Austin

8 Reasons to Drive to San Antonio, Texas

The Lone Star state's most underrated city?

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

San Antonio is something of an underdog when compared to a Texas-sized metropolis like Austin, but hey, we like it that way. While Austin continues to grow and change at a rapid pace, San Antonio has managed to expand at its own speed, maintaining a close semblance to its rich heritage and local culture along the way. Here’s eight major reasons why all y’all road warriors should make cruising over to San Antonio a priority on your next Lone Star State adventure.

McNay Art Museum
McNay Art Museum
McNay Art Museum

Immerse yourself in the arts

With murals and public installations around every corner, one simply needs to take a short drive, bike ride, or stroll through downtown to see just how dedicated San Antonio is to the arts. It seems like every day a new piece of street art finds its place among the many, and it’s easy to pass the time seeking out your favorites-which, coincidentally, also makes for a quality Insta photo-op. 

If you find yourself visiting during the Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival, take advantage of the moment and dive into the citywide creative bash. The festival is made up of multiple showcases scattered around the greater downtown area, featuring local artists, musicians, and performers presenting their work to the public. Similarly, First Friday is a monthly art crawl that envelopes the Southtown and King Williams neighborhoods in lots and lots of eye-catching art.

For museum -overs, San Antonio has much to provide. Stop by The San Antonio Museum of Art, a downtown labyrinth complete with vast rooms filled wall-to-wall with ancient and contemporary pieces or check out the McNay Art Museum, nestled away in residential Terrell Heights and constantly raising the bar with modern art installations spanning the likes of Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, and Yayoi Kusama. The latter museum’s grounds are also notably picturesque, making the museum a hot spot for wedding, quinceañera, and graduation photoshoots-or an impromptu hang session on the grass.

Historic Market Square
Historic Market Square
Historic Market Square

Spend the afternoon at Market Square Plaza

San Antonio’s Latin heritage is on full blast at Market Square. Its staple feature, El Mercado, includes a long list of southwestern and Mexican vendors and artisans whose goods range from luchador masks to traditional pottery to handmade jewelry. In the market’s center is a stage where mariachis, bands, and folklorico dancers often perform, filling the space with Latin music and festive spirit.

A short trip down Produce Row will easily find you at Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery, a renowned Mexican restaurant with an 80-year legacy. Its piñata-strewn ceiling and colorful murals depicting historical figures in Latin history makes the atmosphere just as appealing as the menu. Don’t forget to pop into the panaderia to grab some pan dulce and cookies for the ride home.

Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock
Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock
Joshua Rainey Photography/Shutterstock

Soak up the great outdoors at a city park

Everyone knows Austinites are all about their outdoorsy activities. With that in mind, San Antonio, in all its green glory, is a perfect travel destination for hiking, cycling, and basking in the hot Texas sun. McAllister Park, Olmos Basin, and Phil Hardberger Park are just a few of the city’s spacious outdoor recreational areas tailor-made for fresh air adventure. Picnickers flock to Brackenridge Park, with its scenic view of the river and shady rest spots, while kiddos have a blast at Yanaguana Garden at Hemisfair Park, which features climbing structures, a sand pit, and a splash pad for those sticky summer afternoons.

Bill Perry/Shutterstock
Bill Perry/Shutterstock
Bill Perry/Shutterstock

Take in the lights and sights along the River Walk

It might seem like one of the most glaringly obvious suggestions, but the River Walk lives up to its reputation as the literal number one tourist attraction in all of Texas. Aside from the plethora of Texas-centric restaurants and bars that line the San Antonio River, the River Walk itself is a vibrant maze of walkways, bridges, and canals weaving together just below street level and rife with skyline-and people-watching opportunities. 

Your River Walk promenade begins at Rivercenter, downtown’s centrally located shopping mall, and ends at the Arneson River Theater at La Villita, where numerous waterfront shows are scheduled throughout the year. Music fans should seek out the very bridge where they filmed that iconic scene from Selena (the movie, not the Netflix series), if they can manage to navigate it. And if you’d rather take a mapless approach, you can always catch a ferry ride and let an official river guide show you around to your heart’s content.

Brass Monkey
Brass Monkey
Brass Monkey

Go barhopping with the squad down St. Mary’s Strip

The St. Mary’s Strip has gone through a number of transformations over the decades, but it’s never abdicated its throne as San Antonio’s premier nightlife destination. The eclectic variety of bars, clubs, and restaurants truly offer something for every taste. If you want to dance the night away to some Lady Gaga deep cuts, ThurzGayz at Brass Monkey is the place. Prefer headbanging to some doom metal while throwing back craft beers? Faust Tavern is your homebase. And if you want to get hype to some trap music in the presence of local celebrities, Midnight Swim has you covered. However you like to get down, the Strip has your back.

No St. Mary’s pub crawl is complete without a bite to eat, and you can bet there’s a whole delicious mess of restaurants and food trucks to satisfy those inevitable late-night cravings. One popular stop is Tacos El Regio, known locally as Taco Truck, which boasts some of the best mini street tacos in town. If you’re in the mood for noods, Ka-tii at El Buho’s generous mounds of pad Thai and heaps of mango sticky rice awaits.

The Historic Pearl
The Historic Pearl
The Historic Pearl

Eat, drink, and be merry at the Pearl

Originally opened as a brewery, the Pearl development has transformed an old industrial site into a luxury hotel complete with upmarket restaurants, onsite small businesses, artisan shops, and highrise apartments. Pearl’s Bottling Department Food Hall has risen to the rank of must-visit culinary hub since opening in 2017 thanks to resident gems like Caribbean street food-peddler Mi Roti and tasty ramen emporium Tenko Ramen,

Just outside the food hall is the Park at Pearl, an expansive lawn where you can catch a concert, fiesta, or dance party on any given evening. The lush green space sets the stage for romantic picnics, casual hangouts with friends, and playtime for children, who tend to make a beeline for the adjacent splash pad.

Rosario's Mexican Restaurant
Rosario’s Mexican Restaurant
Rosario’s Mexican Restaurant

Revel in the neighborhood vibes in sceney Southtown

Southtown’s longevity as a perennially hot district is a testament to its ever-evolving cultural makeup. Staple restaurants like Rosario’s and Tito’s Mexican Restaurant juxtapose more recent additions like Sukeban and Little Em’s Oyster Bar. For the drinking set, established watering holes like Bar America and The Friendly Spot thrive among trendy newcomers like Halcyon and Jokesters 22

Southtown’s something-old-something-new aesthetic lies at the core of its appeal, and no single outpost exemplifies this phenomenon quite like Blue Star Arts Complex. Home to the original Blue Star Brewing Co, this creative mecca boasts over a dozen art galleries and private studios and has long been known as a place where culture happens. Brick at Blue Star, an event space at the heart of the complex, is especially notable for its countless artisan markets, local performances, and buzzy food pop-ups.

Fiesta San Antonio
Fiesta San Antonio
Fiesta San Antonio

Party with the locals at a citywide festival

While Fiesta San Antonio, the city’s pinnacle street fair spanning oyster bakes, mariachi festivals, night markets, and so much more, has sadly already passed (sadly for you, of course, because we sure enjoyed the hell out of it), there’s a whole host of public bashes crowding the remainder of San Antonio’s event calendar. For a full list of upcoming arts, culinary, cultural, family-friendly, music and entertainment, outdoor, and sports happenings, keep an eye on Visit San Antonio’s packed agenda.

And if you’re really bummed about missing out on the Fiesta fun this year, you’ll be relieved to hear that Battle of the Flowers Parade, a downtown procession of marching bands and flowered floats carrying Fiesta royalty, has been postponed until 2022. And with all that extra prep time, we’re expecting quite the blowout.

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Polly Anna Rocha is a contributor for Thrillist.

Austin

Get Lucky at These Irish Bars in Austin

Drink a green pint on St Patrick's Day at these Irish bars in Austin.

Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

In the midst of all the SXSW chaos, it helps to remember that there’s a rainbow at the festival’s end-that is, the hangover-blessing we’ve been granted of having St. Patrick’s Day 2023 fall on a Friday. Whether you attribute this small win to the Gregorian calendar or the luck of the Irish, it’s sure to amp up the already liver-damaging activities associated with this cultural celebration. However, √Čire is more than just leprechauns and Colin Farrell-it’s a breathtaking land full of warm, welcoming, and good-hearted people. Fortunately, there’s a way you can get a taste of the Republic’s spirit, and a dark stout, at the same time by hitting up one of Austin’s various Irish pubs. From cozy, intimate spaces decked out like small taverns in Cobh, to modern dives with all the party energy of Temple Bar, our list has the best spots in the city to “erin go bragh” all out on March 17.

Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys

B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub at Mueller

Mueller
With a giant model of a beer tap literally decorating their front door, you can’t miss B.D Riley’s, nor doubt that this East Austin hang is a spot to down some serious brewskis. And its name, and perfect pours of Guinness, aren’t the only aspects they draw from the Emerald Isle-the entire pub itself was actually designed and built in Dundalk, Ireland, and shipped over for assembly in Bat City. Such authentic decor calls for equally authentic sounds, therefore, on St. Patrick’s Day, B.D. Riley’s will feature an all-day, four-artist bill of live, trad-inspired music. So, while you may not start the day knowing all the words to “The Galway Girl,” you are bound to sing along by last call.

Kelly’s Irish Pub

Bouldin Creek
Having only opened this past December, Kelly’s is the new kid with a brogue on the block. Occupying the space which formerly housed tapas restaurant Winebelly, this pub had big shoes to fill for South Austin barflies, but quickly won them over with an impressive whiskey selection and friendly atmosphere. A big reason behind the real deal √Čire vibes can, most likely, be chalked up to the fact that one of Kelly’s owners was actually born and bred in Ireland-and the dedication to delivering a true-to-life experience is evident in everything from the shepherd’s pie to the witty bartenders. For St. Patrick’s Day, they are getting the party started early with live music and an opening time of 8 am.

Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger's
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s

Jack & Ginger’s

The Domain
While The Domain may boast more bars than you can shake a shamrock at, there’s only one spot in the North Austin entertainment behemoth that can be properly called an Irish pub: Jack & Ginger’s. Start off the night with selecting a tasting flight from their over 82 beers on tap, then, move onto shots poured straight from their Irish Whiskey Tours-after loosening up with a round or two, you might just find yourself with the gift of gab. And, before snapping a selfie over Jack & Ginger’s see-through glass floor, balance out that buzz with food offerings like a giant soft pretzel or a round of fried pickles.

Photo courtesy of Foxy's Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub

Foxy’s Proper Pub

Downtown
Here’s a spot that visibly radiates with Irish pride-at Foxy’s, the glow of green beams out from the bar’s lighted panels, and across their chandelier made of Jameson bottles. When it comes to cups and chow, their commitment to the theme continues-the use of the word,”proper,” in the pub’s name alone indicates you’re in for a heavy pour of the standards. Consequently, the taps are abundant with essential Irish sips, including Guinness, Magners, and Smithwick’s. With Lone Star on draft, there’s also a nod to Texas tradition as well. But don’t fear if you’re bored of beer-Foxy’s variety of whiskey-based cocktails will let you switch it up (and still keep it Celtic). March 17 will find them celebrating with live music, whiskey tastings, and swag giveaways.

Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

Cork & Barrel Craft Kitchen + Microbrewery

Round Rock
Compared to a flight to Dublin, the 30-minute drive to Round Rock’s Cork & Barrel is much more convenient-not to mention, won’t require waiting in a TSA line. A mix between a modern Austin beer garden and a historical Irish pub, this spot’s spacious interior and expansive outdoor patio guarantees there will be enough room for the whole crew to cheer “sl√°inte.” And, their microbrewery’s signature beers are the ideal drinks to do such a toast with. The menu of specially crafted drafts includes a blueberry wheat, an Irish red ale, and a vanilla stout. This St. Patrick’s Day also marks Cork & Barrel’s two-year anniversary, and they are throwing down for the double-celebration with live music, yard games, Irish food specials, and plentiful amounts of green beer and Irish Car Bombs.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.

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