As Texas’ oldest city, San Antonio has long been thought of as the boring, old lady city of the state - not as cultured as Houston or as flashy as Dallas or as hip as Austin. But those who think San Antonio is little more than kitschy souvenir shops, a margarita-puke-stained Riverwalk, or quick tour of the Alamo would be surprised by the bold new restaurants, art installments and thriving arts and entertainment district the city now has to offer.
Leading off San Antonio’s cool factor is the Pearl Brewery Development. The 22-acre site that brewed cheap beer from 1883 - 2001 has been transformed into hipster heaven. With green-spaces, an outdoor amphitheater, award-winning restaurants, a steampunk-chic boutique hotel and wine bars, this is the center for all things cool in San Antonio. A weekend farmers market attracts the crowds to sample local honey, shop for artisan food, taste craft beer, and stretch it out during outdoor yoga.
When one thinks of great food cities, they tend to think of New York, San Francisco or Dallas. San Antonio conjures up images of a thick layer of orange-yellow cheese congealed into a block on top of a greasy enchilada. The Pearl, however, is turning the city into a culinary destination with James Beard-honored chefs opening bold new restaurants like Signature, a restaurant that combines French technique with Hill County taste or Cured, a rustic-chic restaurant serving charcuterie-focused New American cuisine.
Just north of the River Walk sits the San Fernando Cathedral. Founded in 1731 it the oldest standing church in Texas. It is also home to one of the coolest light installations in Texas. Every Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night bypassers stand in the main plaza to watch ‘San Antonio: The Saga’ - the history of Texas told through the a 24-minute video projection shown on the outer walls on the cathedrals. Stirling music accompanies the colorful, animated drawings of French artist Xavier De Richemont.
The $200 million redevelopment of Hemisphere Park - an aging area near the River Walk that was home to the 1968 World's Fair - is being compared to Chicago’s Millennium Park. With family-centric park, multi-use living facilities, restaurants and bars, the urban oasis is designed to bring people together. The splash pads and giant climbing structures at the Yanaguana Gardens keep the kids busy while mom and dad can enjoy a coffee or margarita on the shaded patio of the nearby Common Wealth Coffeehouse. Or feast on a non-traditional Tex-Mex at the food trailer Con Safos. Chefs here have created innovative new ways to combine Texas and Mexican cuisines. Check out the Pan Dulce Burger - a seasoned beef and pork patty with spicy Strawberry Jam, Brie and thick-cut bacon in between a toasted, sweet pink bun. It is seriously the best thing I have put in my mouth in God knows how long.
And despite all the hip new places opening in San Antonio, you should still head down to the River Walk to take a boat tour of the city because as cheesy as it is, that is always fun. Maybe grab an oversized plastic sombrero for the ride?
Where To Stay: The St. Anthony Hotel is a historic hotel on the River Walk. The ten-story hotel has been restored to resemble its grandeur of the early 1900s. While there, check out Haunt, the hotel’s cocktail bar that serves classic cocktails inspired by the ghosts believed to be haunting the hotel.