San Antonio, Texas, Market Square, shopping, dining, curios, balloons, main hall, pinatas

A colorful square in San Antonio

Photograph by Ann F. Purcell, San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau

Pop. 1,351,305
GPS: 29°27'N, 98°30'W

Austin’s not the only Hill Country hub worth considering. Now that San Antonio is sprucing up its eponymous river—with waterfront hiking and biking trails, canoe races, and cafés—the city is regaining some of its Alamo-era swagger.

PLAY

Outside city limits, hikers can wander through 8,624 acres (3,490 hectares) of mountain laurel and Spanish moss in Government Canyon State Natural Area (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/government_canyon/). Road cyclists head northwest to the wildflower-flecked hills. And in the heat of the Lone Star State summers, a new crop of vineyards and a handful of brewpubs (Blue Star gets our vote) are just a pedal away.

EAT

Strap on your bib, and head over to the Smokehouse. Using a 40-foot (12-meter) BBQ pit, meat is slow-cooked, dry rubbed, and ordered by the pound in true Texas barbeque style (www.thesmokehousesa.com).

SLEEP

The chic Hotel Valencia Riverwalk has a prime spot right along the river (doubles from $170; www.hotelvalencia-riverwalk.com).

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