Connections: Beth Smith in San Antonio, TX
At All Roads North, we believe that a place is nothing without its people. So often, when we ask our clients the most memorable parts of their journey, it’s not the Instagram-worthy landscape or acclaimed hotel that they mention, it’s the encounters they had along the way. That’s why our trips are carefully designed to make those connections, providing you with an authentic and immersive experience. These experiences– whether it be with a local craftsman, musician, chef or marine biologist– are the inspiration for our Connections series, where we talk to friends of All Roads North to get an insider’s look at some of our favorite places across the U.S.
This week, we spoke with Beth Smith, Chief Marketing Officer of the renowned Hotel Emma, about her insider’s opinion on San Antonio: how the city is one of Texas’ most underrated, the spots to visit that actually live up to the hype, her favorite restaurants, and more!
ARN: Tell us about your San Antonio story?
BS: I’m a 6th generation Texan, born in New Braunfels. I moved to San Antonio in 1985 to begin my hospitality career in Marketing luxury hotels and spas. Joined Hotel Emma two years before opening to develop the brand and launch the independent hotel in a new destination within the destination of San Antonio, and am now the Chief Marketing Operator of the hotel.
What three words sum up San Antonio for you?
South Texas Culture
What’s something that San Antonio does better than anywhere else?
I always refer to Will Rogers, who said that there are four truly unique cities in the U.S.– New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco and San Antonio. What makes us unique is that we have so many cultures blended together in our city– the German, the Spanish, the Mexican, the Wild West, and the South. You may see that through architecture. If you go into one of the older neighborhoods like Alamo Heights or Olmos Park, you’ll find German-style homes with Spanish tile roofs. In our food, you’ll definitely see that blending too. For example, you might find a bratwurst taco, blending the German and the Mexican.
What major tourist attraction lives up to the hype?
Our World Heritage UNESCO site- our Missions. I like it because it’s authentic. These missions date back to the Spanish in the 1700’s, and there are hundreds of years of history preserved there. You get a real sense of history and what it was like many years ago. There’s only so many UNESCO Heritage sites in the world and they are the first and only UNESCO site in Texas.
What’s your favorite neighborhood to wander?
The King William District. It’s on the south side of the river. The Germans settled along the river because they needed water to run their mills. So the neighborhood started as where the Gunther house flour mill was. There are a lot of beautiful Victorian homes that have been preserved that were built in the 1800s. It also borders what we call Southtown, where there are lots of little one-of-a-kind bars, restaurants and a younger part of San Antonio.
Underrated in San Antonio and overrated in San Antonio?
The San Antonio lifestyle is underrated. Out of Texas’ four cities, people often think of Dallas as sophisticated, Houston as metropolitan and Austin as cultured, but don’t know what to make of San Antonio. People don’t realize that it’s the perfect junction between a small town lifestyle in a big city. The cost of living is affordable, there’s no traffic, and you see people you know out and about all the time. Overrated: Theme parks.
What’s your Sunday morning in San Antonio?
Long walks with my husband and our French Bulldog, Bernadette, to our favorite coffee shop in Alamo Heights. We live in Olmos park, and we’re running into people we know all the time. Again, it’s that small town, slow pace, Sunday morning pace of life. We have great coffee shops and bakeries we can stop by, and we can sit back and read the paper.
What restaurant do you take friends from out of town for dinner, a casual local’s favorite, and a weekend brunch?
For dinner, we have several great spots: a Mediterranean place called Ladino, or the French spot, Brasserie Mon Chou Chou. Soluna Mexican restaurant is our favorite local hangout. It has the best margaritas. Supper at Hotel Emma is great for brunch.
Where do you go to escape the city?
Lake McQueeney to our Lake-house. It’s about 30 minutes out, so a really quick trip. For me, it’s very nostalgic. That’s where I learned how to water ski, where we used to go to celebrate birthdays growing up. It’s nothing fancy, not like Lake Austin. It’s just a peaceful place to kick back and relax.
What trends are you noticing in San Antonio right now?
The thirty-something generation is moving back to San Antonio, and along with that we’re seeing more live music and more artists. The city is becoming a bit more progressive, but still holding onto its heritage. I hate to use the word, but I guess it’s just gotten more “hip.” San Antonio used to be kind of touristy with the Alamo, and River Walk and such, but now that’s changing. There are more and more restaurants that are one of a kind, rather than chain restaurants. For example, Hotel Emma is an independent hotel and the Pearl, where its located, only has unique restaurants.
People are moving to San Antonio now, but probably not as much as they are to Austin and Dallas. We don’t have the big tech jobs. But with the pandemic and remote work, we’ve seen people being able to live here and benefit from the lower cost of living, while still working in more major markets and thats been a big draw.
How does Hotel Emma reflect authentic San Antonio?
Emma is like visiting an interesting friend’s well appointed home in San Antonio with genuine South Texas Hospitality… you never want to leave. We also do a great job of reflecting San Antonio’s blending of cultures.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.