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Photograph: Courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art

The 11 best museums in San Antonio

Whether you’re into dinosaurs, ancient Egyptians or modern art, here are the best of the brilliant museums in San Antonio

James Wong
Written by
Alex Temblador
&
James Wong
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Museums may not be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting San Antonio, but rest assured, the city has come a long way over the years. At one time it was all about the River Walk and The Alamo, but not anymore. Today, they share the limelight among a heap of attractions, food, outdoor activities, and family fun, and there’s more en route.

What’s great about San Antonio’s museums is that they cater to a broad spectrum of tastes, and what’s more, they’re surprisingly good for an under-the-radar city. There are art museums that are architectural masterpieces in their own right, funky new warehouses with futuristic immersive creations, and even old-school, slightly scary, displays of um, Texan trophies (you’ll see). For a dose of weird, provocative, and awe-inspiring, take your pick from our list of the 11 best museums in San Antonio.


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Best museums in San Antonio

Let’s start with the coolest art gallery to hit the scene in recent years: Hopscotch. The 20,000 sq ft space hosts a variety of immersive and interactive installations by the hippest local, national and international artists around. These exhibits rotate, so you could be in for a surprise - and no matter what selection you stumble upon, be sure to have that phone on full charge. It’s all IG gold. There’s also a bar on-site, and drinks are permitted in the gallery - meaning that those who aren’t big on the camera roll, can let the fun times roll, instead.

Stroll down the River Walk and you’ll come upon one of San Antonio’s most prized attractions: the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). Set in what was once the Lone Star Brewery, SAMA delights visitors with art that spans over 5,000 years from all parts of the globe. They’re best known for having the most comprehensive collection of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art in the southern United States, but there's also a fabulous Latin American art wing and contemporary galleries to explore. 

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After a day spent exploring Brackenridge Park, stop in the park’s very own museum, Witte Museum, to learn everything about the past and present-day of Texas. The Witte Museum focuses on bringing the nature, science, and art history of Texas to life with exhibits that focus on the geological record of the state, what the dinosaurs of Texas left behind, and how prehistoric humans lived off the land. Not everything in the museum focuses on Texas or ancient times. The Witte Museum also has art galleries filled with unique and more contemporary art like Native American yarn paintings, as well as special temporary exhibits like, “Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids,” which examines the history and science behind myths.  

The McNay Art Museum was the first modern art museum in Texas, and it's all thanks to artist and art collector Marion Koogler-McNay. During her lifetime, Koogler-McNay collected 700 contemporary works of art by artists like Diego Rivera, Picasso, Chagall, and Matisse, as well as Southwest art and 19th- and 20th-century European and American paintings. Following her death, the McNay Art Museum was established using McNay’s extensive collection housed in her Spanish Colonial-Revival home. Today, the museum has expanded the collection and also features a sculpture gallery and garden. 

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Who can jump the highest? What was the largest tomato on record? Find these answers and more at San Antonio’s Guinness World Records Museum. The museum highlights World Records across a variety of genres like space, sports, animals, and food. With 10,000 square feet and 16 themed galleries with artifacts, visitors will lose track of time playing with the hands-on exhibits, games, and touch screen computers. Don’t forget to attempt to earn a Guinness World Record Title in the museum’s Attempt Arena.

The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum (which is actually two museums in one) is about as quirky as a museum can get. The museum started with saloon owner Albert Friedrich in 1881 when Friedrich started accepting quirky items like antlers and stuffed animals in exchange for alcohol. The tradition continued throughout Friedrich’s lifetime, resulting in a collection of 520 species of wildlife and oddities, many of which are record-holders, like a 1,056-pound black marlin, a 10,000-year-old pre-historic Irish elk, and the renowned 78 Point Buck. Also on-site is the Texas Rangers Museum, which features artifacts from famous Rangers like Ray Martinez, Joaquin Jackson, Frank Hamer, and John B. Armstrong. 

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Did you know that Texas is a melting pot of vibrant cultures? Well, the best place to discover that firsthand is the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures. This museum features exhibits and programs that examine the dances, music, food, traditions, and art of the various cultures that make up the Lone Star State. Rotating exhibits highlight everything from the Filipino Texan experience to African American fashion in the state, while some exhibits are more playful like “Tequila in Texas” and “Metal Culture.”

The wild, wild west is brought to life at the Briscoe Western Art Museum where art exhibits highlight western history from pre-colonial days to the first settlers and the peak of Texas ranchers. You’ll discover western paintings, as well as unconventional items of art such as covered wagons and Pancho Villa’s saddle. Don’t forget to explore the culture garden which has bronze sculptures that depict life in the American West. 

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The DoSeum is a two-story museum that encourages kids to learn about science, art, and literacy through hands-on exhibits, activities, and experiments. Parents will be pleased to watch their children engage with exhibits that teach them to create and build something new (or graduate from the Spy Academy), but kids will be equally thrilled to spend time at the DoSeum’s outdoor playground.

Learn about one of the most tragic events in human history at the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio. The museum is divided by three distinct exhibits, which explain how the Holocaust began, the Nazi’s rise to power, and what the Jewish people endured in death camps and under Nazi rule. Some smaller exhibits showcase America’s involvement in the Holocaust or tell the stories of Holocaust survivors who settled in San Antonio. The museum is free and offers a unique opportunity for visitors to be led on a tour by a local survivor. 

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Heiress to the Pace salsa fortune, Linda Pace, had a dream to create a free museum where she could exhibit her art collection. Though she died before it was finished, Pace’s dream came true. Known as Ruby City, the museum is a crimson-colored building with an eye-catching design (inspired by a drawing Pace created herself) by architect David Adjaye.  Ruby City is a contemporary art museum that shows the work of international artists like Alejandro Diaz and Ana Fernandez and aims to highlight impactful art that examines the diverse social and political perspectives of our day.  

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