Barges originally designed for San Antonio's 1968 Hemisfair ply the San Antonio River as it flows along the city's popular River Walk.
Barges originally designed for San Antonio's 1968 Hemisfair ply the San Antonio River as it flows along the city's popular River Walk.
Photograph by Andrew Reiner

Smart Cities: San Antonio, Texas

Alamo City is turning heads and earning international recognition with its fresh takes on colorful classics.

The oldest big city in Texas, and the friendliest according to a recent poll, San Antonio turns 300 this year. The city “is ringing the dinner bell,” chef Johnny Hernandez says at his latest restaurant, Mexico-inspired Villa Rica. Thanks to Hernandez and his fellow chefs, San Antonio secured a 2017 designation as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy for its next-gen versions of Texan, Mexican, German, French, and Spanish cuisines, each reflective of the city’s heritage.

What else is new? An expansion of the famed River Walk continues to win applause. The $200-million-plus redo of Hemisfair Park, site of the 1968 World’s Fair, is barreling ahead. And remember the Alamo? A revitalization of this Texas landmark includes a new pedestrian mall and a museum that will exhibit $15 million worth of Alamo-bilia donated by rocker Phil Collins. You won’t have to wait for the ribbon cutting: The app Alamo Reality, from Texas-based software firm Experience Real History, uses augmented reality to depict scenes from the famous battle on your smartphone.


San Antonio’s restaurants embrace the inventive. New downtown brasserie Maverick is redefining standards like Texas quail (with citrus and fennel) and schnitzel—a porky fist bump to the city’s German settlers. The brunch menu at farm-to-table Cured, a James Beard nominee, pairs charcuterie with champagne and fried chicken with donuts drizzled in jalapeno syrup. Traditionalists will find succor in the BBQ ribs and brisket at Lone Star-waving Smoke Shack. Sip cocktails at the Modernist, a tiny bar sporting three bartenders, two Naguchi coffee tables, and a singular desire to serve the perfect drink.


Hotels are having a moment in Alamo City. The historic St. Anthony, on Travis Park, has just completed a major do-over emphasizing its turn-of-the-century roots. Nearby, a whiff of Caribbean romance suffuses Hotel Havana, a vintage 27-room property with red-accented decor and wood trim; its greenhouse-style Ocho Bar is hung with chandeliers and overlooks the river. San Antonio’s grandest dame is Hotel Emma. Housed in the former Pearl brewery, it’s a sumptuous mix of hand-tooled leathers, wrought iron, carved wood, and the planet’s plushest bath mats.


The beloved San Antonio River Walk has doubled in length to 15 miles, now reaching the churches of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park; paths invite walking and biking (SWell is the city’s bike-share program). A renovation of Hemisfair Park highlights Yanaguana Garden, an “outdoor wonderland” with mosaic works depicting Native American folklore. Texas beasts past and present fill new digs at The Witte Museum. Its “Confluence and Culture” exhibit honors the city’s 300 years with displays of Davy Crockett’s fiddle (in pluckable condition) and keys to the Alamo.

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Bright colors, Mexican traditions, and Texas flair mark San Antonio’s many specialty stores. Feliz Modern lures shoppers with vividly hued scarves, contemporary furnishings, and art prints. Head to Tiny Finch for jewelry, clothing, and letterpress note cards. Fancy your own Stetson? Paris Hatters, near the Alamo, will customize one for you. In Southtown, the Blue Star Arts Complex houses twelve art galleries as well as retail outlets like San Angel Folk Art, known for its statuary, ceramics, and other handmade wares from many lands.

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