What is San Antonio Market Square? A Guided Tour

san antonio market square

Whether you’re just in town for the weekend or plan to make San Antonio your home, there’s no part of town that’s as #PuroSanAntonio as Market Square.

There’s something about the twinkling lights, papel picado, and bright colors that don this three-block area of downtown San Antonio. Market Square is also the largest Mexican market in the US, so we San Antonio locals are pretty proud of it, too.

While I wouldn’t recommend strolling through Market Square at noon in August, it’s the perfect haunt once the sun goes down. With plenty of small vendors, quaint shops, and Mexican-inspired fare, there’s a lot to love about this little corner of my new hometown.

The history of Market Square

history of san antonio market square

Market Square is a surprisingly important part of San Antonio history. The land was originally gifted to settlers from the King of Spain in 1730. In the early days, the community used Market Square to sell produce, wild game, honey, pecans, and other goods that made life in the 1700s more bearable.

I guess it was just as hot in Texas then as it is now, because once the sun set, women would take over the market. Nicknamed “Chili Queens,” the women sold bowls of stew out of huge earthenware pots. This phenomenon continued for decades and was actually mentioned by the writer O. Henry when he visited SA in the 1880s – 1890s.

But in the 1890s, San Antonio had outgrown itself and had to reorganize to make more room. While the market was originally in the Plaza de Armas, the city moved it to its current location for more elbow room.

This turned out to be a smart move, because just ten years later, San Antonio was one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas. But this time around, immigrants poured in from across the globe. Thanks to the influence of new immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Market Square took on a more global flair.

Immigrants made Market Square part of their home, opening up restaurants, clubs, and grocery stores. In a fun multi-cultural twist, Chinese immigrants even opened a Chinese restaurant that served pan dulce. Mmmm.

During World War II, there were too many people selling produce to fit inside the market, so the city created a separate market (Terminal Market) to reduce congestion. Unfortunately, this lightened up foot traffic too much. Few people visited the market at the time, and it faded for several decades.

In an effort to revitalize the market (and their livelihood), several vendors pressured the city to create a Market Committee in the 1960s. The city put architect Boone Powell in charge of the project to make Market Square a proper tourist destination again. It took a few years, but by 1976, Market Square was once again the bustling center of commerce that it once was.

Today, Market Square is a whopping three blocks full of malls, quaint stone fountains, ornamental street lights, and plenty of greenery. San Antonio is definitely proud of its Mexican heritage, which you can see in the Mexican-inspired clothing, art, music, and food you can get at Market Square.

The best things to do in Market Square

things to do san antonio market square

Guys, there’s so much to do in Market Square that you can easily make a day of it.

But because SA weather is terrible, I recommend visiting in the spring or fall when temperatures are in the high 70s. If you want to visit during the summer, come well after the sun sets or your makeup will melt off your face (true story).

So, what is there to do in Market Square? Well, after living in San Antonio for well over 10 years, these are my favorite things to do.

Shop ’til you drop

Yes, you’ll find typical San Antonio-themed tchotchkes at some of the vendors at Market Square, but there are a lot of really cool finds here, too! The city invites real artisans to sell their wares at Market Square, so you know you’re getting something good.

Buy a hand-woven hat, woven blanket, mini guitar, wood carvings, ceramics, homemade soaps, or branded leather handbags in the shopping area of Market Square. I promise you’ll be able to find a souvenir for everyone on your list, so hit up the genuine artisans at Market Square instead of buying them a corny keychain at the airport.

People watch

Have you ever watched someone weave a blanket? It’s incredible¬†and you can see it firsthand at Market Square.

Artisans sell their stuff here, but they’re also happy to do demonstrations as a way to promote their business. If you’re curious about traditional methods of making pottery, paintings, leather, candles, or jewelry, Market Square is the place to be.

But if that isn’t up your alley, you can find typical market activities here, too. Take the kiddos to get their faces painted like a sugar skull or get a henna tattoo on your ankle to commemorate the occasion.

Ride a (mechanical) bull

It isn’t always available, but for certain occasions, like the Rodeo, Market Square will bring out a mechanical bull. Before you get too excited, I should let you know that the bull is for kids only. But if your kiddos have always wanted to ride a bull, this is the place to do it!

P.S. If you want a bar with a mechanical bull for adults, go to Cowboys Dancehall on the northeast side of town.

Attend a festival

One of the best things about Market Square is the fact that there’s always an event going on. They really try to make the market a full destination, so depending on when you visit San Antonio, you might get to enjoy festivals for:

  • Fiesta
  • Cinco de Mayo
  • Dia De Los Muertos
  • Rodeo Round Up
  • Western Heritage Vaquero Cook-off

Honestly, there’s always something going on, so check Market Square’s calendar to see what’s happening before you visit.

Eat at Mi Tierra

Mi Tierra (Spanish for “My Land”) is a rite of passage for anyone visiting San Antonio.

This place is full to the brim with bright lights, colors, and so many decorations that you can hardly see the person across the table from you. Mi Tierra is one of the oldest restaurants in Texas, and it’s certainly worth a trip for the sake of a cool Instagram photo. It’s open 24 hours and hires mariachi to play to its diners, which can make for a really fun evening of margs and nachos with your friends.

But I’m going to level with y’all for a sec: the food isn’t always the best. I want to love their flautas and tacos and pan dulces, but nearly everything I’ve eaten here is bland and overpriced.

I still think Mi Tierra is worth a trip for the sake of saying you’ve visited “The Mexican Christmas Restaurant,” but I don’t eat here regularly as a local.

Stuff yourself silly

But don’t worry! If you’re looking for good eats in Market Square, I’ve got you covered. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of the street foods. Elote is hands-down the BEST thing to get here; I was skeptical because I’d never had it before, but you can’t beat a crunchy, sweet, spicy ear of corn on a stick.

Market Square also sells some of the best tamales and tacos you’ll ever taste in your life. The brick-and-mortar restaurants tend to be more overpriced and have longer waits, so I prefer to stuff myself silly by visiting the street cart vendors instead.

Location / Directions

San Antonio Market Square is located in downtown San Antonio, about 1/2 to 1 mile east of The Riverwalk.

Its official address is:

  • 514 W Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78207

And here’s a map showing the exact location:

Hours

San Antonio Market Square is open 7 days a week.

  • Sunday to Friday: 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Saturday: 10 AM to 6 PM

More Info:

Official Website