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San Antonio is a vibrant city located in the state of Texas. Sitting on the Balcones Fault at 662 feet above sea level, it is two hours away to the southwest of Austin, about three hours to the west of Houston, and about four hours south of Dallas.
Home to 1,547,253 people, San Antonio is the seventh-most populous city in the United States.
San Antonio is a modern city chock-full of historical influences. If you are a history buff, San Antonio should be on your bucket list.
Previously governed by the Spanish Empire and the Mexican Republic, the city perfectly amalgamates ancient and contemporary civilization. Therefore, Visiting San Antonio is a must to truly experience the southwest.
There is so much to see and explore in San Antonio. Museums, theme parks, heritage sites, outdoor activities, wine-tasting tours, mouth-watering food options, you name it, and you will get it!
You can relax by the pristine waters, enlighten yourself on world history, and explore your adventurous side, all at the same place. San Antonio also has many kid-friendly attractions that make it even ideal for a family vacation.
If you seek to experience history at its finest, cloaked with the vibe of a fast-paced city, then San Antonio is the ideal place for you.
The best way to explore the city is through guided tours. Exploring the various attractions, landmarks, shops, and eateries in organized tours, either in double-decker buses, kayaks, or river barges with an informed local guide, is recommended.
1. EXPLORING THE HISTORIC SIDE OF SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
1.1. THE ALAMO
In his book Spanish Missions of Texas, Herbert Malloy Mason described the Alamo as one of “the finest examples of Spanish ecclesiastical building on the North American continent.”
This monument is the most iconic historic site in San Antonio. The name is believed to have been derived from a grove of nearby cottonwood trees, known in Spanish as the Alamo.
Roman Catholic missionaries built it as a Spanish mission and fortress compound in the 18th century to educate the then-recently converted local American Indians on Christianity.
The Alamo is distinctive in that this building has served as a chapel, a military fortress, a prison, San Antonio’s first hospital, and now as a world heritage site. It even functioned as a wholesale grocery store for a while!
The Battle of the Alamo was pivotal in Texas’ history. Cruelty meted out by the Mexican forces inspired many Texans to join the fight against the Mexicans. The casualty rate was very high on both sides. Hence, the Alamo generates patriotic feelings for the Texans.
After being passed on between different owners and the resulting wear and tear, the Alamo that we see today is a restored version of the original. Though refurbished, it still has a rustic charm to it.
The Alamo is nearly 300 years old. It is a landmark in San Antonio and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Alamo is no longer a chapel as it was initially intended to be. Go to the museum to see several priceless artifacts like Travis’ Ring, Kentucky Rifle, etc… You can even see the gigantic canyons and stunning bronze models within the Alamo’s walls.
Visit the Cavalry Courtyard to see the statues of Alamo heroes. You can read about the Alamo’s history on the richly illustrated Wall of History exhibit. You can get a taste of life in the 1830s at the Living History Encampment, where you get to meet San Antonio’s living historians. If you are planning on visiting San Antonio, you cannot miss the Alamo!
Entry fee: There is no fee to enter the Alamo.
1.2. SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS.
Five missions were established in the 1700s to acculturate and Christianize the native Indians. Four of these missions are still active parishes – San José, San Juan, Espada, and Concepción. The fifth one is the Alamo. The Missions in this park have weathered many storms.
Even though San José is the biggest, all the Missions are equally awe-inspiring. In 2015, the Missions were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. These missions represent the culture of San Antonio, Texas, and have laid the foundation for the city it is today. Children can get an insight into the country’s history from a visit here.
1.2.1. San Jose
This mission was built to serve the Coahuiltecan Indians when San Antonio de Valero (or the Alamo) became crowded shortly after its conception. The huge stone structures included offices, guestrooms, a dining hall, and a pantry.
When the Mission suspended its activities in 1824, these buildings became home to the homeless, soldiers, and bandits. In 1933, the restoration process was initiated to rebuild the Indian quarters and the granary.
18.104.22.168. Reasons to visit
There is a lot of Texas history behind each structure and a lot to learn from.
From the top, the impressive church exterior has a cross to depict Jesus Christ, San Jose carrying infant Jesus, St. Francis and St. Dominic, the Virgin Mary or Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Joachim, and St. Anne carrying infant Mary.
Baroque architecture in America is represented through the Rose window on the south wall of the church. A popular theory is that the sculptor was a Spanish craftsman Pedro Huizar who built it in remembrance of his sweetheart Rosa, who tragically died on her way to meet him. The ornate window is a remarkable sight in itself.
1.2.2. SAN FRANCISCO DE LA ESPADA
Mission San Francisco de la Espada was the second Mission to be established in Texas. The aim to spread Christianity was the reason for the establishment of this Roman Site Catholic mission. It was built in fear of French encroachment and to tend to San Antonio de Bexar’s Indians. This Mission has survived a smallpox epidemic, drought, and rebellion. The Mission relocated to several different locations before its current place, by the San Antonio riverside.
22.214.171.124. Reasons to visit
It features astounding architecture that has inspired many other modern churches, including St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wimberley, Texas, north of San Antonio.
Rancho de las Cabras, which is registered as a separate World Heritage site, comes under the jurisdiction of Mission Espada. It is located 30 miles to the north of Mission Espada but worth paying a visit.
The ranch has low fences and thatched buildings (Jacales) built as living quarters for the natives in the past. It was used to cultivate crops and rearing livestock for the Mission’s population. It is a forgotten gem where children can learn a lot about how people led their lives back in the day.
Espada Acequia is another highlight of this Mission that makes for a fascinating visit. It was built to irrigate the lands close to Mission de la Espada. This National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and National Historic Landmark is still used to supply water to the locals.
Visiting this Mission will give you an insight into the harsh realities of mission life, and you can understand a lot about the culture of San Antonio and how people went about their lives in the past.
1.2.3. MISSION CONCEPCION
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña was established in 1731, after its relocation from East Texas. The church in this Mission is considered to be the best-preserved Spanish colonial structure in the U.S.
The complex you see today includes the church, living quarters for the priests, a plaza, the refectory, and the office was completed in 1755. The main church building took 20 years to complete, after which a defensive line of houses for the Indians was built. The Mission was self-sufficient as it had animal pens, a granary, a well, and irrigation by the acequia.
126.96.36.199. Reasons to visit
The highlights to pay attention to on your tour of this Mission at the historical park are the vivid murals on the exterior of the church painted in the 1700s that are still visible and the artwork restored inside the walls and the ceilings of the religious site in 1988.
1.2.4. MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
This Mission was named after Saint John of Capistrano. Mission San Juan did not prosper as well as the other San Antonio missions. This was because the land was not sufficient to grow a wide variety of crops or rear many cattle. However, the Mission managed to remain self-sufficient by producing iron tools, and clothes, and the preparation of hides.
They began constructing a bigger church, but it remains incomplete due to insufficient labor. The abandoned church buildings are still within the Mission’s grounds and serve as a burial ground for the indigenous founders of this Mission. The church was renovated recently in 2012.
1.2.5. Yanaguana trail
This historical trail runs along the San Juan de Capistrano. Visiting this trail will give you peace amidst the wildlife and make you forget that you are at the center of a busy city. You can see turtles, owls, snakes, and other forms of wildlife accompanied by the sounds of nature.
There is a live demonstration farm at Mission San Juan Capistrano, fed by an ancient Acequia, where you can see how the primitive laborers did their farming.
The best way to explore the San Antonio Missions National Park is by renting a bike and enjoying your historic bike tour through the missions. You will be transported to a different realm, and the sights are nothing like you have ever seen before.
Entry fee: Entry to the San Antonio Missions National Park is free.
1.3. EL MERCADO
The historic market square of San Antonio is a three-block outdoor plaza that features locally-owned places that sell a wide range of products exhibiting the cultural, artistic, and ethnic influences of the Southwest and Mexico. The historic Market Square and Farmer’s Market are the go-to places to shop for indigenous products of Texas. This market is the site of Cinco de Mayo and many other fiestas in San Antonio.
Another highlight of this market is that you can see the artisans create pottery, paintings, leather goods, candles, jewelry, or portraits and shop customized wares.
You can also treat yourself to numerous delicacies at the roadside eateries and restaurants at El Mercado Market.
You must visit the El Mercado for a wonderful shopping experience with a historical vibe. Buying interesting merchandise in this historical market makes it popular.
1.4. El Mercado: Cultivating Community and Commerce
“Being deeply involved in [the realm of] cultural markets, I can’t stress enough how vital places like El Mercado are for our city.
It’s not just about stalls and goods; it’s about creating a sense of togetherness among everyone, whether you’re a local or just passing through.
El Mercado acts [as a] melting pot of culture, connecting people and fostering a strong community spirit. One [of the things]that make El Mercado truly special is how it serves as a stage for our local talents.
The artisans and entrepreneurs here get to showcase their incredible skills and unique products, becoming driving forces behind the region’s economic growth.
It’s heartening to see a place where creativity meets commerce and everyone benefits. Now, picking a favorite memory from El Mercado is like trying to choose your favorite song – nearly impossible!
But if I had to highlight one, it would be a magical moment during a live cultural performance. The air was filled with traditional music and dance, a true celebration of our rich cultural heritage.
The lively atmosphere and the incredible variety of offerings made the entire visit unforgettable. These experiences are not just entertaining; they’re educational, sparking a genuine appreciation for the local culture.
In the grand scheme of things, cultural markets like El Mercado are the heartbeat of our city. They contribute to our identity, bolster local businesses, and create lasting memories that resonate with [both] residents and visitors.
It’s more than just a marketplace; it’s a testament to our unique character and a living, breathing part of our heritage.”
2. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: RIVERWALK
The River Walk is the most popular attraction in all of Texas. Located in downtown San Antonio, this place is impossible to miss.
The River Walk is open all 365 days of the year. Around 14 million people come to celebrate, relax, dine, and drink here annually. Saunter, along with the vibrant cypress trees, shops, eateries, hotels, museums, and recreation spots with the pristine river as the backdrop to truly experience life at its finest!
The San Antonio Riverwalk connects the major attractions for visitors in San Antonio from the Shops at Rivercenter to the Arneson River Theatre, Marriage Island, La Villita, HemisFair Park, the Tower Life Building, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Pearl, and even the city’s five Spanish colonial missions, including the Alamo.
You can take a 2.5-mile boat ride along the Riverwalk and enjoy enthralling sights along the downtown of the St. Anthony of Padua, the Alamo, which is the longest operating courthouse in Texas, and the second-tallest free-standing tower in the US.
The River Walk at San Antonio, Texas, has inspired the Little Sugar Creek Greenway in Charlotte, North Carolina; the Cherry Creek Greenway in Denver, Colorado; The Bricktown Canal in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and the Santa Lucía Riverwalk in Monterrey, Mexico.
2.1.1. RIVER WALK: ENTERTAINMENT
Some of the best places to shop along the San Antonio River Walk are Macy’s, H&M, The Disney Store, and Victoria’s Secret. River Center Mall has over 100 stores, an IMAX and AMC theatres, and a 1000-room hotel to unwind. Alamo Beer Company, Bier Garten, and Roadmap Brewing Co. are some must-visit breweries on this side.
Chinese New Year in San Antonio is celebrated by setting personalized candle-lit lanterns afloat in the river, and the whole river walk is bright and lively at this time.
2.1.2. RIVER WALK: PLACES TO EAT
There are many things to do in the San Antonio Riverwalk, and many delectable food eateries are also present!
Tower of the Americas is the best place to get a spectacular view of San Antonio. They also provide the best dining experience at the river walk with delicious food and other fun activities for families, children, and solo travelers.
Larry Snider, VP of Operations of Casago Park City Vacation Rentals, loves the GoRio boat cruises along the river but [overall] enjoys the Downtown Reach altogether.
It’s always the busiest spot, but I like all the shops and different places to eat. I think it’s unique compared to other attractions because so many different attractions surround the river.
This is an annual celebration of 10 days. Countless events take place during these times. Parades and performances line up in the city.
All the buildings in the city are festooned; Tejano, jazz, mariachi, rock, big band, classical, and pop music are played; sporting events, including soccer, lacrosse, and rugby, are conducted, energizing all those present.
The best time to visit the River Walk is during Fiesta San Antonio when decorated floats can be seen floating along the river as a part of one of the parades. Metal pins are collected and traded during the Fiesta. A Fiesta king and queen are crowned based on their money for charity, and they preside over the festivities.
It is highly recommended that you tour San Antonio, Texas, to participate in this lively event during the springtime.
4. NATURAL BRIDGE CAVERNS
Open to the public since 1977. The Natural Bridge Caverns are awe-inspiring. These are the largest commercial caves in Texas and are less than 30 minutes away from San Antonio. The Natural Bridge Caverns at San Antonio is a State Historic Site and National Natural Landmark.
The Natural Bridge Caverns, San Antonio, descend more than 34 stories underground and have broad open rooms and intriguing, narrow passages.
Spectacular chambers filled with breathtaking formations and geological wonders formed over tens of thousands of years will enthrall your senses and fill you with wonder.
The Colossal Dome Room, Mirror Lake, the Well Room, and the stalactites and stalagmites growing from the Canyon Room are breathtaking.
The Natural Bridge Caverns also feature lots of activities above ground. There is fun and adventure at every bend.
If you are adventurous, you can try the Canopy Challenge, the world’s largest outdoor Sky Trail, and rides like the ziplines. The Sky Rails course, Twisted Trails, is six stories tall, has fifty challenging elements, and a 685-foot track that enables you to jump from one canopy to another. You can work your way through AMAZE’n Ranch Roundup, a 5,000-foot outdoor maze, which is yet another reason to visit this place.
You can buy fresh fudge, jewelry, and souvenirs at the shops at Natural Bridge Caverns.
A tour around the caverns will take around 45 minutes. There are tours available at a frequency of 60 minutes during the weekdays and 30 minutes at the weekends.
Entry Fee: The cost of the tour tickets varies each day, around $25 to $30 per adult. Click here to book your ticket now.
5. SAN FERNANDO CATHEDRAL
The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe at San Antonio is the burial site of the heroes of the Battle of the Alamo. The celebrated soldier, James Bowie, is also buried here.
The church is a blend of Gothic and American Colonial architectural styles. It was constructed by the Canary Island settlers and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
This church is located at Plaza de Las Islas Canarias. It is best visited at nighttime when the sky turns dark, and the church lights up.
A light and sound show depicts San Antonio’s history and journey. From the past to the developed city that it is today, it is staged on the cathedral’s exterior walls.
The San Antonio Saga, as it is known, is a spectacular show that you should not miss on your trip to San Antonio, TX, as it is one of the most entertaining among the many various to do at night.
6. MUSEUM OF ART
This group of buildings that initially housed the Lone Star Brewery takes you through five thousand years of art, culture, and people. You can either start or end the River Walk here.
It is acclaimed for its extensive Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin American art collections. Works of art from worldwide: Greece, Rome, Egypt, Korea, India, and Japan, are featured here.
The exhibits include paintings, photography, sculptures, and decorative arts. The museum is famous for its Chinese ceramic collection, Islamic art, Oceanic art, and impressive local art from Texas. The museum has an entire section for San Antonio’s independent artists to stage art exhibitions.
You can arrange a special tour of the museum followed by lunch at the Trattoria overlooking the San Antonio River. Families, including children, can spend hours examining the intriguing exhibits at the museum.
Entry Fee: $10 per adult. $7 for 65+, $5 for Students and Military, Free for under 12 yrs.
The San Antonio Zoo spanning over 57 acres, houses 3500+ animals and belongs to 750 different species. You can spend countless hours here.
This is one of the best places in San Antonio, Texas, to visit with kids. You can spend an entire day at the San Antonio Zoo, walking past exotic animals, riding on the San Antonio Zoo Eagle train, admiring the birds at Hixon Bird House, and observing the aquatic life at the Richard Friedrich Aquarium.
Start your tour from Africa Live!, African Savanna, and African Plains, get a taste of African wildlife like giraffes, cosmo, alan, and Brayden; then make your way to Big Cat Valley and get face-to-face with lions and tigers.
Then go to Outpost Amazonia to see jaguars, an ocelot, monkeys, bats, fish, and sloths or head over to the Cat Grotto and meet the caracal, clouded leopard and black-footed cat. You can also visit the Bear Corner to see the spectacled bear and black bear or watch the gibbons playing at the Gibbon Forest. Encounter birds from all parts of the world at the Hixon Bird House, and finally view the salamanders, toads, and the frogs at Amphibia.
A total treat for animal lovers and kids! You can spot adorable, energetic animals and also grab a bite of tasty food to eat or cool drinks at the eateries and restaurants on the trip to San Antonio’s zoo.
8. THEME PARKS
1. SEAWORLD SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
Seaworld San Antonio is the largest aquatic theme water park in Texas. This amazing water park spreads over 250 acres and welcomes more than 2.6 million visitors every year. Seaworld San Antonio is known for its mind-blowing rides thrilling rollercoasters and fascinating display of sea creatures.
You must ride the tallest, longest, and fastest of all wooden roller coasters in Texas- the Texas Stingray, the Great White, the Wave Breaker, and other such marine-themed roller coasters to get the perfect adrenaline rush.
The rides at this park aim to educate the visitors on matters of rescue and conservation of animals, so you not only enjoy yourself to the fullest but also learn a lot from your trip here.
The sea creatures you can see at this park include killer and beluga whales, sea turtles, otters, penguins, sea lions, and 18 bottlenose dolphins. Visiting San Antonio Sea World park with your children is a must. Families throng this water park all through the year for fun yet enlightening experience.
Entry Fee: Depending on your requirements, buy your tickets here.
2. SIX FLAGS FIESTA TEXAS
The Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio is a 200-acre theme park built on a quarry of rocks with dozens of amazing rides, games, activities, performances, and fireworks.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas is famous for its rides and features many internationally acclaimed holiday festivals, engaging educational events, and exciting live performances.
Though certain places shut down during the Covid 19 pandemic last year, most of the major attractions (including water park Seaworld San Antonio, San Antonio Zoo, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas)are open to the public now with minimal restrictions.
San Antonio is a sensational city. A trip to this rustic yet modern city will give you an out-of-the-world experience. The attractions all through the city are ideal for a fun-filled and educating family vacation. Children will have many fun things to do, tasty food to eat, and loads to learn on a trip to San Antonio, Texas. Experience the culture, heritage, and hospitality of San Antonio.
Guest Author: Saket Kumar