San Antonio Hotels and B&Bs: Historic and Contemporary

Historic buildings or contemporary aesthetics, full spas or the comforts of B&Bs, San Antonio offers accommodations for every taste.

San Antonio’s emphasis on tourism and conventions is clearly evident in its downtown core, its skyline dominated by a number of high-rise, multi-room hotels. While a number of the downtown San Antonio hotels are good, solid, Marriott and Hilton-level mainstays with easy access to either the convention center or the River Walk, there are also a group of hotels that offer travelers something extra memorable. With so many hotels in the city’s downtown core—many of which have gone fully non-smoking—there are choices for those who gravitate toward the historic, the modern or the ultra-luxurious.

Historic Hotels

St. Anthony Hotel

The St. Anthony Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in San Antonio, built in 1909, and still features a marquee out front that evokes a bygone era. Despite modern amenities, it emphasizes a gilded past in the chandeliers and bronzes that adorn its public spaces, and incorporates a hybrid of modern and antique adornments in its guest rooms. Rates start at $169. 300 E Travis, tel. 210-227-4392.

Havana Riverwalk Inn

Built in 1914 and designated a state and national historic landmark, the Havana Riverwalk Inn allows for an additional layer of escape that feels more like Cuba than the United States, and is located on one of the quieter, more picturesque sections of the River Walk. The rooms incorporate stately antiques, hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and are even adorned with aging, sepia-toned photos. Club Cohiba, located in the hotel’s basement, is one of the city’s best bars, with a speakeasy feel and a full drink menu including a variety of martinis, as well as dynamite mojitos shaken with fresh mint. Rates start at $105. 1015 Navarro, tel. 210-222-2008.

Emily Morgan Hotel

The Emily Morgan Hotel, across the street from the Alamo, started its life as the Medical Arts Building in 1924, housing doctors’ offices, and carries the Gothic stateliness also seen in its sister building, the Nix Hospital, still active as a medical center several blocks over.

The Emily Morgan opened as a boutique hotel in 1984 and features feather beds, Jacuzzi baths and even allows pets. In addition to the usual amenities you’d expect of a top-flight hotel (a pool and fitness room), the hotel includes a cozy library which also converts to a cozier-than normal meeting room. Rates start at $189. 705 E. Houston St., tel. 210-225-5100.

Menger Hotel

The Menger Hotel is even closer to the Alamo, stationed right next door to the Cradle of Texas Liberty, and is almost as old, dating back to 1859. Curiously, both Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant have stayed at the hotel, as have Theodore Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and Mae West.

Though much of the Menger’s charm lies in its history and its location, including the hotel’s famous bar (dating back to 1887 as a replica of a well-known London pub), it has also incorporated spa services and downtown San Antonio’s largest heated swimming pool to keep it competitive with its contemporary neighbors. Rates start at $189. 204 Alamo Plaza, tel. 210-223-4361.

The Fairmount Hotel

The Fairmount Hotel, located across from HemisFair Park and next door to La Villita shops and restaurants, is another century-old building (dating to 1906) that has recently been renovated to boutique pampering status. Remarkably, the hotel was slated for demolition in 1984 before the city decided to move the entire hotel—3.2 million pounds of brick and mortar—to its current location five blocks from where it originally stood.

The Victorian architecture of the Fairmount includes a number of balconies attached to guest rooms, unusual for downtown’s collection of historic hotels. The guest rooms keep to a plush, antique style more in line with the past than the present. Rates start at $144. 401 South Alamo, tel. 210-224-8800.

La Mansion del Rio

La Mansion del Rio, located on one of the River Walk’s prime locations as well as behind the city’s aptly-named Majestic Theatre, is built on the original location for the city’s first college, hence the College Street address and the El Colegio bar just off the lobby. The hotel itself is done in Spanish colonial architecture, with nicely rustic touches offsetting the modern amenities.

For guests lucky enough to have a riverside room, its balconies offer some of the city’s best views of the River Walk. And while the hotel has its own qualities to offer—such as an indulgent courtyard pool with bar service and a restaurant with one of the city’s best Sunday brunches—its affiliation with the Watermark Spa across the river makes the La Mansion even more valuable to guests. Rates start at $189. 112 College St., tel. 210-518-1000.

Contemporary Hotels

Watermark Hotel and Spa

The Watermark Hotel and Spa, across the River Walk from La Mansion, opened in 2003 to considerable fanfare, and with emphasis on the spa part of its name. The Watermark has since received a number of accolades for its spa, which features a wide array of services, with 19 private treatment rooms and private men’s and women’s lounges spread across 17,000 square feet.

The guest rooms reinforce the luxury theme of the hotel, incorporating marble bathrooms, leather-topped desks and other fanciful touches. The rooftop pool features astounding views of the city, and even the Watermark’s margaritas have an air of elegance about them, suggesting efforts to go one step beyond other hotels. Rates start at $249. 212 W. Crockett St., tel. 866-605-1212.

Hotel Valencia

Hotel Valencia, one of the newer entrants among the River Walk hotels, is also one of the most architecturally striking. Though the hotel’s interior tends toward dark and mysterious at all times of the day, regardless of how brightly the sun is shining outside, it features a number of aesthetically-pleasing details, consistently carried over from the hotel’s public areas to its guest rooms.

Its location places it in the midst of Houston Street’s activity as well as on a more tranquil portion of the River Walk, and yet its hotel bar, Vbar, is regarded as one of the city’s hipper hotel hangouts. Rates start at $204. 150 E. Houston St., tel. 210-227-9700.

Westin Riverwalk

The Westin Riverwalk, located near the River Walk landmark known as Marriage Island (for reasons you might suspect), brings the Westin’s noted Heavenly Bed and Heavenly Bath package to one of the more beautiful sections of the River Walk. The hotel features a spa and a fitness room, and makes various nods to the Latin American heritage that influences San Antonio—starting with Venezuelan dark chocolates offered at check-in (a nod to traditions for welcoming guests), and including “La Merienda” (afternoon tea) Wed. through Fri. from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., featuring Mexican coffees, cookies, cocoas and aguas frescas.

The newest incarnation of the hotel’s restaurant, Zocca, is a departure from the Latin American theme, but offers one of a few Italian options for downtown diners. Rates start at $289. 420 W. Market St., tel. 210-224-6500.

Hotel Contessa

The Hotel Contessa, also next to Marriage Island, stakes out its difference among higher-end River Walk hotels in featuring all suites for its 265 guest rooms. The hotel, opened in 2005 and featuring Spanish colonial architecture and a Mediterranean décor throughout, boasts an AVEDA spa, an outdoor heated pool located on the roof of the 12-story hotel and a restaurant, Las Ramblas, which aims for Spanish cuisine with tapas, paella dishes and even Spanish cheese samplings as part of its menu.

As part of an expanded summer package to take advantage of its pool, the hotel will feature weekend movie nights during which families can float, eat ice cream and watch family movies. Adults get their pool party version of ice cream bliss too—an Adult Swim with drinks. Rates start at $212. 306 W. Market St., tel. 210-229-9222.

Grand Hyatt San Antonio

The Grand Hyatt San Antonio, even newer and taller than the other hotel sweepstakes entrants for this decade, is adjacent to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, making it particularly convenient for those coming to the city for conventions. But the hotel, starting with its artistic lobby, has a number of attractions which make it appealing to visitors not tied to conventions, including a gleaming, high-tech fitness room and contemporary guest rooms with clean, simple lines, which, if you’re high enough, offer views of the city that few of San Antonio’s hotels can provide. Rates start at $280. 600 E. Market St., tel. 210-224-1234.

El Tropicano

El Tropicano, located on the north end of the River Walk, is a Holiday Inn that was renovated this decade, but aims for a contemporary aesthetic, owing more to Acapulco or Miami than San Antonio.

While a rung below many of its contemporaries on the River Walk, there’s an embrace of kitschy style and solid amenities (an outdoor swimming pool above the lobby, a fitness studio) that make it a more distinctive stay than similarly-priced choices closer to the hustle and bustle of key River Walk attractions. Rates start at $112. 110 Lexington Ave., tel. 210-223-9461.

Bed and Breakfasts

The Painted Lady

The Painted Lady, located on Broadway about a half-mile up from the River Walk, is a historic San Antonio B&B that dates back to the 1920s. Though it’s on a prime spot on the Fiesta parade route, it appears to be fairly far removed from downtown’s charms on the outside. But inside, the rooms contain the plush, pampered décor you’d expect from a B&B—room names include the Mae West, the Amelia Earhart, the Oscar Wilde and the Liberace. (Note: the Liberace is less opulent than its namesake.)

The owners also note that the rooms’ “extra-thick plaster walls make our suites so quiet you think you’re the only guest in the house.” There’s also a rooftop hot tub for guests to use, as well as Jacuzzi tubs in select rooms. Rates start at $109. 620 Broadway, tel. 210-220-1092.

Alamo Street Victorian Inn

The Alamo Street Victorian Inn is one of the most prominent B&Bs in King William, the San Antonio neighborhood perhaps most associated with B&Bs. Located on South Alamo Street, King William’s main thoroughfare, the Victorian, built in the late 1800s, was originally located six miles away, and was moved piece by piece to its current location in 1997.

In addition to guest rooms that offer Jacuzzi tubs, fireplaces and/or full suite status, the Victorian attends to small details like comfy bathrobes and thick towels to help guests achieve a bed-and-breakfast level of cushiness. Rates start at $140. 951 S. Alamo St., tel. 210-212-5533.

Destinations: San Antonio

Themes: Family Travel, Spas

Activities: Sleep