-notch luxury excursion. The list of activities is wildly impressive—guided stargazing; horse riding; wine, tequila, and whiskey tastings; and cowboy cookouts, just to name a few. Of course, there are resort classics like spa services and an on-site restaurant but part of the appeal of the JL is how Texas-focused so many of the activities are.

Where to eat

After making plenty of “Best of” lists, Mixtli has become a San Antonio hotspot. The menu “travels from place to place offering a tour in Mexican gastronomy” and is currently focused on Mexican and Japanese fusion. After a dinner that will certainly knock your socks off, wander over to the cellar to explore their wine collection and pick up some pantry delights.

Pharm Table isn’t just about farm-to-table cooking; it is also about health and wellness. Community tables, a focus on nutrients, and regenerative and sustainable proteins make the experience warm and nourishing—but you can still have a drink. There’s an impressive wine list, making sure you can have a little naughty with your nice.

If you like your delicious food with a side of eye candy, look no further than Best Quality Daughter. BQD started as a pop-up series but is now vividly tucked into a permanent home—the interiors offer a masterclass in maximalism, from the bold wallpaper to the bright neon signage. Chef Jennifer Hwa Dobbertin made the list of James Beard’s emerging chefs, and one look at the restaurant's menu will help you see why.

For something a bit more casual, San Antonio has plenty of options. Tex-Mex can be found around every corner—try the original “puffy taco” at Ray’s Drive In. Consider the always-busy and much-beloved The Jerk Shack for jerk chicken and other Caribbean food for something a little spicier. A relatively new but frequent staple on top dining lists, Curry Boys BBQ blends Southeast Asian flavors with Texas barbeque.

What to do

Ok, yes, it is worth stopping by the Alamo if you’ve never been. But there are other missions worth touring and exploring as well, which you can do via the Missions Trail Hike. There are plenty of opportunities to get out and get your nature on in San Antonio. Phil Hardberger Park, Denman Estate Park, and Friedrich Wilderness Park all offer trails for a wide array of abilities and interests.

For those who prefer to do their walking indoors but still want to be surrounded by beauty, the city’s museum scene is there for you. Housed in a striking David Adjaye building, Ruby City is a contemporary art center with an impressive collection and well-curated rotating exhibitions. The McNay Art Museum was the first modern art museum in Texas but now contains art from many eras and regions. For something a little funkier, stop by the San Angel Folk Art Museum to explore pieces from Folk and Outsider artists from the region and beyond.

And finally, if you want to take a bit of the city home with you, the shops at La Villita are full of gorgeous and unique finds. And no matter what your day entails, make sure to cap it off with a cocktail at Artisan Distillery & Craft Bar or a beer at Blue Star Brewing.

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