The New San Antonio

36 hours in San Antonio, from hip restaurants to fun attractions

36 hours in San Antonio, from hip restaurants to fun attractions

Hotel Contessa San Antonio
The Hotel Contessa is situated right on the River Walk. Photo courtesy of Hotel Contessa
Starfish is a dining winner. Starfish/Facebook
Pearl District San Antonio skyline buildings
The Pearl has become a San Antonio destination spot with new hotels and restaurants. The Historic Pearl/Facebook
Southerleigh is a delightful place for brunch or to take a break from the farmers market for a carafe of mimosas.  Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery/Facebook
Hotel Contessa San Antonio pool
Hotel Contessa's swimming pool. Photo courtesy of Hotel Contessa
Hotel Contessa San Antonio
Pearl District San Antonio skyline buildings
Hotel Contessa San Antonio pool

If you live in Texas, odds are you’ve ventured to San Antonio at least once or twice. But if it's been awhile, you might notice that San Antonio has changed. In a good way. And in big ways. (And it’s not just me who thinks so. Back in October, San Antonio was dubbed one of America's “Secretly Cool Cities.”

I recently spent a weekend in the Alamo City and I found so much to do.

Location, location, location
When you only spend a short time in a city, having an enviable location is of extreme importance. One of my favorite aspects of the Hotel Contessa is that it's located right on the River Walk. Though I’m not a huge fan of the watery tourist attraction itself, my favorite part of the weekend was grabbing a cup of coffee in the hotel lobby (it’s free) and taking a leisurely stroll along the River Walk, which stretches 14 glorious miles.

There are benches and various other sitting areas located pretty much everywhere and plenty of places to snap a few romantic (or touristy) photos. It was the perfect way to start our day. It’s also perfect if you’re traveling with someone who sleeps in a little later, as one of you can easily head downstairs and take your own private walk or run, while the other’s still catching up on beauty rest.

The 12-story Hotel Contessa features 265 luxurious suites, and every aspect of its design reflects the rich heritage of 20th-century Spain, embracing its unique architecture, hospitality, and cuisine. A few other things to love about the hotel: the heated rooftop pool, it's pet-friendly, and has a 24-hour gym.

Since we arrived late Friday, we opted for dinner at the hotel restaurant Las Ramblas, which was relaxing and delicious. If the weather is nice, you can also eat outside right on the River Walk. The atmosphere of the hotel's Cork Bar was also inviting and allowed us to chat with others visiting San Antonio.

Memorable dinner
The San Antonio food scene has changed quite a bit. Even on a quick weekend visit, it’s clear that the city is looking to make a mark on the Texas culinary scene — and it’s definitely succeeding.

For dinner, Starfish is a must. It’s located in Southtown, known as the art district. It’s a small unassuming spot with the right ambience for a romantic dinner or just catch-up time with the girls. The demo kitchen that's just feet away gives an intimate feel to the place. Then comes the food.

For an appetizer, we had Crab in a Hole (rye blini, Texas cantaloupe, warm crab, head cheese; $13), and for an entree, monkfish (serrano ham, asparagus Milanese, cured egg yolk; $24), all served fresh with local ingredients and a unique flair to each dish.

No good meal is complete without dessert, and we chose s’mores (marshmallow, chocolate mille feuille, graham cracker ice cream; $10). As an avid s’mores connoisseur, this dessert was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. It’s definitely worth the calories!

Time for play
We absolutely loved spending Saturday at Pearl, about a two-mile drive from our hotel. We spent all day aimlessly meandering around the farmers market, which is open rain or shine (Saturdays 9 am to 1 pm and Sundays 10 am to 2 pm). We spotted vendors and dog leashes lining one side of the avenue and engagement photo shoots lining the other, which pretty much encapsulates pure weekend perfection.

While there were plenty of options for food at the market itself, we stopped in at The Granary for a “snack.” Featured as one of the state's best restaurants by Texas Monthly in 2014, it offers a variety of globally inspired barbecue traditions and flavors. It also features craft beer brewed on-site and a selection of highlights from craft breweries around the world. Want a sample before committing to a pint? No problem.

Southerleigh was also a delightful place for brunch or to take a break from the market and grab a carafe of mimosas. 

You should also find time to check out The Saga, a new cultural event at the iconic San Fernando Cathedral (walking distance from Hotel Contessa) that is free and open to the public. On the weekends, the showtimes are 9 pm, 9:30 pm, and 10 pm, weather permitting.

Sunday "yum day" at its finest
Unfortunately Sunday left us with just enough time for brunch before heading home. We went to O’liva, about an eight-block walk from Hotel Contessa along the River Walk. We passed the courthouse and the beautiful campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio on the walk down.

With fresh, local, farm-to-table food, O’liva offers so much. It has an ever-changing brunch menu based on available ingredients as well as a delicious brunch buffet with a fresh omelet station and all the sides on a beautiful wooden table (my fave: the jalapeño grits).

Parting thoughts 
From my experience, San Antonio is known as a cultural and historic Texas city, which it very much is. But this visit proved that the popular Alamo City is keeping its historic roots while strategically adding some modern touches. Almost every corner and street has unique murals and colored walls, adding to the overall vibrancy of the city.

I can say with confidence: 36 hours in this newer and hipper San Antonio wasn’t nearly enough.