While you can't see all of San Antonio in one quick trip, there are a few things all first-time visitors should make an effort to see. (We're thinking of the Alamo, natch.) Outside of the famous mission and other historical stops, you'll find trendy entertainment options, luxurious lodging, and perhaps not surprisingly, delicious Mexican food. Here's what to see and do during 48 hours in San Antonio.
Day 1, Morning: The Alamo, La Villita, and Tre Trattoria
8 a.m.: To be in the heart of all the downtown hustle and bustle, consider staying at The St. Anthony, which is consistently rated as one of the best hotels in San Antonio. Designated a National Historic Site, the hotel first opened in 1909.
Get an early start by taking a guided tour of the Alamo. Taking an early tour means you can beat the crowds and have a much more pleasant experience. You’ll learn about the day-to-day lives of the area’s residents and soldiers in the 1800s, including some interesting nuggets—like why many soldiers were missing their front teeth. (Some knocked out their teeth to avoid serving in the military—soldiers back then needed their front teeth to bite open a bag used for loading their primitive firearms.)
10 a.m.: Located on the site of a historic neighborhood, the La Villita arts and shopping district still maintains a homey feel. The small shops along the river offer everything from Mexican folk art and locally made sculpture to antique furniture and home goods.
Noon: For lunch, Tre Trattoria Downtown features a Tuscan-inspired menu similar to chef and owner Jason Dady’s original Tre Trattoria in Alamo Heights. One of the most popular dishes is linguine and clams, made with homemade pasta.
If you’re not a clam fan, the wood-fired oven pizzas offer a creative twist on the Italian staple. Instead of pepperoni, how about a pie topped with sweet corn, mozzarella, house-made ricotta, and pickled scallion? Other entrees include Parmigiano fried chicken, mozzarella-stuffed meatballs, and grilled lamb T-bone steak.
With lots of windows and hardwood floors, the restaurant offers an open and inviting atmosphere. Tre Trattoria Downtown is located within walking distance of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Hemisfair Park, and La Villita arts and shopping district.
Day 1, Evening: Grimaldi's Pizzeria and Floore’s Country Store
5 p.m.: To make New York-style pizza the Grimaldi’s way, it all starts with the oven. Designed and built by hand, the coal-fired oven delivers a one-of-a-kind flavor and consistency that can’t be replicated by wood or gas ovens. Weighing in at 25 tons and heated by 100 pounds of coal per day, the oven heats up to 1,200 degrees F. The intense heat of the oven evenly bakes the pies to create a crispy and smoky thin crust pizza that Zagat has voted best pizza year after year. Their pies are typically served Margherita-style (plain cheese with basil) or with pepperoni. Checkered tablecloths and cloth napkins lend an air of sophistication to this bright, airy pizza joint.
8 p.m.: John T. Floore’s Country Store is famous for its live country music, and rightfully so. For 60 years, it has been showcasing some of the best country music acts, from names we all know to up-and-coming acts, including Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Merle Haggard. Floore’s has its own official Texas Historical Marker, and it is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With an indoor and outdoor stage, a cafe with a menu full of Texas home cooking and a friendly, if somewhat boisterous, crowd, Floore’s is an authentic Texas experience not to be missed.
Day 2, Afternoon: La Gloria, Market Square, and Papoulis
11 a.m.: Whether you’re hungry for a late breakfast or an early lunch, La Gloria will not disappoint. The restaurant is chef Johnny Hernandez’s living tribute to the street food of Mexico. The menu revolves around the dishes Hernandez encountered while traveling in the pueblos, mountains, and coastal villages of Mexico. He aims to make tacos al pastor that taste just like the pork-and-pineapple tacos you might buy from a street cart in Mexico. Hernandez is also passionate about tlayudas, a type of Mexican flatbread with toppings that are commonly served in Oaxaca. Another favorite is ceviche Veracruzano, which is made of marinated fish, lime juice, olive oil, tomatoes, and onions. Drinks include prickly pear margarita and Sangria La Gloria, which combines red wine, rum, and fresh fruit.
1 p.m.: Historic Market Square is just a short walk from the St. Anthony and other downtown hotels. The festive marketplace includes a combination of outdoor booths and indoor shops, offering wood carvings, Mexican candy, curios, pottery, and leather goods made by local artisans.
2 p.m.: If all that walking has made you hungry again, settle in for a late lunch at Papoulis. Patterned after a casual European cafe, Papouli’s friendly environment encourages you to slow down and enjoy the day—and the food. The Jalapeno Fire hummus is a spicy twist on the standard appetizer. Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, are another great way to start the meal. Owner Nick Anthony says his favorite entrée is the house-made moussaka, a traditional Greek casserole of baked eggplant and seasoned beef, topped with creamy bechamel sauce. The lamb burger with basil-infused feta earns raves from regular customers. For dessert, the Galaktobouriko custard, sprinkled with cinnamon and honey, may be hard to say, but it goes down easy.
Day 2, Evening: Ostra and Waxy O'Connors
7 p.m.: Ostra specializes in fresh seafood flown in daily from around the world. The restaurant’s design incorporates abstract art and marine colors reminiscent of the sea. The stylish decor melds warm woods with smooth glass surfaces. A large stone and glass oyster bar located in the center of the dining room and an oversized bar provide plenty of room for tasting, sipping, and mingling.
Executive Chef John Brand incorporates new items into the menu seasonally and has introduced tasting menus at Ostra that underscore his ongoing commitment to sustainability and the use of local ingredients. Some of his most popular creations are Carolina wreckfish, blackened redfish, and braised beef and lobster tacos. Ostra has also won the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.
At the bar, you’ll find some of the best margaritas on the River Walk—plus 50 varieties of high-end tequila.
9 p.m.: Flying Saucer is a huge, laid-back bar and restaurant that’s ideal for casual get-togethers with friends. With indoor and outdoor seating options (perfect for enjoying a cold beer on a warm summer night), groups of all sizes can find a spot to lounge. The beer selection here is extensive, including everything from local microbrews to European ales and ciders. The food is a notch above standard pub grub, with plenty of burger, pizza, and sandwich options. Big wooden picnic tables inside and out, a friendly staff and slightly saucy wall decorations all contribute to the friendly, low-key atmosphere.
11 p.m.: Waxy O’Connor’s is located on the ground floor of the 100-year-old San Antonio Loan and Trust Building in the heart of San Antonio’s River Walk. The pub and its interior were actually designed and built in Ireland, then shipped to Texas. With indoor and outdoor seating options, live Irish music and friendly staff, Waxy’s is a no-frills joint where you can enjoy a pint with your mates. With several big-screen TVs available, the bar is a great place to watch major sporting events. And they don’t just offer the standard sports; you can watch everything from soccer to Formula 1 racing to NASCAR at this boisterous pub.
Day 3: SeaWorld and Antler's Lodge
8 a.m.: Although SeaWorld has taken a lot of heat in the last few years from animal rights activists, the organization does contribute in many ways to wildlife conservation around the world. SeaWorld’s behind-the-scenes tour will give you a better understanding of the work they do, from rescuing stranded dolphins to carrying out research to determine the optimal diet for seals and stingrays. Visitors even get to feed stingrays themselves and touch a shark. Part of the admission fee goes to the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. The tour lasts about 90 minutes and covers several parts of the park.
11 a.m.: The daily show featuring sea lions and otters at play is sure to delight every member of the family. The trainers allow the animals to play in a freeform and unstructured way, and you’ll soon see how mischievous these intelligent mammals can be. After playtime, the trainers will demonstrate a few learned behaviors such as catching a ball and clapping. If you're ready for a little play of your own, check out SeaWorld's huge assortment of rides, including roller coasters and river rides. The Journey to Atlantis ride is part-roller coaster and part-water ride—a refreshing way to end your visit.
1:30 p.m.: A chandelier made from 500 sets of antlers adds an air of authentic Texas eccentricity to the otherwise cozy and romantic atmosphere at Antlers Lodge. To start your meal, don’t miss the Texas quail with chorizo grits and tomatillo sauce. Executive Chef Troy Knapp, Hyatt’s Chef of the Year for several years running, says the restaurant’s most popular entrée is the all-natural dry-aged strip loin. He recommends finishing off the meal with the Shiner Bohemian ice cream float. Knapp’s creativity and consistent execution earned the restaurant AAA’s prestigious four diamond ranking. The wine list includes 108 selections from Germany, Spain, and the Texas Hill Country and High Plains regions.