Boasting a rich colonial heritage, San Antonio offers a magical mix of living history and contemporary attractions, with loads of fun-packed things to do in and around the city.
Situated in south-central Texas, the city of San Antonio is one of America’s most important remnants of the nation’s Spanish-occupied past. Full of historic landmarks dating back to these times, it is also a thoroughly modern city, with a thriving arts and cultural scene, tourist sites, restaurants and nightlife. We’ve picked out 12 of the most cool activities and attractions to be found in and around the city.
Take a look around Texas’s largest underground caverns
When three local students were looking around the vast, barren expanses of Texas Hill Country in 1960, little did they know they were about to unearth a truly unique natural marvel. The inquisitive trio had inadvertently stumbled upon what would become known as the Natural Bridge Caverns, named after the 60-foot natural limestone slab bridge that spans the entrance. Thought to be the largest known caverns anywhere in Texas, the site and its immediate surroundings quickly grew to become a popular attraction, with visitors today able to enjoy a variety of adventures ranging from underground cave tours to an enormous outdoor maze.
Location 26495 Natural Bridge Caverns Road HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-4pm Sat-Sun 9am-5pm
Attend an acclaimed music festival
Enjoying its Silver Anniversary season of world-class live performances, the Cactus Pear Music Festival returns this July with a hybrid edition, comprising four days of in-person events and then four virtual events starting the following week. Featuring one of the most diverse collections of repertoire Artistic Director Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio has ever programmed, you’ll hear some of Beethoven’s greatest chamber works including his popular “Spring” Violin Sonata, and his Late Period Cello Sonata in C, Op. 102, No. 1, as the festival belatedly celebrates the seminal composer’s 250th birthday during its 25th season. For a full listing of programs, artists, dates and venue, go to cpmf.us.
Trinity Baptist Church, 319 East Mulberry Ave / 8-11 July 2021
Discover San Antonio’s colonial past
Nestled on Alamo Plaza in downtown San Antonio, the Alamo played a hugely significant role in the city’s often tumultuous colonial heritage. Founded in 1718 as the first mission in San Antonio, it served as a way station between east Texas and Mexico. Then, in 1836, decades after the mission had closed, it became an inspiration for liberty during the Texas Revolution when for 13 days almost 200 Texas defenders held the fortress from around 2,500 Mexican troops, granting the Alamo legendary status. Today visitors are free to stroll through the 4.2-acre complex and its adjoining gardens. A stop-off at the Alamo also features in the San Antonio Drunk History Tour.
Location 300 Alamo Plaza HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5.30pm
Join a spine-tingling ghost tour
Like most cities, San Antonio has its own dark secrets and supposed ghostly sightings. The Haunted Walking Ghost Tour invites guests to delve into the city’s murky past and discover the chilling stories that they don’t teach you at school. During the 1 hour tours (or 1.5 hours for the extended option) you’ll get to know why the city has been a hotbed of paranormal phenomenon, as your experienced guide regales you with tales of strange and unpleasant happenings down the years. The tour takes in up to 12 different locations around the Old Town district.
Immerse yourself in San Antonio’s diverse arts scene
Of all the city’s many cultural institutions, the San Antonio Museum of Art stands-out for its incredible collection of artwork spanning some 5,000 years of global culture. Housed in the historic former Lone Star Brewery on the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River Walk, the museum is packed full of ancient Mediterranean Asian and Latin American art, and is said to be the only encyclopaedic museum of fine art anywhere in South Texas. There are regular exhibitions, themed group tours, and an on-site restaurant overlooking the river.
LOCATION 200 W Jones Avenue HOURS Tues & Fri 10am-7pm Weds-Thurs & Sat-Sun 10am-7pm Closed Mon
If you prefer to take in your art with a more piecemeal approach, La Villita Historic Arts Village invites you to dip in and out of galleries and craft stores at your leisure. A bustling arts community on the south bank of the San Antonio River, the area is positively humming with creative vibes, with endless opportunities to pick up gifts, souvenirs or mementos from your trip that reflect the rich and diverse culture that makes up the city. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes to duck into for some restorative food and drink.
Location 418 Villita Street HOURS Thurs-Sat & Mon 10am-6pm Sun 11am-4pm Closed Tues-Weds
Explore a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Among San Antonio’s most impressive historic landmarks is The Missions, encompassing five frontier mission complexes situated along a stretch of the San Antonio River basin. An officially designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the complexes – among which is the aforementioned Alamo – include architectural and archaeological structures, farmlands, residencies, churches and granaries, as well as water distribution systems, all built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century. Today they continue to illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonise, evangelise and defend the northern frontier of New Spain, as well as demonstrating the interweaving of Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultures. The Missions can be explored independently, or during organised sightseeing tours of the city.
Take a stroll along the city river
Situated one level down from the car-laden street, the San Antonio River Walk is a neatly carved out pedestrianised avenue and city park that offers respite from the fumes and general hubbub above. Winding and looping under bridges, it features two parallel sidewalks, each lined with an array of enticing restaurants and ships. During springtime, the area also plays host to the Fiesta San Antonio, a colourful river parade complete with flowery floats that drift gently down the waterway.
LOCATION 849 East Commerce Street HOURS 24/7
Sample some local craft brews
San Antonio has a vibrant beer brewing scene and at its vanguard since 2014 has been Alamo Beer Company. During that time the brewery and tap room has gained a loyal fanbase who come to savour the only beer to bear the famous Alamo name since the start of Prohibition in 1919. In recent years the brewery – which was founded by local brews enthusiast Eugene Simor – has also added a bold new look to its family of beers, with each beer style developed to tell a story of San Antonio, The Alamo, and the fiercely independent Texas spirit. The venue features a large indoor-outdoor space with picnic tables and cornholes, and plays host to regular events including live music performances, yoga sessions and block parties.
202 Lamar Street / Weds-Thurs 5am-10pm Fri-Sat 12pm-10pm Sun 12pm-8pm Closed Mon-Tues
Another brewery at the helm of San Antonio’s booze production revolution is the award-winning Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling. An industrial brewstillery, it offers a wide selection of handcrafted microbrews and whiskies, as well as running organised tours every Saturday that invite guests to learn about the beer and whisky-making process, while sampling some delectable tasters too. There are also regular tasting room events that include a rotating food and drinks-pairing menu, plus on-site food trucks, jazz and cocktail nights, artisan markets, and plenty more.
4834 Whirlwind Drive / Mon-Thurs 10am-4pm Fri-Sat 12pm-9pm Closed Sun
Embark on a regional wine odyssey
The Texas Hill Country is a unique destination with beautiful landscapes and charming small towns that may come as a surprise when traveling such a short distance away from San Antonio and Austin. Maybe even more surprising to some is the vibrant collection of 60+ wineries scattered throughout this diverse region from Austin to Fredericksburg and Lampasas to New Braunfels, all of which can be explored on the Texas Wine Trail . While most wine enthusiasts travel to particular areas for their expertise with certain varietals, the Texas Hill Country’s expansive wine portfolio showcases a breadth of styles. Each winery has its own personality, terroir and style of winemaking, yet all share a commitment to quality, hospitality and a fervent passion for what they do, with newcomers and old friends alike welcomed to join an award-winning wine experience only Texas can offer.
Enjoy a day at a fun-packed theme park
There’s nothing quite like a day at an adventure park and San Antonio is home to one of the biggest and best in the region, the 200-acre Six Flags Fiesta. Packed full of rides, games, activities, performances and fireworks shows, the park has something for every age, taste and fear levels, from adrenaline-fuelled roller-coasters to more sedate rides for younger kids, as well as time-honoured favourites such as water rapids and a wave pool. Real thrill-seekers won’t want to miss the Krypton Coaste, a floorless coaster that makes you feel like Superman as you soar along the largest steel ride of its kind in the Southwest.
LOCATION 17000 W I-10 HOURS Fri 5pm-10pm Sat 10.30am-9pm Sun 10.30am-8pm Closed Mon-Thurs
Marvel at exotic wildlife
Home to more than 500 exotic animals from around the world, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, situated a 40-minute drive north of downtown San Antonio, offers a full day’s worth of unforgettable experiences for visitors of all ages. Spread across some 400 acres of rolling hills, thickets of mesquite trees, and creek beds, the ranch has some great viewing spots, along with plenty of hands-on activities too, including the chance to feed zebras and make new furry friends at the petting barnyard.
LOCATION 26515 Natural Bridge Caverns Road HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Get a taste of the Orient at a charming tea garden
It may be better known for its Tex-Mex culture, but San Antonio is also home to a quintessentially oriental attraction. The Japanese Tea Garden is one of the city’s most cherished educational and cultural landmarks, teeming with eye-catching features including charming walkways, stone arch bridges, a large pagoda, a koi pond, a cascading waterfall, and a Japanese pavilion. Meanwhile the on-site Jingu House restaurant offers tantalising Japanese cuisine.
LOCATION 3853 North St Mary’s Street HOURS Mon-Sun 7am-5pm