San Antonio's revitalized, expanded River Walk has sparked a hot new scene that has become the ultimate place to chill out in Texas.
"We love our funky downtown," says retailer and cookbook author Melissa Guerra, who owns Melissa Guerra Latin Kitchen Market in San Antonio. "We want more reasons to go, and that is the renaissance you're seeing right now." Over the past decade, a surge in downtown development has introduced such new venues as the reclaimed Pearl Brewery complex—"The Pearl"—now a mixed-use, riverside hub with lofts, eateries, and boutiques, including Guerra's store.
The McNay Art Museum (mcnayart.org) has a terrific new contemporary addition, and a spate of restaurants opened in the shadow of the Culinary Institute of America, which launched its third U.S. location at The Pearl.
All these newcomers beautifully coexist with downtown-area classics like Boudro's Texas Bistro and Mi Tierra Café & Bakery—proof that San Antonio's visionaries are reimagining their city while preserving its iconic character.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Emma opened last fall in a 121-year-old brewhouse at The Pearl, bringing boutique sophistication to the northern end of the River Walk. Rates from $296; thehotelemma.com
WHAT TO DO
Explore the San Antonio River and River Walk, which was expanded in 2009 and again in 2013 when the Mission Reach linked four historic Spanish missions. First-timers enjoy classic Rio San Antonio Cruises through the River Walk, but new city rules allow anyone to kayak the river south of downtown—with no permit required. "You are paddling down the river that gave life to the San Antonio Missions and the city of San Antonio," says David Morin of outfitter Mission Kayak. Water taxis can take you from The Pearl through a lock-and-dam system to the original part of the River Walk. riosanantonio.com; missionkayak.com
Shop and Dine
Get kitchen gear at Melissa Guerra Latin Kitchen Market, and browse other inviting shops, including The Twig Book Shop, Adelante clothing boutique, and Ten Thousand Villages. On Saturdays and Sundays, stroll the vibrant Pearl Farmers Market. atpearl.com
Sample the antipasti bar made daily at chef Andrew Weissman's acclaimed Osteria Il Sogno (210/223-3900), or share authentic Mexican street tacos at La Gloria (chefjohnnyhernandez.com). Indulge at charcuterie-focused Cured (curedatpearl.com), where you can sample meats aged in the restaurant's centerpiece meat-curing case—a concept envisioned by acclaimed chef Steven McHugh, a 2016 James Beard Award Finalist for Best Chef Southwest. Finally, sample the farm-to-table dishes at Supper, the in-house restaurant at culinary-conscious Hotel Emma. supperatemma.com
Take a Historic Tour
Pay your respects at The Alamo, the famous Spanish Mission-turned-fortress, but don't miss the majestic Mission San José, known as the Queen of the Missions. To see all five of these architectural jewels—recently named UNESCO World Heritage sites—use the city's bike-sharing program and cycle the Mission Trail. thealamo.org; sanantonio.bcycle.com; nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit/hikebike.htm
Make Time for Happy Hour
At The Last Word, you can sip cocktails on tap under the gaze of literary greats, whose portraits are part of the sophisticated bar-meets-library ambience. Sample craft brews from 76 taps at The Friendly Spot, an iconic Texas icehouse (thefriendlyspot.com), or cool off at the beer hall of Eugene Simor's Alamo Beer Company, which joins other local brewers, such as Southerleigh at The Pearl, in fueling the local craft-brewing trend. alamobeer.com; southerleigh.com