The music scene in San Antonio is influenced not just by Mexican-style instrumentation and rock ’n’ roll but also, surprisingly, by polka.
Immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe brought their own musical heritage, whose “oompah” beat continues to inform the Tex-Mex and Conjunto music you’ll hear in this Texas city.
Shawn Sahm, the son of Tex-Mex music pioneer Doug Sahm, is the beating heart of the San Antonio music scene. His band, The Tex Mex Experience, continues his father’s legacy of hard-driving Texas-style rock ‘n’ roll. Shawn has also left his own fingerprints on the music industry, joining the stage with legendary performers such as the Junior Wells Band, Doug "Cosmo" Clifford (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Johnny Copeland, and Roy Head.
Where do you start in San Antonio? Shawn suggests Sam’s Burger Joint, a hot spot just north of downtown. Known not just for burgers, Sam’s Burger Joint is considered the best music room in San Antonio, with a killer sound system, unobstructed view, and a diverse lineup of acts. History buffs should check out two impressive theaters located in the heart of downtown: The Majestic, San Antonio's oldest and largest theater, built in 1929 in Spanish Mediterranean style, and the historic Aztec Theater with its Meso-American architecture.
Music lovers can’t miss the John T. Floore Country Store, an iconic Texas honky-tonk known as the musical birthplace of Willie Nelson. Nestled among the live oaks west of San Antonio, the venue has hosted legendary performers such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Merle Haggard over its 75 years of operation. This being Texas, the John T. Floore Country Store offers not just renowned acts but a full menu of great “Texas Cafe” food, ice-cold beer, and a truly unique “Texccentric” atmosphere.
Thanks to the Lone Star State’s abundance of cattle ranches, Texas beef is famous, and the barbecue is often rated the best in the nation. For steak or seafood, check out Josephine Street, where a massive 500-year-old oak tree grows through the roof of the restaurant. San Antonio is also famous for its authentic Tex-Mex, and both Garcia’s and La Fogata offer old-school dining experiences you’ll remember for a long time.
Beyond the music, the food, and the history, San Antonio will delight you with its natural beauty. The picturesque River Walk, or “Paseo del Rio,” lets you wander pathways along the San Antonio River while exploring bars, shops, restaurants, and public art. Drive slightly outside of town and you’ll discover scenic Hill Country, known for its charming small towns, big skies, iconic landscapes, and storybook farms. Make Gruene Hall your destination as you drive through the countryside. The classic venue is about 30 minutes outside of San Antonio—and you might even catch Willie Nelson himself, who still plays there on a regular basis.
One of the most iconic tourist spots in San Antonio is the Alamo, a 300-year-old former Spanish mission famous for the 1836 battle. Welcoming more than 4 million visitors a year, it is one of the most popular historic sites in the United States. The site includes the chapel and the Long Barracks, which houses paintings, weapons, and other artifacts from the Texas Revolution.
The most visited tourist attractions have their appeal. But beyond the surface, this old city is truly unique. In our melting-pot era, San Antonio is a genuine cultural crossroads, a place where Spanish and English, or a mix of both, are constantly heard on the street. The city nurtures the sounds and flavors of its own music and food, and adds plenty of that famous Texas hospitality.