People lounge in the grass while social distancing at the Pearl in San Antonio, Texas on the evening of May 4, 2020. Photo: Josie Norris, The San Antonio Express-News / Staff Photographer / **MANDATORY CREDIT FOR PHOTOG AND SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS/NO SALES/MAGS OUT/TV

Photo: Josie Norris, The San Antonio Express-News / Staff Photographer


People lounge in the grass while social distancing at the Pearl in San Antonio, Texas on the evening of May 4, 2020.

The Alamo and River Walk are San Antonio’s most iconic attractions, but there are a host of reasons the city is Texas’ No. 1 tourist destination — including The Pearl, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Sea World San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta Texas and downtown’s La Villita art community. San Antonio’s colonial architecture and laid-back vibe are part of the charm.


River Walk: If you want to stroll along San Antonio’s 15-mile-long River Walk, the most interesting stretches are around the Pearl, La Villita and Blue Star Arts Complex. Or you can see it by boat via Go Rio River Cruises, offering narrated tours and brunch and cocktail cruises;

Market Square: El Mercado is a three-block outdoor plaza lined with dozens of shops and home to the famous Mi Tierra Café and Panaderia. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day, and the bakery, selling Mexican pastries, is busy day and night. Market Square, 514 W. Commerce . Mi Tierra, 218 Produce Row, 210-225-1262,

The Pearl: Restaurant, retail shops and Hotel Emma inhabit the old Pearl Brewery. It’s also home to a great weekend farmers market and the Culinary Institute of America’s Center for Foods of the Americas. Cured is one of San Antonio’s top-rated restaurants. Shops include Twig Book Shop, Melissa Guerra, home to Latin American cookware, and Dos Carolinas, makers of bespoke Guayabera shirts. 303 Pearl Parkway, 210-212-7260;

The McNay: Housed partly in a Spanish Colonial Revival mansion on the River Walk, the McNay Art Museum focuses on 19th- and 20th-century European and American works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper. A current show, “Fashion Nirvana: Runway to Everyday,” features ‘90s fashion from gowns to grunge in the museum’s sleek, modern addition, the Stieren Center. 6000 N. New Braunfels, 210-824-5368;

Paramour: Rooftop bar with a great view. Check out the champagne vending machine and Sunday drag brunch. 102 Ninth St., 210-340-9880,

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center: The center celebrates Latino visual artists, filmmakers, writers, dancers and musicians. It hosts workshops, public performances and readings, concerts, film festivals and gallery exhibitions. (Temporarily closed due to COVID-19.) 723 S. Brazos, 210-271-3151;


La Fonda on Main: This 1932 hacienda in the chic Monte Vista neighborhood has an oak-shaded patio with great people-watching. Try the upscale tacos, including duck, mushroom and surf-and-turf. 2415 N. Main Ave., 210-733-0621,

Battalion: This converted firehouse serves upscale Italian fare. The décor? Chandeliers, a glass elevator and firepoles. Try the quartet of lamb chops, grilled and coated with herbs and Parmesan, served with fingerling potatoes and white wine cream sauce; square meatballs in tomato sauce; pasta in basil and pine-nut pesto; or the cool watermelon salad with fresh mint, feta, tomatoes and Fresno chile. (Open for takeout because of COVID-19.) 604 S. Alamo, 210-816-0088,

Pete’s Tako House: Comfort tacos for breakfast. Try the machacado (shredded beef) and eggs, the chilaquiles or good ol’ huevos a la Mexicana (scrambled eggs, peppers, tomatoes and onions). 502 Brooklyn Ave., 210-338-8421,

Cured: Steve McHugh was nominated for a 2016 James Beard Award as Best Chef Southwest, which makes his charcuterie-specialty restaurant at the Pearl a must. The menu hits include beer-can mussels, pig-cheek poutine and pan-seared scallops with Texas strawberries, okra, eggplant and crawfish caramel. 306 Pearl Parkway, Suite 1010, 210-314-3929;

Blanco Cafe: The cheese enchiladas here are quintessential Tex-Mex: red-corn tortillas, processed cheese, smothered in chile con carne and served hot with rice, refried beans, a crispy taco and handmade flour tortillas for $8.29. It’s nothing fancy, but Blanco’s has been serving them for 45 years. Careful, hot plate. 1720 Blanco Road, dine-in and takeout, 210-732-6480,


San Antonio Missions National Historical Park: The park preserves four missions — San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion and Espada — representing 300 years of history and culture. The Visitor’s Center is at San Jose, 6701 San Jose. Check out all four on the 10-mile hike-and-bike trail;

SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas: San Antonio’s family-friendly theme parks are ready for summer. At SeaWorld, check out the Pacific Point Preserve, a reimagining of the sea lion facilities. The “preserve” includes a new show and food-court-style restaurant serving four different types of cuisine. At Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Batman: The Ride is a daring and high-tech “4-D free-fly coaster” with unexpected flips and twists. The park also has a zip line. Masks are required, and the parks will employ thermal imaging and an online reservation system because of COVID-19. 10500 SeaWorld Drive, 800-700-7786; 17000 Interstate 10 W., 800-473-4378;

Natural Bridge Caverns: Visit the largest known commercial caverns in the U.S. with a 60-foot natural limestone-slab bridge that spans the amphitheater setting of the cavern’s entrance. The span was left suspended when a sinkhole collapsed below it. The temperature inside the cave is about 70 degrees year-round, and the humidity is a constant 99 percent. It’s just 29 miles north of San Antonio. 26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Road, 210-651-6101;

LEGO Land Discovery Center: This indoor fun land includes a 4D cinema, a LEGO replica of San Antonio, rides and a store, of course. 849 E. Commerce, 210-610-1150;


Hotel Havana: This cool, cozy boutique hotel on historical property has 27 rooms and suites, and it’s pet friendly. Its beautiful Ocho bar, housed in the hotel’s glass conservatory, overlooks the river and serves food from morning until late night. (Temporarily closed because of COVID-19.) Rates from $185; 1015 Navarro, 210-222-2008,

Hotel Emma: This luxury boutique hotel has 146 rooms and is perched on the River Walk in the old Pearl Brewery building. The bar and restaurant, Supper, are handsomely appointed, but the library is the crown jewel. The hotel acquired its 3,700 volumes from local author and doyenne Sherry Kafka Wagner; and only hotel guests get to curl up on the leather chairs with a good book. Rates from $300; 136 E Grayson, 210-448-8300,

Mokara Hotel & Spa: The 99-room Omni luxury property sits on the River Walk across from its elegant companion, the Omni La Mansion del Rio Hotel. The rooms feature marble baths and metal four-poster beds. It has fine dining at Ostra, a rooftop café and a destination spa. Rates from $259. 212 W. Crockett, 210-396-5800;

- Melissa Aguilar for | August 6, 2020