The Alamo and the Riverwalk are the two most popular draws in San Antonio (not to mention Texas itself), but a "shopper's tour" of the city will take you to less obvious (and, often, less touristy) parts of town. The biggest, hottest new thing in San Antonio is a burgeoning crafts-and-arts movement that pays homage to the culture of the sizable Hispanic citizenry of America's eighth-largest city, as well as the influx of avant-garde arts folk from other urban areas.
The Blue Star Arts Complex (1400 block of South Alamo, www.blue-star.net), in a restored warehouse district just south of downtown, is the city's contemporary arts hub, with artists' studios, galleries, craft boutiques and the Jump Start Performance Company, a venue for avant-garde theater. The Blue Star Arts Space (116 Blue Star) showcases the kind of wacky modern "art" ("pillowcases from the first marriages of friends," in which a collection of about 30 print, plaid and plain cases are simply tucked into a frame) that'll induce head-wagging. Grab a smoked dark ale beer at the Blue Star Brewpub. San Angel Folk Art (110 Blue Star) has Gothic-like crafts from Mexico.
Six blocks east on Alamo, at Durango, are clusters of more craft boutiques and eateries that are, like Blue Star, part of what's labeled the Southtown revitalization effort. At King's Attic (951 S. Alamo), antiques come from the owner's collection of African art from Zaire, Zimbabwe and Cameroon (check out the $8,500 "king's throne") mixed in with ordinary vintage fare. The Red Iguana (915 S. Alamo, 210-281-9667) has (mostly) high-end Mexican antiques, from an $825 Eye of God aluminum mirror to pocket-size tin milagros (from $1.50). Tienda Guadelupe (1001 S. Alamo, 210-226-5873 ), housed in an old gas station, features more contemporary crafts with a macabre bent. Particularly fabulous were the red papier-mache devils with spiky black horns and a whimsical broomstick lamp with tin shade. Eateries include City Market (320 Beauregard), a gourmet deli with an oak-shaded courtyard, and Rosario's Cafe Y Cantina (910 S. Alamo, 210-223-1806), San Antonio's hottest Mexican bistro.
If, while in Southtown, you feel you really must pay homage to some aspect of historic San Antonio, the Texas Highway Patrol Museum is across the street from Rosario's. A better bet is to head for the part of the Riverwalk that runs through the Victorian-era King William District; it's totally non-commercial, all trees and shaded pathways and peace.
Market Square consists of El Mercado, an indoor arena patterned after Mexican market, and, nearby, the less historic but more lively Farmers Market Plaza. This is the best place in town to buy your Fiesta (sort of like Mardi Gras; this year it's April 22-30) trinkets--sparkly halos with paper flowers and confetti eggs ($3.50 a dozen) as well as gen-u-ine Texas longhorns with fur and leather accents ($34.95). Avoid the $2 margaritas made with wine ("That's nasty," said my shopping companion, a local resident); instead, sit at the bar at market hot spot La Margarita and nosh on a Campechano Cocktail (raw shrimp and oysters drenched in cocktail sauce, covered with pico de gallo and avocado). And drink, natch ("Now that's a real margarita").
But Liberty Bar (328 E. Josephine, 210-227-1187), north of downtown, is the restaurant most mentioned when arty San Antonians are asked to recommend their favorite. Located in a turn-of-the-century house (and onetime brothel), it tilts (caused by the flood of 1821). Cuisine is nouvelle Tex-Mex (great mesquite chicken and lambburgers) and the city's best bread and pies (made on the premises).
The Southwest School of Art and Craft (300 Augusta, 210-224-1848), housed in an old convent, functions mostly as an art-learners workshop for locals, but check out the gallery, which showcases high-end jewelry, ceramics and fiber art from artists all over the United States.
Southwest, Continental, American and Northwest fly to San Antonio from Washington. Sale fares start at $99 each way, based on round-trip purchase. For hip lodgings, try the 27-room Havana Riverwalk Inn (210-222-2008, www.slh.com /havanarw/; rates start at $110). The historic King William District offers a handful of B&Bs (www.innbook.com). Info: San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-447-3372, www.sanantonio cvb.com.