South's Best Neighborhoods: River North, San Antonio
Why We Love It: A major upgrade of San Antonio's River Walk—restoring the original 3-mile downtown section and extending the pathway to nearly 15 total miles—is changing the city's whole flow. Locals are returning from the suburbs, tourists are expanding their horizons beyond the historic waterfront, and by its completion in 2013, even repeat visitors will have fresh territory to explore.
Our Perfect Day: Hop on a Rio Taxi boat (riosanantonio.com, $15/day pass) to Museum Reach, the 3-mile River Walk extension that leads north past the San Antonio Museum of Art and nearly a dozen new public art installations. Pay special attention at the bridges. Much of the artwork you'll pass (Donald Lipski's suspended school of fiberglass sunfish, Martin Richman's Shimmer Field light sculpture) is installed beneath underpasses. Disembark at the Pearl (atpearl.com), a converted 19th-century brewery complex that packs in marquee attractions such as The Twig Book Shop (thetwig.com, one of the city's oldest independent bookstores) and worth-the-trip restaurants. One standout is Johnny Hernandez's La Gloria (lagloriaicehouse.com), which supplies a coast-tocoast survey of Mexican street foods such as a cucumber, serrano pepper, and shrimp ceviche ($8).
Top Tastemaker: Wherever Liz Lambert, the queen bee of hip Texas hotels, plants her flag (Marfa, Texas; Austin's SoCo), buzz inevitably follows. It's telling, then, that Liz chose Museum Reach as the site for her newest property, the 27-room Hotel Havana (havanasanantonio.com), a 1914 mansion outfitted with wrought iron beds and vintage Cuban artwork. Even if you don't stay there, it's worth stopping by the hotel's split-level lounge, Ocho. Opt for the upper-level views of the river.
The Ideal Souvenir: A molcajete ($30; volcanic-rock mortar and pestle). Pick one up at Melissa Guerra Latin Kitchen Market (melissaguerra.com) at the Pearl.
Everyone's Talking About: The Granary 'Cue & Brew (thegranarysa.com), a by-the-pound barbecue joint with in-house beer production opening this fall.