Alamo City: 25 Things to Do in San Antonio on Vacation
San Antonio is a tourist paradise filled with mouthwatering cuisine, historical sites, and quirky attractions. It’s the ideal city for a trip to the southwest and one of the best places to visit in Texas.
Plan your trip to the Alamo City with these 25 top things to do in San Antonio!
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1. Remember the Alamo
The infamous battle of the Alamo took place within what is now downtown San Antonio. The epic struggle immortalized the heroic battle cries “Come and Take it!” and “Remember the Alamo!”
Although American forces lost, their defeat was not in vain. Their bravery became a rally for American troops in the Mexican-American War, ultimately leading to victory.
Alamo visitors will be shocked at how small the former -stronghold is. The small mission protected nearly 200 soldiers during the fight. The back of the church houses plaques with their names, allowing visitors to offer thanks for their sacrifices.
The Alamo grounds include a small museum showcasing the history of the Western Front, numerous statues celebrating the brave men lost in battle, and the Alamo’s official gift shop.
2. Explore the Iconic San Antonio River Walk
One of San Antonio’s most famous attractions is a 15-mile stretch of pedestrian trail along the San Antonio River. The River Walk snakes through the downtown area, extending all the way to the San Antonio Zoo in the north and the famed Spanish Missions in the south.
The downtown portion of the River Walk is a tourist’s dream. It’s filled with restaurants and bars offering tasty takeaway libations, allowing visitors to stroll the river with a margarita in hand or dine in an outdoor café overlooking the canal.
Don’t discount the rest of the river, though. Every portion of the walk offers scenic views, colorful flowers, historical markers, and a direct route to places of interest throughout the city.
It’s an ideal location for a morning walk, bike ride, or relaxing kayak trip. Various sites along the river offer kayak, paddleboard, or bike rentals.
Ambitious travelers can use the riverwalk as a car-free path to many of the best things to do in San Antonio.
3. Savor a Truly Unique Culinary Experience
San Antonio is one of only three cities in the country featuring a Culinary Institute of America, one of the world’s most prestigious culinary arts academies. Graduates become executive chefs, independent restaurant owners, and top-of-the-line bakers at restaurants around the globe.
What does this mean for visitors to San Antonio?
Savor offers a three-course fine dining experience created and presented by advanced students under the mentorship of professional faculty. CIA Bakery Café is a pop-up bakery offering mouthwatering pastries. Be sure to check their website for operating times and locations.
San Antonio’s Culinary Institute of America is just off the River Walk in the city’s Pearl District.
4. Discover the Pearl District
Whether you visit the Culinary Institute or not, you should spend time exploring the Pearl District. This area boasts gorgeous stone buildings, independent restaurants and breweries, and small locally owned shops.
Weekend visitors to San Antonio should explore the Pearl during the Saturday Farmer’s Market or Sunday Maker’s Market. The farmer’s market offers fresh produce and locally raised meats, while the maker’s market celebrates local artisans selling pottery, wood carvings, and baked goods.
The Pearl District is worth a visit on weekdays as well. It’s filled with locally owned boutique shops offering everything from the latest fashions to books to bicycles.
There are also numerous local restaurants offering flavors from around the world. Although still pricey, these restaurants are often a tiny bit cheaper than those in the downtown area of the River Walk and are just as delicious.
5. Stay at a Haunted Hotel
Hotels are a dime a dozen in San Antonio. Although many resorts and inns lay along the river, most don’t offer the unique character and charm of a haunted hotel in the city center.
The Emily Morgan Hotel, a Hilton property directly across the street from the Alamo, is an ideal place to stay for your trip to San Antonio. It’s steps away from the Alamo and the downtown portion of the riverwalk. It also has something most other hotels lack: a haunted history.
Guests report an abundance of unusual happenings, from phones ringing in the middle of the night to doors slamming shut for no reason. Some guests even see unexplainable shadows lurking in well-lit corners.
Hotel staff tell stories of hauntings as well. Bartenders report glasses flying off the shelf for no reason, and the concierge described a disappearing apparition.
Although tales of strange happenings abound, most believe they are just stories with logical explanations. Most stay at the hotel because of its excellent location in the heart of downtown San Antonio; the fun of a potential haunting is just a bonus.
6. Confront the Unimaginable at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
Like many tourist towns, San Antonio is home to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! The San Antonio Ripley’s is a treasure trove of oddities, information, and weird happenings from around the globe.
The collection features objects and artifacts from some of America’s most infamous serial killers, like Charles Manson’s prison shirt, along with fascinating works of artistic achievement.
You’ll be amazed by butterflies with detailed images of myths painted on their fragile wings or microscopic dioramas carved into rice grains. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attractions offer fascinating wonders for visitors of all ages.
7. Confuse Your Mind at Ripley’s Illusion Lab
Ripley’s Illusion Lab is one of the top family-friendly activities in San Antonio. The underground corridors of mirages trick the eye (and brain), making tourists second guess their senses.
Highlights of the Illusion Lab include a stroll through a fantastical neon jungle, a photo op in an upside-down bathroom, and the opportunity to play poker with six versions of yourself! Can you really bluff yourself?
Many of the illusions in the lab are visual activities. The posted instructions allow you to see the deceptions and learn exactly how it tricks the eyes the way it does. The Illusion Lab offers education on how the brain works through fun, mind-bending exhibits.
8. Behold Celebrities Made of Wax
Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks is the final must-see attraction under Ripley’s umbrella in San Antonio.
Louis Tussaud was the grandson of the famed Madame Tussaud. He even worked as a sculptor at her iconic wax museum. However, he left the family business and forged his own path, opening his own suite of waxwork facilities around the globe.
San Antonio Waxworks is one of three owned by Ripley Entertainment in the United States, a company renowned for embracing quirky fun. Visitors will delight in the opportunity to join iconic movie scenes, even if just in selfies, and see realistic portraits of their favorite icons.
Waxworks features over 200 wax figures, ranging from musicians to movie stars, and fictional characters to historical figures. Have a blast immersing yourself in this wonderworld of celebrity. Don’t forget your camera so you can convince your friends you met your idols!
9. Get Lost in a Mirror Maze
For more family fun in San Antonio, you must visit the Amazing Mirror Maze. This fun house is located in Alamo Plaza and features seven unique attractions everyone will enjoy.
Start with the epic adventure giving the venue its name: The Amazing Mirror Maze. It’s one of the largest mirror mazes in the world, featuring winding corridors filled with seemingly endless reflections.
If one isn’t enough, experience even more dizzying reflective thrills with the infinity and holographic mazes.
Those looking for a more physical adventure should attempt the vault laser maze, a game-like attraction challenging you to dodge lasers while making your way through the maze. Other activities include escape rooms and fun house mirrors that will make the whole family laugh.
10. Study the History of the Texas Rangers
The Buckhorn Saloon on Houston Street, a block away from the River Walk, features an incredible collection of Texas history. The saloon is home to the Texas Ranger Museum, showcasing information and memorabilia about the famed law enforcement crew from its inception through the late 1900s.
Museum objects include presidential proclamations, uniforms, and weaponry used by the Texas Rangers. The Walker Colt and Paterson Colt, designed by the prestigious Samuel Colt himself, are collection highlights.
The fun doesn’t end with objects. The museum also features a full-scale mock-up of an old western town. There’s even a jail you can enter for a fantastic photo opportunity!
11. Roam Through a Taxidermy Jungle at the Buckhorn Museum
The Buckhorn Saloon is also home to its namesake, the Buckhorn Museum. Your ticket to the Texas Ranger Museum includes the Buckhorn exhibit; it’s a two-for-one deal that’s well worth your time.
The Buckhorn Museum is a celebration of taxidermy and wilderness. It features five rooms full of taxidermied animals from all around the world.
However, it’s not just about the taxidermy. The exhibit educates visitors on the amazing creatures we share the Earth with and includes tidbits about various safaris embarked on by adventurers of the past.
An unexpected bonus is the small mystery spot hidden inside the Buckhorn Museum. The small room of intrigue showcases water running uphill, leaning walls, and horizontal pull-ups! Although a little hokey, the mystery spot is a fun diversion in an otherwise educational experience.
12. Visit the San Antonio Zoo
If you’d prefer to see living animals, head up north to the end of the River Walk, where you’ll find the San Antonio Zoo.
Home to over 750 species on 50 acres, the zoo is a leader in conservation efforts and wilderness education. Some species living in the zoo are extinct in the wild. The zoo not only allows visitors to see these threatened creatures but works effortlessly to conserve them.
The zoo is home to majestic lions, terrifying hippos, and fun-loving lemurs. Additional animal highlights include highly threatened Komodo dragons, elusive jaguars, and a large lake featuring a variety of colorful and talkative birds.
The fun doesn’t end with animals. The San Antonio Zoo Park Complex also features an iconic Kiddie Park, one of America’s first amusement parks for children. With rides designed for kids aged 1-12, a Zoo/Kiddie Park combo is the perfect way for families to spend a day in San Antonio.
13. Encounter Sea Creatures at Seaworld San Antonio
San Antonio boasts an animal encounter experience only found in two other places in the country: SeaWorld. The Texan version rivals its Florida and California sisters, featuring in-water interactions with Beluga whales, dolphins, and sea lions.
The park offers a variety of viewing options for those unwilling to get wet. Wander through the underground dolphin viewing area and Explorer’s Reef to see dolphins, sharks, clown fish, sea horses, coral reefs, and more thriving in massive enclosures mimicking their natural habitats.
The majestic killer whales are the park’s most iconic residents. The orca encounter teaches visitors about the importance of these apex predators of the sea and offers a glimpse into their natural behavior. For an additional cost, guests can feed the whales!
14. Discover Art From Around the World
San Antonio Museum of Art features works representing over 5,000 years of human history. The comprehensive Ancient Mediterranean collection showcases Roman coins, decorative Greek vases, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Some of the oldest pieces in the museum date back to the 6th century BC, making them nearly 8,000 years old!
When you’ve had your fill of Ancient Mediterranean and Asian art, cross to the north wing to discover art from the Americas.
The first floor is dedicated to early American art, showcasing work from American Naturalists. Stealing the show is an epic life-sized portrait of a woman in red by one of America’s most famed artists, John Singer Sargent. The North wing also includes art from Mexico and South America, a modest contemporary gallery, and a room dedicated to European art.
The San Antonio Museum of Art’s collection may be small, but each piece is crucial. It’s a must-see for anyone interested in art or history.
15. Investigate the City’s Haunted History
Staying at a haunted hotel isn’t the only way to explore San Antonio’s haunted history. As a frontier town on the edge of the old west and the site of one of America’s most famous battles, the city has its share of sordid tales and paranormal happenings.
To discover San Antonio’s haunted history, continue embarking upon one of the many ghost tours offered by tour companies across the downtown area. The wide variety of tours ensures everyone can find a way to partake in the spooky fun.
Ghost hunters who need to limit their walking should consider the “Sister’s Grimm Haunted Bus Tour.” Although it’s a hop-on, hop-off tour that requires some walking, the drive to each locale may make it easier on investigators that can’t walk long distances. Due to the scary stories recounted during the tour, parents are encouraged to leave children under 13 with a sitter. Children under eight will not be allowed on the bus.
Those looking for family-friendly fun should consider Ghost City’s “The Ghosts of Old San Antonio Tour,” the only tour rated for kids of all ages, while those over 21 hoping for a lively night out with the gang may enjoy “Nightly Spirit’s Ghost Tour Pub Crawl.”
16. Explore Historical Spanish Missions
The San Antonio Mission National Historical Park is Texas’ only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Marvel at the artistry of the Spanish Style architecture while learning about the 17th-century settlements via educational placards positioned throughout the park, or take a guided tour for a more personal storytelling experience.
The complex includes four missions, each built near the San Antonio River and accessible via the southern portion of the River Walk. Although the missions are too far from the downtown River Walk for a casual stroll, ambitious visitors can rent a bike and ride the ten miles from mission to mission. The easiest way to access the missions is by car.
Visitors who want to see all the missions should start at Mission Conception in the North and work southward, ending with Mission Espada. If you only have time for one, hit the central Mission San Jose, which features a visitor’s center and the only official National Park Service gift shop.
17. Trek Beneath the Earth’s Surface
Natural Bridge Caverns is an immense cave complex winding deep into the Earth’s surface. The mouth of the cave opens about 30 minutes north of central San Antonio, making it a perfect spot for an excursion.
Natural Bridge Caverns offers numerous tours through the underground labyrinth. The popular Discovery Tour is ideal for those who want to glimpse majestic geological formations with an easy walk on a well-lit path. In contrast, the Adventure Tour allows guests to explore the caverns like trailblazers.
Although none of the cave tours are wheelchair or stroller-accessible, guests with mobility restrictions can enjoy many above-ground attractions, including the maze, butterfly garden, and makeshift mining company.
18. Embark Upon a Texas Style Safari
San Antonio visitors preferring to stay above ground may appreciate the cavern’s sister attraction, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. The 400-acre park is home to nearly 500 animals representing 45 species across six continents.
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is primarily a drive-through park. Visitors roam the park in the comfort of their own vehicles, viewing the animals as they would appear in nature. The wild residents can get close – so keep the windows rolled up at all times. Open-topped jeeps or convertibles are not permitted.
Those wanting to stretch their legs can enjoy the Walk-A-Bout area, which features a Lemur resort, petting barn, restaurant, and gift shop.
19. Trick Your Senses With a Magic Show
You don’t need to travel to Las Vegas to witness spectacular magic! San Antonio is home to Magician’s Agency Theater, a premier attraction celebrating the art of illusion.
Featuring a magic show every Saturday night, the theater is a perfect place for families to enjoy a unique experience. Watch experienced magicians perform miraculous card tricks and correctly predict the seemingly impossible outcomes while indulging in the free popcorn included with your ticket.
The fun continues after the show with a VIP ticket, which includes a front-row seat to the performance and exclusive access to an online treasure trove of information. A hidden portion of the website offers VIP guests tips on performing magic trips with common household items.
20. Eat Authentic Texas Bbq
If San Antonio is your only stop in Texas, you need to take the opportunity to sample the iconic barbeque famous throughout the state. Two of the best BBQ shacks in the city are outside the city center but well worth the drive.
Check out Two Brothers BBQ Market in the northern portion of town just off route 281 for smoked brisket slow-cooked to perfection in custom-made pits. Or, head to 2M Smokehouse to the east off of 410 for mouthwatering pulled pork on a homemade bun. 2M Smokehouse is also a top spot to purchase meat by the pound to eat later.
If you want to stay near the city center, consider Pinkerton’s, the new San Antonio location of one of Houston’s top BBQ restaurants, or Smoke Riverbar for a taste of authentic Texas BBQ on the River Walk.
21. Take In Breathtaking City Views
San Antonio hosted the Hemisfair World’s Fair in 1968 to celebrate the city’s 250th birthday. In preparation for the event, the city built a gigantic 750-foot tower overlooking the city.
Today, the Tower of the Americas offers visitors panoramic city views from indoor and outdoor observation decks. Ascending to the top to observe the city below is one of the best things to do in San Antonio.
Look to the north for a glimpse of the historic Alamo, and let the photographs on the floor guide your gaze to other prominent landmarks in the area.
Hungry guests will appreciate the Chart House Restaurant there, a fine dining experience that slowly rotates, offering views from all directions. The Tower Café offers snacks and quick bites for those who want to snag a quick snack on the go.
22. Seek Exhilarating Thrills at Six Flags Fiesta Texas
San Antonio’s Six Flags Fiesta Texas, dubbed the “thrill capital of South Texas,” is packed with roller coasters, kid’s rides, shows, and entertainment.
Brave the exhilarating Goliath with its 50 mph maximum speeds and 80-foot curving drop, or fly 168 feet above the ground through a 4,000-foot path like Superman on the Kryptonite Coaster.
Like every Six Flags theme park, Six Flags Fiesta Texas offers fun for the whole family. Young children will enjoy the pirate ship-themed play area or numerous rides designed for safe thrills, while families can ride the rails together or enjoy birds-eye views of the park from the iconic Crows Nest Ferris Wheel.
The park abounds with shows, dining, games, shopping, and other attractions sure to please everyone in your group.
23. Sip Tea in a Japanese Garden
When you need a break from the hustle and bustle of tourist life, stop for a rest in San Antonio’s Japanese Garden. The garden, managed by the San Antonio Parks Foundation, has over 90 years of history serving as a cultural and resource center for Japanese Americans.
Visitors can stroll through the garden for a serene respite from the noisy city. Relax under the pavilion and peacefully gaze at the calm waters of the lily pond, or walk to the secluded waterfall for a quiet moment of solitude. Both areas are available for party rentals, so please be respectful of any party renting the space.
The Japanese Garden is home to the Jingu House Café, but the restaurant is currently closed while undergoing renovations. There is no information as to when it will reopen.
24. Watch a Show on the River
Lucky visitors to San Antonio may be in for a delightful treat: a live show on the River Walk’s open theater. The Arneson River Theater is a small outdoor theater featuring a modest stage on the north side of the river. It also has a mini-amphitheater complete with grass seats built upon stone steps on the south side.
The theater does not have a regular schedule of events. The venue is available for rent through the La Villita Artisan District. Local groups, charities, and schools often rent the theater to host ballets, concerts, or dances to enthrall visitors and promote their causes.
Due to the lack of regularity, the chances of catching a show at the iconic theater are hit or miss but check La Villita’s calendar of events to determine if something will be there during your visit.
25. Shop the Local Stores & Galleries
San Antonio is a treasure of the southwest. The downtown area abounds with art galleries, gift shops, boutiques, and artisan stores showcasing the area’s unique heritage. Visiting these stores to support the local artists and artisans is one of the best things to do in San Antonio.
Stroll through the shops of La Villita’s Artisan District and admire the fine art and handcrafted keepsakes made by locals. Take home a piece of fine jewelry metal smithed right there in the district.
You will find a plethora of souvenir shops scattered throughout the downtown area. Supporting these small family-owned shops is a fantastic opportunity to give thanks for a wonderful trip to San Antonio!
Where To Stay in San Antonio
Equally crucial to deciding what to do in San Antonio is deciding where to stay in San Antonio. As a top tourist town, the city overflows with hotels and resorts, making it nearly impossible to pick one.
If you want to stay in a historic location steps away from the city’s most important attractions, consider the Emily Morgan Hotel mentioned above. Offering luxurious rooms, concierge services, early 20th decor, and mid-range prices, the Emily Morgan is a top choice for travelers who desire a hotel bursting with character in a centralized location.
It’s also one of the most affordable hotels in the downtown area. However, travelers on a tight budget might prefer the Red Roof Plus or Super 8 by Wyndham. Although further away from the city center with fewer amenities, these budget motels offer the best nightly prices in the area.
Luxury-obsessed travelers may want to indulge in the high-end Eilan Resort and Spa. This high-end resort features cabanas and offers massages (for an additional charge).
Hotel Emma offers another fancy option, with its rooftop pool and complimentary margarita upon check-in.
How To Get to San Antonio
San Antonio sits at the meeting point of I-10 and I-35 interstate highways. Those driving to the city will approach the city center via one of those two main routes.
The easiest way for out-of-state visitors to get to San Antonio is by air. San Antonio International Airport offers daily non-stop routes to many major cities in the United States, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, amongst many others. Regional flights from Dallas, Houston, El Paso, and other southwestern cities also arrive daily.
Although technically an international airport, most international routes are limited to Mexico. Travelers from Europe, Asia, or South America will have to travel through a more prominent hub en route to San Antonio.
Though numerous airlines service the airport, the most common are American, United, and Southwest. Some cities may have multiple options from multiple carriers, but most direct routes are limited to a single airline.
Best Way To Get Around San Antonio
Most of the best things to do in San Antonio are located near downtown, making them an easy walk for visitors staying in the area. Although many other tourist attractions lay along the river, an ambitious traveler must walk the 16-mile winding path to explore them all.
If you don’t want to walk, an eco-friendly option is a bike rental. The riverwalk has room for bikers. Reaching the Art Museum or Pearl District by bike is a breeze. Bike rentals are also available to explore the Spanish Missions.
Those wanting to explore beyond the downtown area and river should rent a car. The Missions and Pearl District are easy drives from the city center, and the remaining attractions are less than thirty minutes away.
Parking downtown can be tricky, but many hotels offer valet parking services, and most of the city’s parking lots offer overnight parking. Lucky travelers may even snag a metered spot on the street, which only charges a three-dollar daily maximum.
Things to do in San Antonio abound. Tourists have tons of options ranging from educational fun to exhilarating thrills. Restaurants and shops line the streets, offering delectable bites or handcrafted keepsakes.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.
Featured image credit: iStock.com/f11photo
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