Though San Antonio is a city rich in culture and history, it's also one that has embraced modern growth, which can be seen in the boom of restaurants, retail centers, hotels, parks and venues that have emerged in downtown and its surrounding areas, where the majority of San Antonio's top tourist attractions reside. Thus, for first-time visitors, or those without a car, downtown is the perfect place to start. To truly get to know San Antonio, explore these hip neighborhoods and hot spots as you hit historic destinations like the Alamo, Hemisfair, La Villita, Market Square, the King William District and the River Walk, among others, along the way.
San Antonio's most iconic structure, the Alamo, and venturing down the nearby River Walk, are arguably tied for the "top thing to do" in San Antonio. There are multiple accessible entrances to the River Walk, or El Paseo del Rio, where shops, restaurants and hotels both renowned and historic line the banks of the San Antonio river. Over the last half-decade or so, River Walk extensions to the north and south—Museum Reach and the Mission Reach, respectively—have revitalized these miles with more outdoor activities, art, museums and venues (like the Tobin Center)that take advantage of the San Antonio river. is also the area of San Antonio that never sleeps, so those who come for famed downtown nightlife—from saloons to swanky martini lounges—will find their niche. The historic Alamo rests at the center, surrounded by theaters, museums and acclaimed culinary temptations.
Simultaneously modern and historic, this bustling, one-of-a-kind area consists of the 15.2-mile stretch of the San Antonio River populated by districts and neighborhoods like Southtown and Historic Market Square (or El Mercado), where a healthy dose of Mexican culture comes in the form of local vendors, traditional Mexican and Tejano music, culture events and authentic cuisine.
Finally there's Hemisfair, the site of the 1968 World's Fair and a sprawling campus that houses the Tower of the Americas, the Institute of Texan Cultures and the Yanaguana Garden, where visitors can play, picnic or relax with games, mosaic-covered benches, climbing structures and local eateries and cafés.
Tourists can catch a further glimpse of the Southwestern culture by day to the tune of the live mariachi, while perusing goods from local vendors at La Villita, San Antonio's oldest neighborhood. Now this historic area has blossomed into a quaint arts village, where visitors can take a relaxing stroll along the south bank of the San Antonio River, enjoy a peaceful lunch or peruse the many locally owned boutiques, antiques stores and art galleries—and keep a watchful eye for purported ghosts wandering the village’s cobblestones. Every spring during Fiesta, La Villita hosts NIOSA (short for "Night in Old San Antonio"), a "throwback" party that's been a beloved local tradition for decades.
Nicknamed "the heart of the city," the Main Plaza is a bustling area that served as the main hub for the first inhabitants of the city. Today it remains a community gathering place anchored by the oldest continuously running church in the nation, the San Fernando Cathedral. weekly farmers' markets during lunch and a gathering place for community activities and the professional work crowd.
A scenic drive from downtown, an impressive number of off-the-beaten path attractions and dozens of small, one-of-a-kind towns comprise the Texas Hill Country. Halfway between Austin and San Antonio is San Marcos, where wineries, wildflowers, waterfalls, watering holes, and endless local shops ranging from vintage antiques to handcrafted jewelry. For families and kids, New Braunfels' Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort is one of the biggest wet-and-wild attractions in the U.S. Enjoy water coasters, tube rides and swim-up bars for grown-ups, or stay dry while shopping at quaint boutiques or dining on German or farm-to-table cuisine at the many Hill Country restaurants nearby.