Bon Voyage

SPY Travel Guide: Weekend Road Trip To San Antonio

san antonio river walk sama
Image courtesy of VisitSanAntonio.com
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* Explore one of Texas’ most tourist-friendly cities
* Sample the local food scene – it’s more than just barbecue
* Rent an SUV and go off the beaten path through Texas Hill Country

They say everything is bigger in Texas, but what if you just wanted something low-key? We recently set off to discover a quieter, simpler slice of life in the Lone Star State and was pleasantly surprised to find our escape in San Antonio.

Though it’s the seventh-largest city in the U.S., San Antonio retains a small town charm, thanks to its wealth of outdoor spaces, Insta-worthy food scene, friendly residents and proximity to Texas Hill Country. Here’s how we spent a weekend in — and out — of Alamo City.

WHAT TO DO

We happened to arrive in San Antonio the same weekend as Fiesta — the multi-day festival that takes over much of the city’s downtown core with parades, live music, carnivals, and of course, food and drink. What started in 1891 as a one-day event to honor the memory of the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto is now an annual event that attracts some 3.5 million party-goers every year. For visitors like us, it made the city feel immediately like one big block party, and we couldn’t wait to jump right in.

The best place to start in San Antonio is with the River Walk – a city park and network of walkways that wind themselves along the banks of the San Antonio River, one story beneath the city’s streets. Rent a bike to pedal along the riverbanks, or go for a leisurely stroll. We grabbed a cold brew from Local Coffee in the Pearl neighborhood in the morning and then made our way down the river, stopping at the San Antonio Museum of Art (photo above) before making our way downtown.

the alamo san antonio reviews Photo by Stock Connection/REX/Shutterstock

This is San Antonio so you have to remember the Alamo. The Alamo Mission was where the famous “Battle of the Alamo” took place, a defining event in the Texas revolution. Make sure to stop by the historical site and take in an iconic piece of American history. The Alamo is also a great starting point for your day, if you want to walk around the rest of the city.

One of our favorite neighborhoods in the city is the Pearl. The 22-acre site features retail shops, dining, and a ton of picturesque green spaces, all surrounding a former brewery complex, that was in operation from 1883 to 2001. The historic architecture coupled with the uber trendy shops calls to mind the Meatpacking District in New York City, or the fledgling Arts District in LA.

pearl-district san antonio review Image courtesy of AtPearl.com

We spent a Saturday morning at the Pearl Farmers Market, where 45+ vendors located within a 150-mile-radius, bring their fresh produce, meat, eggs, baked goods, locally produced cheeses, olive oils, and more. We bought a couple of bottles of Kombucha at the market, then walked a few steps to the Bottling Department Food Hall – the brewery’s former bottling department which has now been converted into a grand, beautiful gourmet cafeteria of sorts. There, we picked up a fresh glazed donut from Maybelle’s and a rotisserie chicken plate from Bud’s. Both were so good we devoured the whole thing before we even had a chance to post a pic to the ‘gram.

  

WHERE TO EAT

Our first night was spent at Battalion, a converted firehouse that now serves fine Italian cuisine. Get the “Trenne Bombay,” a triangular, tube-like pasta tossed with pancetta, gin, fresh tomatoes, cream and dill. We also got the grilled T-bone steak. At 14 ounces, it was more than enough for two. Not sure what to drink? Ask the friendly bartenders there to make you something for your tastes, whether you’re a martini person or want something a little more stiff.

supper hotel emma san antonio review Image courtesy of Supper

On our second night, we ate at Supper, a high-end American-meets-European eatery located inside the Hotel Emma (more of The Emma later). Supper (pictured above) feels part farm table, part bistro table, with a knowledgeable wait staff and forward-thinking chef. Try their Mushroom Soup with Pesto and Pickled Maiitake – a crisp and delightful take on cream of mushroom. The Creamy Herb Gnocchi with Manchengo Cheese, Peas, and Shishito Peppers was another winner.

Of course, you can’t swing by Texas without having some authentic Texas barbecue. Our inbox was filled with recommendations from locals and friends alike, but the consensus was on Rudy’s BBQ – which has locations throughout Texas.

We sat down to a feast that included brisket, finger lickin’ ribs, the juiciest pulled pork and Texas smoked sausage. Order a bunch of sides to share too – we recommend the beans and the potato salad. There will be a lineup — this is one of the most popular spots in town after all — but it’s well worth it. Our suggestion: go up to the bar and order a drink to nurse while you wait in line.

  

WHERE TO STAY: HOTEL EMMA

We made the beautiful Hotel Emma our home base for two nights. Located in San Antonio’s up-and-coming Pearl neighborhood, the hotel is housed in a converted 19th century brewery, and named after Emma Koehler, who ran the Pearl Brewery after her husband and Pearl president Otto Koehler died in 1914.

hotel emma san antonio review Image courtesy of Hotel Emma

There was charm in every inch of the hotel, and details were not left ignored, from the handsome yet romantic design of the room (think exposed concrete ceilings and large wooden windows mixed with gold and brass fixtures), to the seersucker “guayabera” robes that awaited us when we opened our closet door. Our “Terrace” room came with a lovely outdoor seating area (pictured below) that had handmade Redondo tiles and a fireplace that we made use of every night with a local beer in hand.

hotel emma san antonio review Image courtesy of Hotel Emma

The Hotel Emma lobby was once the brewery’s engine room and a few towering examples of the old machinery still remain in the vaulted, open space. The hidden gem of the hotel — and there were many — was the library, where antique bookcases surround a sweeping spiral staircase that lead up to even more books on the mezzanine floor. The library was where we had coffee every morning — the hotel’s own blend that was made to order, pour-over style. There was also a nightly happy hour that featured a rotating cocktail as well as a strong margarita – a Texas must-have.

hotel emma san antonio reviews Image courtesy of Hotel Emma

Coming from LA, we decided to skip the outdoor pool, though it was a good place to gather for a happy hour drink. The hotel also has a weight room, a super cute gift shop, and a “provisions” store where you can pick up snacks and drinks.

All in all, this was a decidedly luxury hotel experience that still felt intimate and inviting. Though San Antonio undoubtedly had a lot to offer, there were definitely moments where we just wanted to stay at the hotel and well, can you really blame us?

  

TEXAS HILL COUNTRY

We wanted to see a different side of Texas during our time there, so we spent a day exploring the countryside, about 90 minutes outside of San Antonio.

wimberley texas reviews Image courtesy of TexasHillCountry.com

We began our day by having brunch in Wimberley, a small, tree-lined town known for its charming shops, vibrant art scene and good food. During our visit in April, The Blue Hole Regional Park was home to the Wimberley Arts Fest, with dozens of vendors showcasing their art and handmade trinkets.

We ate at The Leaning Pear, a place for simple, well-crafted food in an idyllic hill-country setting. We couldn’t resist having a drink in their outdoor bar area overlooking the forests either.

From there, we wandered the town to explore their antique shops, home decor spots and even a couple of cowboy boot stores (we tried on a few pairs but didn’t end up pulling the trigger). We picked up a slice of buttermilk pie at the beloved Wimberley Pie Co. before heading to our next stop.

reimers ranch park review

We drove 30 minutes or so to Milton Reimer’s Ranch Park on the recommendation of our waitress from dinner at Battalion. With almost 2500 acres to explore, the park offered amazing views of the Pedernales River, deep canyons, lush treetops and the expansive Texas Hill Country.

We spent a couple hours hiking the well-groomed trails, which were great for bird-watching and spotting some local wildlife (think lizards, coyotes and the like). The highlight of our time at Reimer’s Ranch Park was hiking down to the riverbed, where we dipped our toes into the Pedernales River. The water is pretty shallow these days, though, looking up at the cliffs, it’s impressive to think of just how deep this river used to be. Though we were visiting on a weekend, there were only a couple of other people by the river, and we felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

family business beer company Image courtesy of Family Business Beer Co.

On our drive back to San Antonio, we passed by a local brewery whose parking lot was overflowing with cars and trucks. Intrigued, we decided to pull in for a drink. It turns out we were at the Family Business Beer Company — a brewery owned by Supernatural  actor, Jensen Ackles. Even better: we were there on the day of their annual crawfish boil. There was no better way to end the day in Hill Country than with a beer flight and some spicy crawfish, gathered among hundreds of local Texans who suddenly felt like best friends we had known forever.

  

THE CAR

You’re going to need a reliable car for your road trip — especially rolling through Hill Country. We got a chance to test out the 2018 Chevy Traverse and it really became our second home for the weekend.

2018 chevy traverse review

We got the luxurious High Country model, which was well-appointed with leather trim, a sleek silhouette and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels. Though we used the car in the backroads of Texas, it wouldn’t look out of place at a fancy red carpet event in Hollywood either.

The car had plenty of space for ourselves and our stuff too (Chevrolet says the Traverse has more passenger space than the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander). All we knew is that the Traverse handled the winding roads and unpredictable terrain of Texas Hill Country easily.

2018-Chevrolet-Traverse-review

We also liked the interior features, like the 4G LTE and GM’s famous OnStar feature, which let us talk to actual human beings when we needed assistance. (We asked OnStar to help us find Reimer’s Ranch Park and our “assistant” immediately loaded directions onto our car’s built-in touch screen).

You already know about heated seats – but how about cooling seats? The temperatures soared into the 80s during our visit, and especially after a long hike, it was nice to come back to seats that cooled down, minutes after we sat down (Tip: the car’s super deep center console was a great place to store water bottles to keep us hydrated, while the hidden compartment in the dashboard was great for keeping our valuables safe).

One of the new things Chevy has introduced is the myChevrolet app. We downloaded the app to our phone and were able to lock and unlock our doors from anywhere, send a remote command to start and stop our vehicle from anywhere, and view our fuel tank levels, oil levels, tire pressure, etc. It came in super handy to avoid that dreaded “Did I lock my car?” feeling.

We’ve done a number of road trips before, but there was something nice about this visit to San Antonio. It was the best of both worlds, getting a taste of San Antonio’s eclectic city life, but also getting the chance to hit the open roads and drive into Texas Hill Country for a more peaceful escape. Next time you’re thinking of going to Texas, we highly recommend ditching the conventional tourist traps and grabbing yourself a solid car, plotting out a few off-the-beaten-path spots into your GPS as a starting point, and then seeing where the winding roads take you. You won’t be disappointed.

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