San Antonio, Texas, has transformed in recent years, and our secret is getting out. This south-central city in Texas has landed on the 2021 list of best cities to visit in the U.S.

Travel & Leisure magazine surveys its readers every year to ask, “What are your top travel destinations in the U.S.?” The Alamo City ranked sixth on a list of the top  15 U.S. cities for leisure travel (Charleston, South Carolina, is in the top position).

With an overall score of 84.36 out of a possible 100, San Antonio offers travelers great value, a southern climate, plenty of historic charm, a River Walk, museums and other cultural attractions, varied dining and shopping options, amusement parks like SeaWorld and Six Flags Over Texas, and lots of outdoor adventures in the city and just outside its limits. You can start your planning to visit here with Visit San Antonio’s list of fun activities and places to check out.

Here are our five reasons why you should visit San Antonio.

San Antonio has plenty of history

San Antonio recently celebrated its 300th anniversary as a city of rich history. Settled by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century, over 1.5 million people from all over the world have since made the city their home.

You can still see signs of the city’s original settlement when you visit the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.  The San Antonio Missions are a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a 7.7-mile stretch of the San Antonio River basin in southern Texas.  The park includes the city’s four southernmost Spanish colonial missions – Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada – plus the world-famous Alamo.

In the 18th century, Spanish priests established these five Catholic missions along the San Antonio River. Today, the missions – walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived – represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. These San Antonio missions collectively were named the first World Heritage Site in Texas by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) in 2015.

San Antonio has THE original River Walk

The world-renowned urban waterway called the River Walk is a public park open 365 days a year, welcoming over 14 million people annually. Home to countless special events, the River Walk extends about 15 miles. After the San Antonio River flooded the downtown district in 1921, San Antonio native and architect Robert Hugman submitted his plans for the River Walk for flood control of the river.

Through the following decades, the River Walk has been improved and extended. The popular downtown stretch is where you’ll find cafes, restaurants, shops, hotels, and other entertainment. In 2009, the city opened the River Walk expansion. Called the Museum Reach, a river lock connects the downtown section to this portion, featuring local attractions such as the San Antonio Museum of Art and The Pearl Brewery. By 2016, the River Walk was connected with another linear urban walkway, the San Pedro Creek Greenway. The greenway joins with the River Walk at the confluence of the San Pedro Creek and the San Antonio River near Mission Concepción.

The River Walk has since inspired similar projects in other cities, such as the Little Sugar Creek Greenway in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Cherry Creek Greenway in Denver, Colorado, The Bricktown Canal in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the Santa Lucía Riverwalk in Monterrey, Mexico.

San Antonio is a foodie paradise

Did you know UNESCO designated San Antonio a Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015? San Antonio is only the second city in the U.S. to earn this distinction and the first in Texas. San Antonio’s culinary heritage is significant for its confluence of many world cultures such as Mexican, Spanish, German, and French and its geology and geography. We’re known as the birthplace of Tex-Mex cuisine, for starters. However, innovative cuisine continues to take root in San Antonio with the influx of new chefs.

The 2007 opening in San Antonio of the third campus for the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) has led to many chefs trained in the foundations of culinary instruction with specializations in Latin cuisine who stay in the Alamo City to open food trucks and restaurants. This CIA campus takes advantage of San Antonio’s cultural influences and access to indigenous ingredients. It is located at the Pearl Brewery district, a 22-acre indie food haven developed on the property of a German brewery built in 1883.

Whether you’re looking for the original puffy taco, mochi donuts, or keen to try Chinese-Peruvian and Japanese-Peruvian cuisine, chances are you can enjoy it in San Antonio.

San Antonio is home to many cultures

San Antonio is a city of many cultural traditions. Stop by the Mexican market in Market Square, where mariachi bars face the historic plaza. Market Square is a three-block outdoor plaza lined with shops and restaurants in downtown San Antonio. The largest Mexican market in the United States, the “El Mercado” section has 32 specialty shops, while the “Farmer’s Market Plaza” section has 80.

On the city’s eastside, you’ll find the Carver Community Cultural Center, founded in 1918 as a community center for African Americans. Today, the location hosts performances. The University of Texas’s Institute of Texan Cultures in HemisFair Park has galleries describing the immigrant experiences of the many ethnicities living in modern-day Texas. The campus hosts the Texas Folklife Festival, celebrating the music, dance, and food of more than forty cultures from Syrian to Congolese.

San Antonio also has cowboy culture

San Antonio has a strong claim as the birthplace of the American cowboy being the starting point of the great cattle drives after the Civil War. You can learn all about our rich cowboy heritage at the Witte Museum and the first-rate Briscoe Museum of Western Art. If you need more, drive out to the Texas Hill Country town of Bandera, known as the “cowboy capital,” an hour west of the city.

If that’s not enough, you can book a stay at one of the many ranches close to the city, like the Silver Spur Guest Ranch. Just be sure to bring the right kind of boots for riding horses and walking on dusty trails during rattlesnake season (speaking from personal experience!).

The featured photo is of The Alamo, photo courtesy of Pete Alexopoulos on Unsplash.