San Antonio is huge! It's the 3rd fastest growing city in the U.S. and has the 2nd largest population in Texas. Its borders encompass 412 square miles, a few small cities, and hundreds of neighborhoods, each in a world of its own. So, here are some tips for finding your niche in this ever-expanding city.
Exceed Your Expectations. Don't settle into the first place you come across. Finding an affordable apartment is no problem here, with low rental rates and move-in specials aplenty. Even the more upscale and trendy neighborhoods feature apartments from $400/mo. Location and comfort easily trump price when trying to find the perfect home in old San Antonio. So, what is it that you want? Suburbia? Culture? An easy commute? An historic vibe? Something bike-able? Do you want to look out your window and see rolling hill country? Or do you want to look down on the city from a modern high-rise and pretend you're batman? Well go for it, and don't settle for anything less.
Ask Around. Talk to taxi drivers and police officers downtown. They can tell you all about the neighborhoods, traffic issues, as well as the best places for food and entertainment. If you plan on using public transportation, then hop on a bus and make friends with the person sitting next to you. Their advice on getting around without a car will be invaluable. In suburban neighborhoods, try taking a walk through the nearest park to meet potential neighbors. Talk to anyone. Most of the people in San Antonio will provide you with extensive advice in friendly Texas fashion.
Consider Commute. Where is work? Triangulate for the most convenient location. Public transportation and traffic are especially stressful when commuting from outside the 410 Loop into the urban core. If you plan on living or working up north, then try to avoid IH 35, infamous for its traffic and speed traps.
Nuances of Renting. Most apartments in San Antonio require you to make at least three times as much as the rent. While many places have great move-in specials, be prepared to pay a hefty deposit in the more coveted locations.
Downtown: Swanky City Living. The Alamo, the Riverwalk, the Rivercenter Mall, and the revolving restaurant/bar atop the Tower of the Americas are the main attractions here.
South Alamo: Starving artists and castle dwellers. South of downtown, you will find the most eclectic and culturally rich neighborhoods San Antonio has to offer. It is here that local art and music is showcased every first Friday and second Saturday. You can also find old mansions, haunted hotels, and elegant riverside condos.
Uptown: Classy, upscale, old money communities. Uptown is home to many celebrities, such as Tommy Lee Jones and Thomas Gibson. It has some of the best restaurants and shopping in the city. So, put on your fancy pants and explore the opulence of popular neighborhoods such as Alamo Heights, Terrell Hills, and Uptown Broadway.
Midtown: Old San Antonio. This area is known for its historic architecture and convenient central location. The popular Monte Vista neighborhood is located here, as well as some more affordable up-and-coming neighborhoods, such as Beacon Hill and Alta Vista.
North Central: San Antonio Suburbia. This area includes the coveted neighborhoods of Castle Hills, Hill Country Village, and Oak Park.
Northwest: Popular, pricey, and brand-spanking-new. These neighborhoods are still sprouting fresh, new homes as the city continues to expand. While this area is mostly residential, the Floore Country Store and the Helotes Cornyval provide plenty of live, down home entertainment. Also, the Guadalupe River is a short drive away for all your fishing/camping/tubing/kayaking adventures.
Northeast: Cities within the city. This area is made up of incorporated cities that have become part of San Antonio's suburbs. Quiet, family-oriented communities such as Selma and Universal City are short on apartments, but have plenty of house rentals available.
South: Flatlands and families. Home to the China Grove neighborhood, made famous by the Doobie Brothers, this area is full of older buildings and has a very friendly vibe.
Keeping Cool. Beware the cost of cool in San Antonio's summer heat. Be prepared to fork over at least $100 to the electric company each month — at least. If you have a bigger home and like it nice and cool, don't be surprised to see a $200 - $300 electric bill from May through November. However, clear, cold, spring-fed waters of the nearby Comal and Guadalupe rivers provide plenty of relief from brutal Texas heat.
Getting Around. Life is tough without a car in San Antonio. The bus system is ridiculous anywhere outside the urban core, and a summer without a ride to the river can be excruciating. Then again, life is tough with a car as well. Getting from one end of town to the other is a long, long journey. For a round trip, you're looking at about 100 miles, $20 to $30 in gas, and 1 to 5 hours out of your day depending on the traffic. Not to mention, people seem to lose their minds while driving around central San Antonio. And why wouldn't they? It is here that three major interstates connect with congested highways and city loops, creating a wasp nest of disgruntled commuters and lost tourists. It's not uncommon for someone to cut across multiple lanes of traffic using their horn and middle finger instead of a turn signal.
Staying Sane. It may sound obvious, but be sure to relax and have some fun every once in a while. People get way too wound up over work, or lack of work, these days. It's free to get a good dose of art and music at the Blue Star's First Fridays and Second Saturdays. Take an inexpensive mini vacation to the Comal River or the Guadalupe River on weekends. Explore the Riverwalk, especially during holidays and festivals.... but beware of where you step. Approximately 500 people fall into the polluted San Antonio River that runs through this downtown boardwalk every year.
So there you have it. That's my general advice for living in San Antonio. Be sure to take it with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila.