San Antonio is in the spotlight this year, as the city celebrates its tricentennial. As a native Texan, San Antonio means a lot to me. I was keenly interested in the Alamo as a kid and adored trips to see its battered walls and storied relics. But as I grew up, each trip to the Alamo City brought new discoveries. I fell in love with its rich history (it isn’t all about the Alamo), inclusive culture, vivid colors, and music (conjunto and tejano, por favor). The city epitomizes the Lone Star State’s past and constantly changing present.
Here are five things to love about San Antonio:
1) The Missions
In 2015, San Antonio’s missions – including the Alamo – became official UNESCO World Heritage sites. The four southernmost Spanish colonial missions – San José, Concepción, San Juan, and Espada – are included in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and are much larger and less crowded than the Alamo. Each of these intricately designed missions, where priests and Native Americans lived and worked, date to the 1700s. Each of the four still have active Catholic parishes with regular services and are linked by the eight-mile Mission Reach, a stretch of recreational space, picnic areas, pavilions, and portals to the missions.
2) Puffy Tacos
Listen to me: Do not skip trying a puffy taco – they’re life changing. A San Antonio original, they feature a puffed shell, made by frying uncooked masa in hot oil until air pockets form. The tacos are topped with ingredients such as picadillo beef, cheese, salsa, sour cream, lettuce, and tomato, and other fillings. Ray’s Drive Inn lays claim to the creation; locals also swear by Henry’s Puffy Tacos. Just don’t leave without trying one.
3) The River Walk
Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Ernie Pyle once called the River Walk the “American Venice.” The network of walkways hugging the San Antonio River is a favorite for tourists, but also residents, with restaurants, riverboat rides, art galleries, nightlife, and more. Stroll along it at night when the water shimmers with patio and storefront lights. Or hop on an evening boat cruise to enjoy a different vantage point and cool breezes (depending on the time of year!).
4) Great Hotels
Perched on the banks of the San Antonio River, Hotel Emma transformed a nineteenth-century brewery into a sophisticated boutique hotel. Today, the 146-room property offers a locally focused casual restaurant (think crispy, smoked quail with corn relish and potatoes) and spacious guest rooms with the building’s original concrete beams, exposed pipes, and colorful tilework.
For a taste of Texas hill country, check into La Cantera Resort & Spa, a 496-room resort situated atop one of the highest points in the city. Thirty-four private villas were unveiled last summer, and the adults-only floor comes with daily access to the 25,000 square-foot spa, where treatments are available in the treehouse-like Sky Lofts situated above the golf course.
5) Market Square
Old Mexico comes to life at Market Square – more than 100 locally owned shops and stalls that form the largest Mexican market in the U.S. Vendors sell everything from tacos and margaritas to handmade Mexican dresses and authentic Talavera pottery. Check out the working artists who set up along the outdoor plazas, and look for Mexican dances scheduled on stage. The venue is open daily from 10 AM to 6 PM.
Top photo courtesy of Visit San Antonio.