The smart money already knows that San Antonio’s days as a kids-only vacation destination are over. A flurry of high-end restaurant openings in recent years, accompanied by museum expansions, improved air service, and revival in historic neighborhoods, have made the discerning traveler’s choice broader than ever. It is Texas’s most rapidly improving major city.
Part of that renaissance is the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk, a 17-year veteran of the San Antonio landscape that has been recently reimagined as a high-end boutique hotel on the River Walk. The location, at the corner of Houston Street and St. Mary’s, puts it within walking distance of Bohanan’s, one of the best steakhouses in the state; the Texas outpost of Lüke, celebrity chef John Besh’s brasserie mashup of French and German cuisine with New Orleans touches; and Acenar, a Mexican restaurant with some interesting especialidades de la casa and a lively bar with possibly the best prickly pear margarita in town. The Majestic Theatre/Empire Theatre, the city’s premiere performing arts venue, adds a cultural dimension within just a stone’s throw.
The River Walk runs along one side of the hotel, and that makes all the amenities on the city’s famous river system easy to find. Cleverly, the hotel is situated a couple of blocks away from the 1960s Convention Center extension and the busy square of canals that were the original river system from the 1940s. That makes it close to everything, but overwhelmed by nothing.
Visitors will find a hotel that appears thoroughly contemporary. Enter from valet parking at street level and one is in a grotto-like vestibule with subdued light on its stone walls and a water feature central to the field of vision. Elevators take you up one floor to check-in and a meeting space, again in subdued light. The walls here are softer, crafted from ginger-brown terra cotta. Seating is expansive and soft.
[San Antonio] is Texas’s most rapidly improving major city. The highpoint is undoubtedly Citrus, the destination restaurant helmed by French Laundry alumnus Robbie Nowlin. Sous chef Estevan Valdez took me through their foie gras torchon appetizer, which has rhubarb and strawberries in different ways. It is a cavalcade of color and flavors. Valdez explained that there is no manual for dishes like this. They emerge out of brainstorming sessions between Nowlin, Valdez, and the other sous chefs. The hotel’s commitment to culinary excellence does not stop with Nowlin. Valdez trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and worked at Eleven Madison Park before following rejoining Nowlin at Citrus. Far from being a JAHR (Just Another Hotel Restaurant), Citrus is emerging as one of the best places in the city.
If it is just a drink that you want, check out VBar on the same floor. It hosts live music at weekends and becomes one of the city’s cool places after midnight.
Rooms incorporate the latest fittings and fixtures into the older building. Beds are extremely comfortable, and you can book a room with a balcony to make the best use of the warm San Antonio morning weather. The height of luxury is the presidential suite, set in a cupola above VBar. Unfortunately, it is booked a year ahead.