8 Best Things To Do In San Antonio: A Complete Guide

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Things to do in San Antonio

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. ( For a guide to explore Austin, click here).

Home to 1,547,253 people, San Antonio, is the seventh-most populous city in the United States, and there are numerous exciting things to do in San Antonio.

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By Jonathan Cutrer/Flickr: Copyright 2021

San Antonio is a modern city chock-full of historical influences. If you are a history buff, San Antonio should definitely be on your bucket list. The state-of-the-art attractions and countless things to do in San Antonio have tourists thronging the city all year.

Previously governed by the Spanish Empire and the Mexican republic, the city is a perfect amalgamation of ancient and contemporary civilization. Visiting San Antonio, therefore, is a must to experience the southwest truly.

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. There are many enjoyable things to do in San Antonio for everyone.

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.

If you seek to rejuvenate and rejoice in this glorious city, here is all you need to know of the best things to do in San Antonio.

The best way to explore the city is through guided tours. The options of things to do in San Antonio are plenty, and it cannot be very clear to explore the city on your own. 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. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: EXPLORING THE HISTORIC SIDE OF SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

  • 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.” 

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By Jessica K8/Flickr: Copyright 2021

No one will leave out the Alamo if you ask for a recommendation of things to do in San Antonio! 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 álamo. It was built as a Spanish mission and fortress compound in the 18th century by Roman Catholic missionaries to educate the then recently converted local American Indians on Christianity.

The Alamo is distinctive in the sense 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 today. It even functioned as a wholesale grocery store for a while in the past!

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!

Timings: 9 A.M. to 7 P.M. (weekdays and weekends)

Entry fee: There is no fee to enter the Alamo.

  • SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS.

Five missions were established in the 1700s with the aim of acculturating and Christianizing 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 history of the country from a visit here.

If you are looking to learn something during your visit, these missions definitely must be on your itinerary of things to do in San Antonio.

1. San Jose

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By Mobilus in Mobili/Flickr: Copyright 2021
History

This Mission was built to serve the Coahuiltecan Indians when San Antonio de Valero (or the Alamo) had become crowded shortly after its conception. The huge structures of stone 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 re-build the Indian quarters and the granary.

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.

This should definitely be on your list of things to do in San Antonio if you are a romantic by heart!

2. SAN FRANCISCO DE LA ESPADA

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By FHG Photo/Flickr: Copyright 2021
History

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.

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. If you are looking for historically enriching things to do in San Antonio, this place is unmissable.

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 definitely worth paying a visit.

The ranch has low fences, thatched buildings (Jacales) built as living quarters for the natives in the past. It was used for the cultivation of 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 life 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.

3. MISSION CONCEPCION

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By Jon DeJong/Flickr: Copyright 2021

History

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, granary, a well, and irrigation by the acequia.

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. Art lovers should definitely add this place to their list of things to do in San Antonio.

4. MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

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By Marcie Casas/Flickr: Copyright 2021
History

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, 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.

Reasons to visit
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. A walk on this trail is one of the most relaxing things to do in San Antonio.

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 own 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.

Timings: All days ( including weekends) from sunrise to sunset. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New year’s day.

Entry fee: Entry to the San Antonio Missions National Park is free.

  • 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 is the go-to place to shop 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 as one of the most interesting things to do in San Antonio.

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! This is truly one of the best things to do in San Antonio.

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By Pedro Szekely/Flickr: Copyright 2021

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.

1. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO 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. This is the right place to visit if you are a shopaholic looking for things to do in San Antonio.

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. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO RIVER WALK: PLACES TO EAT

There are many things to do in the San Antonio Riverwalk, and many delectable food eateries are also present!

Bella on the River, Luke restaurant, Little Rhein Steak House, Fig Tree, and Biga on the Banks, located along the Riverwalk at downtown San Antonio are some of the best restaurants to exploring Texas food at its finest.

Tower of the Americas is the best place to get a spectacular view of San Antonio. They also provide the best dining experience with delicious food and other fun activities for families, children, and solo travelers at the river walk.

3. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: FIESTA SAN ANTONIO

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By Larry Johnson/Flickr: Copyright 2021

This is an annual celebration of 10 days. Countless events take place during these times. Parades and performances line up in the city.

If you are looking for things to do in San Antonio and experience the city’s rich culture, then visit at the time Fiesta.

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. This ranks extremely high among the things to do in San Antonio.

4. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: NATURAL BRIDGE CAVERNS

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By Roy Luck/Flickr: Copyright 2021

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 is 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 feet track that enables you to jump from one canopy to another. You can work your way through AMAZE’n Ranch Roundup, a 5,000 feet outdoor maze, which is yet another reason to visit this place.

Fun alongside a spectacular view makes this one of the best things to do in San Antonio.

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.

Timings: Monday to Friday – 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. with the last tour at 4 P.M.

Weekend – 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. with the last tour at 5 P.M.

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. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: SAN FERNANDO CATHEDRAL

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By Phil Roeder/Flickr: Copyright 2021

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 depict 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 things to do in San Antonio at night.

Timings: Church timings, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.

The Saga timings: Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday- 9 P.M. to 10:30 P.M.

6. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: MUSEUM OF ART

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By John W. Schulze/Flickr: Copyright 2021

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 collection. 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. This is one of the best things to do in San Antonio for art aficionados.

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.

Timings: 10:00 A.M. – 09:00 P.M.

Entry Fee: $10 per adult. $7 for 65+, $5 for Students and Military, Free for under 12 yrs.

7. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: SAN ANTONIO ZOO

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By Dave Stone/Flickr: Copyright 2021

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.

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By Larry Syverson/Flickr: Copyright 2021

Start your tour from Africa Live!, African Savanna, and African Plains, get a taste of African wildlife like giraffe, cosmo, alan, 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, 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. This is one of the most entertaining among the things to do in San Antonio.

Timings: Weekdays- 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.

Weekend- Saturday- 9 A.M. to 9 P.M.

Sunday- 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.

8. THINGS TO DO IN SAN ANTONIO: THEME PARKS

 1. SEAWORLD SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

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By Phan Ly/Flickr: Copyright 2021

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 and 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. Other major things to do in San Antonio Seaworld include fun, live entertainment and animal presentations.

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.

Timings: 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. ( Be sure to check the shows and their timings here, plan your trip accordingly)

Entry Fee: Depending on your requirements, buy your tickets here.

2. SIX FLAGS FIESTA TEXAS

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By Mark Bonica/Flickr: Copyright 2021

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. To know more about the things to do in San Antonio’s Six Flags Fiesta and book tickets, visit their official website.

 

Though certain places had 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 for the public now with minimal restrictions.

Despite the pandemic, many places are still open, and there are many wonderful things to do in San Antonio.

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.

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