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

Houston's Local Foods Opens its First Permanent Location in Austin

Local Foods' temporary pop-up goes brick-and-mortar in a chic and airy 2nd Street District space.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Great news: there’s no need to drive to HTX to get your fill of delicious overstuffed sandwiches (or wait for the pop-ups to come back), Local Foods is here to stay. The Houston restaurant finally opened its first ATX brick-and-mortar shop in the 2nd Street District, following overwhelming public demand.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Founders Benjy Levitt and Dylan Murray and partner Martin Berson have been peddling sandwiches since 2011. Their latest addition follows the company’s ethos of clean, locally sourced hyper-seasonal ingredients from local farmers and purveyors, with a subsidiary mission to give back to the community. Local collaborators in Austin include Fresh Tofu, Pure Luck Dairy, Antonelli’s, Joe’s Microgreens, Basic B Chai, and Dos Lunas. “We’re still getting our feet wet in the Austin market in a post-COVID world and seeing which local suppliers are a good fit. We’ve spoken to thirty or forty so far, and have another thirty or forty on our list.” Berson tells Thrillist, who adds that the bread, however, will continue to be sourced from Houston. “We partnered with Slow Dough since the beginning, helping each other grow, and we still believe the quality of their bread is unrivaled.”

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Menu staples and fan-favourites include the Crunchy Chicken Sandwich made with roast chicken breast, nut-seed crumble, salad, pickles, and buttermilk ranch, stacked high on a Slow Dough pretzel bun; and new for Austin is the roasted beef sandwich that shows up on the special’s board. “We’ve been crushing on the roast beef sandwich our chef Zack Sutton created,” says Berson. “He’s roasting a chuck roll from 44 Farms and serving on toasted ciabatta with Dos Lunas Black Pepper Cheddar and horseradish aioli. It will be around for a while.”

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Though their sandwiches are the talk of town, Local’s all-day soups, salads, sides, and sweets boast the same attention to detail. Good examples are the seasonal Harvest Salad that currently features leafy greens, organic veg, Pure Luck goat cheese, and Texas watermelon-basically a giant bowl of nutrients-and the Classic Chicken Posole, which though hot, soothes with a tangy broth topped with cilantro.

No weekend on 2nd street is complete without a stiff beverage, and Local’s booze cabinet plucks the best of local and regional. Wines hail from the likes of Southold Farm + Cellar, Wine For The People, and Pedernales Cellars, while an all-local beer list consists of Fairweather Cider, Live Oak, Hops and Grain, Pinthouse, and Independence Brewing. Those adult bevys can be enjoyed in the comfort of two floors of chic AC’d seating, or out on the streetside patio. “The space was designed by Micah Land, who designed the first few Snap Kitchens and the last couple of Local Foods before the Austin store,” says Berson. “We’re on an amazing corner surrounded by a dynamic mix of retail and restaurant neighbours, offices, hotels and residential buildings. There’s so much energy and activity around us all day, every day.”

Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods
Mackenzie Smith Kelley/Local Foods

Berson and co. are currently scouting non-profits to benefit local communities. “In Houston, we’ve been a long-term partner with Pro-Vision Farm,” he says. “They’re an inner-city community garden teaching sustainable methods to at-risk youth in a self-sustaining business model. They have an amazing track record of helping kids forge a positive path during critical stages of their lives. And the produce is phenomenal.”

Local Foods is now open on 454 W. 2nd St, 11am – 8:30pm. Parking is free at the 2nd Street District AMLI garage on San Antonio St, weekdays before 5pm for two hours. A brunch menu and early morning takeout window for breakfast sandwiches, pastries, matcha, and coffee will begin this fall.

James Wong is a Libra who spends his time pretending to be a vegan, watching wildlife clips, and booking plane tickets. Born in London, lived in Tokyo, and now residing in Austin, his greatest achievement is giving Posh Spice a hug in 2016.

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