With its Spanish and Mexican colonial heritage, San Antonio stands out for its rich cultural and historical heritage.
However, far from being frozen in time, it is also a vibrant and dynamic city with superb museums and many activities to do.
And did we mention that San Antonio is also one of the two American cities named a gastronomic city by UNESCO?
Whether you’re strolling along the Riverwalk, stepping back in time at the Alamo or enjoying a feast of Tex-Mex cuisine, there’s plenty to do and see in San Antonio.
What to visit, where to eat and where to sleep if you spend a few days in this beautiful city?
Here are some of the must-dos on your next trip to San Antonio, Texas.
- Planning your stay in San Antonio
- 8 must-do activities in San Antonio
- 1. Travel back in time at the Alamo
- 2. Visit the missions of San Antonio
- 3. Visit the San Antonio Cathedral
- 4. Explore the Historic Market Square
- 5. Stroll along the Riverwalk
- 6. Visit the Pearl Brewery district
- 7. Spend the day in one of the museums of San Antonio
- 8. Attend a rodeo event
- Other attractions to visit in San Antonio
- Where to eat in San Antonio
Planning your stay in San Antonio
How long should you stay in San Antonio?
Depending on the number of museums and attractions you want to visit, allow 2 to 3 days for the city of San Antonio alone.
This includes a visit to the historic downtown, the Alamo and the missions, an afternoon exploring the Pearl Brewery district, a stroll along the Riverwalk, some shopping at the historic market and a visit to a museum or two.
Should you rent a car or not?
Like all cities in Texas, there is a long way to go on public transportation. The car or the cab are to be preferred.
The historic center is best visited on foot, and if you are only planning to visit it, it is better to walk or take a cab.
On the other hand, the city is large and many museums, amusement parks and missions are located outside the center.
If you plan to visit these places, car rental in San Antonio is recommended.
Where to stay in San Antonio ?
Ideally, you should book a hotel near the Riverwalk and the center. It is a little more expensive but it will allow you to visit the historical center and most of the attractions will be within walking distance.
We stayed at the San Antonio Marriott Riverwalk which was conveniently located with large, very clean rooms and a pool.
How to save on the price of attractions?
Like everywhere, if you plan to visit more than one museum or attraction, the ticket prices add up quickly.
A really easy way to save is to get the Go City Pass, which allows you to choose from 2 to 5 attractions and save on ticket prices based on the number you choose.
8 must-do activities in San Antonio
1. Travel back in time at the Alamo
It’s impossible to ignore the Alamo’ s presence in San Antonio.
Only a small part of this mission remains today, where the tragic battle of the Alamo took place and the future of Texas was decided.
Before becoming a symbol of freedom and courage for Texans, it was a Spanish mission, an important military post in the Texas independence movement, and an arms depot.
The visit, free of charge, is quite quick. And don’t let the long line discourage you, it moves very fast too.
Inside there are a few signs and no pictures can be taken. The visit ends with the gardens.
It is also possible to take a guided tour, which is not free.
2. Visit the missions of San Antonio
If the most famous mission in San Antonio is the Alamo, you should not miss the 4 other ones, located a few miles from the center of the city.
Grouped in a national park, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, they are very different from the Alamo.
Founded in the early 18th century by Franciscan missionaries sent by the Spanish government, these missions were intended to convert the indigenous population to the Catholic religion.
They also served as refuges from Apache and Comanche attacks, diseases (including smallpox and measles) and the ravages of drought.
It is therefore easy to understand why local people chose to convert to the religion and settle there.
There are 4 missions:
- Mission Concepción,
- Mission San José where the visitors’ center is located,
- Mission San Juan,
- Mission Espada.
You can choose to see only one, two or all four. For our part, we made two of them, San José and Concepción.
Mission San Jose is the largest and is almost completely restored.
On the other hand, our preference went to mission Concepción. It is the oldest unrestored church in the United States and has beautiful frescoes that can still be seen.
I also found that there were more explanatory signs than in San Jose, which made the visit more interesting.
The car is very convenient to visit them but it is also possible to do it by bike via a cycle track.
3. Visit the San Antonio Cathedral
The cathedral, located in the main square and built in the 18th century, is said to be the oldest in the country.
The human remains of some of the defenders of the Battle of the Alamo (including Travis, Crockett and Bowie) are found here.
On certain evenings, a light installation illuminates the cathedral. Beautiful!
You can find online the schedule of the projections.
4. Explore the Historic Market Square
Also known as El Mercado, the origins of the historic market date back to the 19th century.
Stretching over several streets, it is quieter at the beginning of the day but the atmosphere becomes lively quite quickly.
Count on street music, entertainers, restaurants, street food stands and numerous souvenir stalls.
There is also an interior market (the El Mercardo in question) which is the largest Mexican mall in the United States. This is the place to get a souvenir or a piece of Mexican handicraft.
If you’re in the neighborhood, take the opportunity to stop by Mi Tierra, an iconic restaurant in the area. Fast service, good prices and colorful decoration on the menu.
5. Stroll along the Riverwalk
Next to the Alamo, the Riverwalk is probably the most famous attraction in San Antonio, so much so that it is known as the Venice of Texas.
Without going that far, I must say that the Riverwalk is particularly successful!
Consisting of canals in the center of the city below street level, there are a lot of restaurants, stores, terraces, but also a beautiful vegetation.
It’s great to walk the cobblestone paths, pass under the bridges and sit on a terrace for a drink.
You can also travel the Riverwalk by boat by taking one of the water cabs on the canals.
6. Visit the Pearl Brewery district
Formerly an industrial neighborhood that was home to the Pearl Brewery, it is now a revitalized district with great stores, cafes and restaurants, apartments, a weekend farmers’ market and a Culinary Institute of America campus.
It’s a nice place to spend the day and have an aperitif.
Not to be missed, the bar of the Emma Hotel located in the old brewery.
7. Spend the day in one of the museums of San Antonio
San Antonio has some wonderful museums. Here’s a small selection:
The Briscoe Western Art Museum: It is the museum that we chose to visit and I strongly recommend it. It is superb and can be visited quite quickly.
It features a fine collection of artifacts, paintings and statues that show different facets of western and cowboy culture and trace parts of its history. Info and tickets
We opted for the Briscoe but we hesitated a long time with these two other museums:
- McNay Museum: for art lovers, there is a collection of over 22,000 works of art.
- San Antonio Museum of Art: This museum has one of the largest collections of ancient Mediterranean art in the United States.
8. Attend a rodeo event
What surprised us in Texas was that the world of cowboys and ranches is alive and well, as long as you get away from the big urban centers.
And for a taste of this aspect of Texas culture, what better way than to attend a rodeo?
About a 35-minute drive from San Antonio, Tejas Rodeo runs them from March through November.
It’s very impressive to watch and the kids part, where they have to stand on a sheep, is hilarious.
Other attractions to visit in San Antonio
When we say that there is a lot to do in San Antonio, and for all tastes, we are not lying! During your stay, you could also visit the following places:
- The King William and Southtown Historic District for their historic homes;
- La Villita: part of the National Register of Historic Places, these early 19th century buildings are now workshops and art galleries, artisan stores and restaurants;
- Spanish Governor’s Palace: this palace is the only example of a colonial aristocratic residence;
- Tower of Americas: to have what is one of the most beautiful views of the city from the top of the tower;
- San Antonio Zoo;
- The botanical garden of San Antonio;
- Sea World and Six Flags.
For us, it will be for our next visit!
Where to eat in San Antonio
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, San Antonio is one of the two American cities named a gastronomic city by UNESCO, along with Tucson.
From BBQ to Tex-Mex, microbreweries, modern and fusion cuisine, the culinary scene is booming and there is something for every budget.
You can expect to eat well and this was the case for us during our visit. Although we only stayed 3 days, we still had time to make some nice discoveries in the restaurants.
Mi Tierra is an institution in the historic San Antonio market. Opened several years ago, it is both a bakery where you can order to go, a bar and a restaurant.
Nothing fancy, very popular with tourists or groups celebrating a special occasion, but it’s inexpensive, the service is fast and courteous and it’s good. Web site
Clementine was a favorite during our stay in Texas.
This restaurant offers a local and seasonal cuisine and you should not hesitate to take the option Feed me, to taste the creations of the chef. Website
This Italian restaurant, located in the San Antonio Museum of art, is ideal for lunch after or before visiting the museum. It’s also known for its view on the river. Website
For breakfast, don’t miss a stop at this Mexican bakery (two locations). Website
Sternewirth at the Hotel Emma
If you’re in the Pearl District, you’ll want to stop by the Emma Hotel’s bar, Sternewith, for a drink.
The high ceilings, the equipment of the old brewery, the fireplaces, the benches and the vats where you can sit in small groups form an unusual, but very beautiful decor, at the same time warm, intimate and industrial.
We also ate there some entries, it was delicious. Website
We didn’t have enough time to go but this restaurant was warmly recommended to us. Located in the Pearl District, Cured puts a strong emphasis on homemade charcuterie and local products. Website
The Buckhorn is both a restaurant and a museum. Two exhibitions are presented for an admission fee of $20 US (discount if purchased online and one drink included).
The first one is composed of stuffed animals which has as main merit to be about a hundred years old and to have countless specimens that have gone through the years.
The other, more interesting section is about the Texas Rangers. Bonus, you can visit the exhibition with a drink in hand.
Now a tourist attraction, the Buckhorn Saloon was once frequented by Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders.
Now, it is mostly frequented by tourists, that come here to get a drink in a “real saloon” decor from the cowboy era. Website