Established by the Spanish in 1718, San Antonio has expanded into a thriving metropolis over the past 300 years, drawing people from all over the world to say, “Remember the Alamo!” in front of the famous fort itself.
To help you decide where to base yourself or where to spend your time exploring, here’s a list of our favorite neighborhoods. You may be able to wander them all in one trip, but chances are you’re going to want to come back for more.
Best neighborhood for attractions and nightlife
Day or night, the Downtown/River Walk neighborhood is the beating heart of San Antonio. The River Walk, the city’s most popular attraction, meanders through Downtown, drawing locals and visitors to stroll along its stoney paths, eat at its many restaurants and grab a drink at its bars and nightclubs.
For a special experience, book one of the hotels that line the River Walk, so you can watch the boats drift down the river throughout the day and the area fill with people at night. If you can, plan your trip to San Antonio during Fiesta, the city’s biggest festival, to witness the colorful parade through Downtown and on the San Antonio River.
Other Downtown attractions are within walking distance from the River Walk, like the Spanish Governor’s Palace, San Fernando Cathedral and the city’s most famous Unesco World Heritage Site, the Alamo, which has a new 24,000-sq-ft exhibition hall and collection building with an extensive display of Alamo and Texas artifacts. Not too far away, you can wander through Downtown’s 37-acre Hemisfair Park to see its brand new Yanaguana Garden and visit the Tower of the Americas.
While Downtown is home to a mall called the Shops at Rivercenter, our favorite shopping destination in this area is El Mercado, or the Historic Market Square, the largest Mexican market in the US. Shop the three-block plaza for Mexican art and products, listen to a band play in the plaza, watch ballet folklorico dancers and grab a traditional bite to eat from one of the food stands or Mi Tierra Café y Panaderia.
Best neighborhood for foodies
Back in 2001, a 23-acre area north of Downtown was purchased with the intent to build an entertainment district along the San Antonio River, centered on the site of the circa-1883 Pearl Brewing Company. And now, more than 20 years later, the thriving area is called the Pearl District.
The Pearl District still focuses on the old Pearl Brewing Company building, which has been transformed into the upscale boutique riverfront property Hotel Emma. You can see elements of the old brewery in the hotel today, and even kayak or paddleboard on the river next to the hotel with a rental from Mission Adventure Tours. Boutique shops that sell clothes, home decor and even bicycles are plentiful in this district. Don’t forget to stop at the Twig Book Shop to buy a book from a San Antonio author.
Food lovers have tons of restaurants to choose from here, like Cured, Boiler House at the Pearl, Ladino and Brassiere Mon Chou Chou. Plus, on Saturdays and Sundays, the Pearl Farmers Market brings more than 45 local vendors and producers from family-owned farms.
With the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in the Pearl, it’s no surprise the area is a foodie destination. The Institute even has its own student-driven restaurant called Savor, where visitors can eat. Next to Hotel Emma is the Food Hall at Bottling Department, which has three restaurants and a bar. Visitors usually order their food and sit in the courtyard.
Missions & South
Best neighborhood for history and the outdoors
Even though most visitors know about the Alamo, they may be surprised to learn that San Antonio is home to four other historic Spanish missions located along the San Antonio River in the Missions & South neighborhood. These four missions make up San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
While you could drive between the missions, outdoor enthusiasts opt for the hike-and-bike trail that connects them to make stops along the route. Don’t miss Arbol de La Vida: Memoria de La Tierra, a public-art sculpture that looks like a metal tree, with 700 clay sculptures – created by community members – hanging from the branches.
Another outdoor area that we love in this neighborhood is Confluence Park, which has a unique sculpture and activities like yoga in the park. Confluence Park is set alongside an 8-mile paddling trail that runs from Roosevelt Park to the Camino Coahuilteca takeout by Mission Espada. Birders, make your way to the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center to enjoy an avian paradise of 1200 acres.
Lastly, budget enough time to visit the massive outdoor flea market called Traders Village. You could spend hours shopping through market stalls selling Mexican products, electronics, clothes, plants and furniture before taking the kids on the amusement rides and grabbing a bite to eat from a food stall.
Southtown the Arts District
Best neighborhood for art
Southtown the Arts District is located just south of Downtown, comprising the Southtown and King William historic districts. If you’re looking for an artsy neighborhood full of museums, galleries, coffee shops and cute boutiques, start your visit here.
Instead of hotels, this area is filled with vacation rentals and B&Bs – La Villita Inn, Noble Inns and Brackenridge House Bed & Breakfast. These inns are in the King William part of the neighborhood, best known for its grand mansions dating between 1850 and 1899.
You can take a walking tour of the King William homes or see inside the majestic Villa Finale – for free! Stop in the Guenther House, which was built in 1876, for a phenomenal brunch in a Victorian parlor, or grab a German meal and beer at the Beethoven Männerchor. At night, order drinks at the charming Liberty Bar.
As the name of the district implies, Southtown is an art lover’s paradise. The newest and most exciting art destination in this neighborhood is Ruby City, a crimson museum designed by renowned architect Sir David Adjaye, housing a large collection of contemporary art. Nearby you can see more than 600 works of art in the San Antonio Art League & Museum.
The Blue Star Arts Complex in Southtown provides even more art-tastic events and spaces. The 160,000-sq-ft complex houses studios, art galleries, bars, restaurants, a brewery and the Contemporary at Blue Star, the longest-running nonprofit art space in the city. If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, head to the complex for the First Friday Art Walk, when all the galleries are open for free, and you can enjoy live music and meet local artists.
Best neighborhood for museums and parks
Technically the Broadway Corridor includes the Pearl District, but we thought it best to give the Pearl its own section. That said, we couldn’t ignore the fact that the rest of the Broadway Corridor, which runs along the San Antonio River north of the Pearl, is an amazing destination in San Antonio.
If you’re looking at a map, much of the neighborhood centers on Brackenridge Park, a 343-acre park with a variety of museums, attractions and even a golf course. Visitors can enjoy activities in the outdoor spaces, like walking the tree-lined paths, visiting the Japanese Tea Garden or letting the kids ride the miniature train.
Next to the park is San Antonio’s premier kid’s museum, the Doseum and the Witte Museum, which focuses on the natural history, arts, science and culture of Texas. Don’t forget that Brackenridge Park is home to the San Antonio Zoo, which has a new Pantera Walk – a trail where the jaguars effectively walk above guests as they wander between habitats. It’s the first of its kind in the world.
St Mary’s Strip is a happening hub in the Broadway Corridor, thanks to a great selection of restaurants, shops and nightlife. Grab a coffee at Candlelight Coffee House before shopping through thrift finds at Montage. La Botanica is a great vegan lunch spot, and Tycoon Flats serves up good burgers and beer. At night, you’ve got your pick of nightlife entertainment, from live music at the Squeezebox or the Limelight to a divey experience at Faust Tavern to a male strip show at Hardbodies Ladies Club.
Best neighborhood for Mexican culture, food, and experiences
People of Mexican heritage make up 54% of San Antonio’s metropolitan population – suffice it to say, Mexican culture is an important aspect of the city. And if you want to delve into that culture, there’s no better place to start than the Westside neighborhood.
Take a photo of the world’s largest Virgin Mary mosaic, designed like a Guadalupe candle, at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. The center hosts several events – a film festival, plays, art shows and more – throughout the year. A self-guided tour of the Westside’s historic murals is a great way to spend the day. San Anto Cultural Arts has a great map you can follow.
For an afternoon pick-me-up, grab a horchata latte from Barrio Barista and some fresh tamales from Delicious Tamales – or perhaps you’d rather try the puffy tacos at Ray’s Drive Inn, said to be the first place to serve them. They also have a local Westside treat on the menu: the crispy dog, an American-cheese-stuffed frankfurter wrapped in a corn tortilla and fried.
In the afternoon or evening, visit Jaime’s Place to grab a drink in a vibrant outdoor setting. A live music jam session brings out a good crowd on Wednesday nights.
One thing to note: the chain hotels found in the Westside are located along the highways rather than in the heart of the neighborhood. It’s best to stay in Downtown and drive into the Westside for a visit.