I’ve lived in San Antonio since the summer of 2012. Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to have family and friends come to visit us. We usually show them around, however, after a couple of visits they want to lead the tour as well.
My dad always wants to go to China Harbor buffet and was devastated to find out that the Luby’s on Blanco and 1604 is no longer there. Nordstrom Rack is a must for him even if he only gets a couple of white T-shirts. My mom dreams about the Cobb salad with avocado dressing from Chick-fil-A, and my sister loves Cracker Barrel’s breakfast. And no visit would ever be complete without a stop at Target.
I can sense their excitement as they walk into the air-conditioned stores. I recognize the feeling because it is also how I felt when visiting my cousins in San Diego many years ago. I would walk into my favorite places and feel like a familiar foreigner.
Most visitors from Mexico have a shopping agenda. At first, I used to feel disappointed when all they wanted to do was shop, shop, shop! Then I remembered my 17-year-old self who would spend the whole day at UTC mall in San Diego only to come back late at night to spend some time with my cousins.
If it weren’t for my mom, who insisted we made a plan to actually tour San Diego, I honestly think I would have spent my days eating at Rubio’s Fish Tacos and Panda Express and going from changing room to changing room.
So now, instead of feeling left out when somebody wants to go shopping, I remember how I felt, and I try to go with them. I feed off of their excitement as they make their way to the famous “seven temples”: Macy’s, Nordstrom, Marshall’s, Ross, CVS or Walgreens (sometimes both), and Target.
As they cross items off their shopping list, they are easily persuaded to visit the spots I have in store for them. I too have a sneaky agenda that slides between their shopping sprees and takes them beyond the freeways and into the beautiful neighborhoods that make San Antonio unique.
These are my staple tours that have left my visitors wanting to come back and explore more of our city.
Start the morning at the Alamo Quarry where your guests can get some of their shopping done. Between Nordstrom Rack, Gap, J. Crew Factory, and Old Navy, they won’t even miss the outlets.
There are plenty of options to eat if they want to stay a little longer. Snooze is one of my favorite places to get brunch, J. Prime for lunch, and if they want something sweet, there’s always Amy’s Ice Cream. But, my suggestion would be to head to Pearl.
Instead of taking 281 South, I would take them through Alamo Heights. We can make a stop at Bird Bakery or La Panaderia. Remember to drive slowly on Broadway because there are so many cool places to see like the Antiques At Broadway shop. You’ll pass Incarnate Word University and the entrance to the Witte Museum. If they have kids you can talk about the DoSeum, which is just a little bit farther south on Broadway.
You’ll know the tour is successful when they tell you they want to come back to all these places.
Take a right on Mulberry Street, where Brackenridge Park can be seen. If you are lucky you may even get a chance to wave at the passengers riding the zoo train.
Once at the Pearl, there is so much to see and so many places to eat that you can just stroll around and stop whenever you feel like it. Take them down to the river area and cross the bridge to get a better view of the amphitheater and the colorful riverboats making a u-turn at the waterfalls. Local Coffee, Bakery Lorraine, The Twig Book Shop, Adelante Boutique, Larder, and Sternewirth are some of my favorite places to visit.
If you see an open spot in the grassy area where the splash pad is, take it. Go get something to drink and just relax. My kids usually run around and I love how they always make new friends at this spot.
First day: Success! Now let’s head to our second tour. `
King William/Blue Star Arts Complex/Yanaguana/Hemisfair Park
Coffee lovers will love to visit Halcyon Southtown in the Blue Star Arts Complex. My recommendation is to order the s’mores along with your coffee. Something about having your own little fire pit at the table makes the whole experience even better. Walk around and visit the retail shops and art studios. I guarantee you will find something unique.
Take a stroll down the river, under the bridge, and into King William District. The path by the river is so beautiful and peaceful. On the street you can walk the 25 blocks of San Antonio’s first historic district. You can download the GPSMYCITY app for a self-guided tour that takes you to eight different locations along King William Street.
If you get hungry you can head back to the Arts Complex and eat at Burgerteca. Another option is to head downtown. If you have kids, head to Yanaguana Park, which has a wonderful playground, and there are many places to have a drink or a bite to eat. Park behind the Magik Theatre so you are in the middle of everything.
Dough Pizzeria has the best salad and their pizza is delicious, but I suggest calling in advance to make a reservation. At Hemisfair Park, the Tower of the Americas is within walking distance and so is the Mexican Cultural Institute. This concludes the second day of our tour.
You can’t come to San Antonio and not visit the River Walk or the Alamo. Try to go on a weekday to avoid crowds. My ideal visit would be to have breakfast or brunch at Ostra restaurant and then walk along the River Walk toward the riverboat tours, which start running at 12:00 p.m. Then I would make my way to La Villita and finish my tour with a visit to the Alamo.
Short and sweet, but honestly even after all these years, the River Walk hasn’t lost its magic.
San Antonio Museum of Art/Tre Trattoria
The San Antonio Museum of Art sits along the San Antonio River. It has works of art from all over the world and also temporary exhibitions. The building itself is beautiful. Take the skyline bridge and walk along the patio and gardens that overlook the river.
There you will find Tre Trattoria. This restaurant has both the perfect real estate and the perfect food to finish your visit. If you are craving something more casual, then cross the street over to “Elsewhere” where the relaxing atmosphere invites you to have a beer in one of their wooden swings with an amazing view of the river and the museum.
Other places that deserve a visit:
San Antonio is a city with so much history that it surprises me when I find out that people visiting from Mexico or even Mexican residents that have been here for many years have never visited some of these places.
I still love shopping, and I know La Cantera like the back of my hand, but San Antonio is way more than a shopping destination. I also love that it has wonderful theme parks.
But the soul of a city lives in its cultural landmarks: the museums, the streets full of people, its food, the music, the historic locations, and its natural beauty.
May these tours and recommendations serve as a guide to discovering new places that will make you fall in love with San Antonio—for the first time, or once again.