Everything to See, Do and Eat on Your Next Trip to San Antonio

A hotel insider shares pro tips on coffee, breakfast tacos and street art

January 13, 2023 6:30 am
Patio at The Thompson San Antonio
Patio at The Thompson San Antonio
Thompson San Antonio

The Thompson San Antonio opened in February 2021 on a prime stretch of the city’s famed River Walk. Within its doors you’ll find 162 guest rooms and 33 suites, plus top-notch dining at Landrace, the restaurant from celebrated chef Steve McHugh, as well as Moon’s Daughter, the 20th-floor rooftop lounge with views of the city.

There’s plenty to do on site, but when it’s time to leave the hotel, ask Dana McDonald for a few tips. She’s a Thompson Tastemaker, aka the concierge, and a San Antonio native. Before making the transition to a concierge position — first at the Saint Anthony hotel and then at Thompson San Antonio, she spent many years waiting tables and bartending at venues all over town. So, she knows all the best spots to eat and drink, plus where to see street art, take a stroll or absorb a little history.

Here’s her plan for making the most of your time in town.

InsideHook: Where can I get a cup of coffee and go for a good walk?

Dana McDonald: My number-one recommendation for coffee is in the Pearl complex, which used to be the old Pearl brewery. It’s a lovely 15-minute walk that takes you down the River Walk and past the San Antonio Museum of Art. Local Coffee and Bakery Lorraine are side by side, so you can get coffee and a snack.

How about a restaurant where only locals go?

Some of my favorites are in the Southtown area, like Tito’s Mexican Restaurant, which is one of the oldest restaurants in the city and is a little off the beaten path for most tourists. The Friendly Spot is somewhere a lot of service-industry people go, as well as locals who want to watch sports. They have good beer on tap and yummy nachos.

Where should one head for a big night out?

The Fairmount is a historic hotel here in San Antonio with three different restaurants to choose from: Nonna Osteria for Italian food, Silo Prime for steaks, and on the roof, there’s the Fairmount Rooftop Oyster Bar.

If you want nightlife, check out the North Saint Mary’s Strip, which has so many bars and clubs all along one street.

Best budget eats in town?

I’m a huge fan of Pete’s Tako House. They have really good breakfast tacos. 

I’m looking for a low-key brunch. Where to?

Ida Claire in the Quarry area has good brunch with items like Benedicts, bacon and pancakes. Cured at the Pearl has an excellent brunch, with more Southern-style food and a plate called Cowboy Breakfast that comes with a Miller High Life. There’s also Nola, which specializes in New Orleans-style food like beignets and shrimp and grits.

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Where can I go for a great dessert?

Nonna Osteria is great for desserts. I also like The Hayden. They have Jewish food and good desserts that change each day. And Bakery Lorraine in the Pearl has great macarons, little cakes and house-made poptarts.

Best place for a sunset cocktail?

I love Moon’s Daughter on top of the hotel, but if you want to get out of the hotel, Paramore is a rooftop bar within walking distance with good cocktails.

Best place to eat a meal or have a beer outside when the weather’s good?

Bruno’s Dive Bar is owned by the same people as The Friendly Spot and is located right across the street. It’s an old ice house with a lot of seating, good music, a cool vibe and lots of beer on tap. El Camino is another good one that’s close to the hotel. They have rotating food trucks and a huge bar outside. And just down the road, Elsewhere is also fun. It’s like a big garden with swings that overlook the river.

What’s the best neighborhood for getting acquainted with a less touristy side of the city?

The King Williams District south of downtown. It has all the old mansions where the wealthiest people in town used to live. You can drive around and see many of the houses just the way they were in the 1800s.

The Alamo: Is it worth the hype?

Definitely, I think so. There’s also a whole trail of missions you can visit starting from the Alamo. Bus tours will take you to all of them [Mission Espada, Mission San Juan, Mission San José and Mission Concepción].

What’s a lesser-known cultural institution worth visiting?

Downtown in the main plaza, we have the San Fernando Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church with a lightshow at night. There’s also La Villita, a historic district with art, shops and restaurants.

What food does San Antonio do better than any other city?

Tex-Mex for sure, including breakfast tacos and enchiladas. I love mole enchiladas — Tito’s serves my favorites. 

What’s the one thing everyone forgets to pack? Or the one thing everyone should remember to pack when visiting?

People aren’t ready for the humidity here, so they often need more hair products than they bargained for. Also, bring sunscreen. You need to protect your skin when walking along the River Walk or through the city.

What’s the best way to get around town?

Uber and Lyft are readily available and not too expensive. There’s also public transportation, with buses that run regularly. And soon, they’re supposed to have kayaks along the River Walk, so you can kayak down the river from place to place.

Finally, what’s the best book to read or film to watch about the city before I come? 

Check out the Remember the Alamo movie at the IMAX across the street from the Alamo for some backstory before entering. You could also read Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans. It’s a good book about the general history of Texas, San Antonio and the fight for the Alamo.

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