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Riverwalk San Antonio
Photograph: Courtesy Visit San Antonio

The 18 best things to do in San Antonio right now

The best things to do in San Antonio go way beyond the Alamo

Written by
James Wong
Contributors
Anni Irish
&
Krista Diamond
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A relatively tiny city by Texan standards, San Antonio was traditionally a short day trip from Austin or Houston. The city has bulked up over the years, however, and the list of best things to do in San Antonio has grown in tandem; today, you can’t get away with exploring the city in a single afternoon because San An is a bonafide weekend getaway.

Long before San Antonio earned its place on national travel lists, visitors flocked to this culturally-explosive city to float down the charming River Walk, to experience Tejano culture, and of course, to ‘Remember the Alamo!’ As years passed, San Antonio grew (adding about 100,000 new residents over the past decade) and its attractions expanded to include buzzy new neighborhoods, cultural experiences, and a thriving culinary scene to boot.

What’s the best way to fill up your weekend escape? Proving its status as one of Texas’ premier travel destinations, the best things to do in San Antonio range from historic excursions to exciting bars and restaurants—here’s everything worth checking off your list.

Best things to do in San Antonio, ranked

The Pearl District, San Antonio’s hippest neighborhood, gets its name from the historic Pearl Brewery, which has since been renovated and reopened into the artsy-boutique Hotel Emma. Cram-packed with historic buildings, beautiful restaurants (we love Mon Chou Chou), charming gift shops, and art galleries, the Pearl District is a true cultural hub. You can jam to live music during the monthly night market, grab a drink or snack at the Bottling Dept Food Hall, listen to literary readings at Twig Book Shop, or do some shopping among the independent boutiques all within a few blocks.

The River Walk, also known as Paseo del Rio, is situated 20 feet below street level and spans 15 miles long. But it's a five-mile stretch in downtown San Antonio that's the most popular where homes, shops, museums, hotels, and restaurants flank the river. The stone pathways that make up this particular area are peppered with mariachi bands and river taxis that entertain people while they gaze at the beautiful architecture that surrounds them.

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Located in a complex that once housed Lone Star Brewery, the San Antonio Museum offers visitors a cultural experience unlike any other. The museum features an impressive art collection that spans over 5,000 years and touches upon many different genres, from antiquity to contemporary. However, the museum is best known for having the most impressive Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art collection in the southern United States, and an astounding Latin American art collection in the Nelson A. Rockefeller Latin American art wing. Admission for adults is $20, but SAMA offers free hours on Tuesday and Sunday.

If you fancy an artsy activity that’s a little bit boozy, head to Hopscotch. Since opening, the immersive art experience has drawn visitors who flock to get selfies with vibrant-yet-thoughtful displays from talented artists across a variety of mediums. Not to spoil the surprise, but expect plenty of mindboggling optical illusions and ample neon lights. A full-service bar turns up the fun, and many of the exhibits are themed to diversity and inclusion—proving that love is love in Texas, too.

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The Natural Bridge Caverns are the largest known commercial caverns in Texas. Discovered by four students from a San Antonio university in the 1960s, the caverns are named after a 60-foot limestone slab bridge found at the entrance. The natural wonder attracts a daily dose of tourists and locals for tours 180 feet below ground that show ancient formations and large caves. With multiple tour options and surface attractions (like obstacle courses and gem and fossil mining), there's something for everyone at Natural Bridge Caverns.

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El Mercado (or the Market Square) covers three blocks of an outdoor plaza lined with over 100 locally-owned restaurants and shops. As the largest Mexican market in the United States, El Mercado is a central staple of the cultural experience of San Antonio. Visitors to El Mercado can explore indoor and outdoor shops full of authentic Mexican crafts, snack on delicious Mexican pastries at Mi Tierra Restaurant & Bakery, and enjoy live bands and other entertainment in the plaza on the weekends.

See the best of San Antonio on a full-day tour.

If whiskey and beer are your go-to drinks, a tour of Ranger Creek Brewing and Distillery is in order. Since opening in 2010, Ranger Creek has been a beloved “brewstillery” of San Antonio and offers $10 tours that include three tastings. Beware: tours fill up quickly, so make sure to purchase a ticket in advance.

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Set against the backdrop of a Spanish Colonial mansion, the McNay Art Museum is a sight to behold. The museum is named after artist and art collector Marion Koogler McNay, who moved to San Antonio from Ohio in 1926. McNay began construction on a house in 1926 that would become the McNay Art Museum, the first modern art museum of Texas, in 1954. During her lifetime, McNay collected over 700 works of art by Diego Rivera, Van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Picasso, but today, the museum has expanded to include 22,000 pieces of art, mostly from the 19th- and 20th-centuries.  

The annual Fiesta festival originated in 1891 as a way to memorialize heroes from the Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. Tradition is upheld today as the city throws a huge extravaganza each year (dates vary) including over 50 events around town. Make sure to check out the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, held in the San Antonio River, and the Ford Mariachi Festival.

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As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves four Spanish frontier missions and entices visitors to learn more about San Antonio’s history. Step back 300 years and experience Spanish colonial history while visiting Mission Concepcion, Mission Espada, Mission San Juan, and Mission San Jose. All four missions are still home to active Catholic parishes that hold regular services. Keep in mind that the missions are spread far apart but are connected by the San Antonio River Walk Hike and Bike Path.

The Quadrangle, which was built in 1876, once held the famous Apache leader Geronimo. Today, it’s an urban military post and tourist attraction that largely draws visitors hoping to meet the resident peacocks, rabbits, deer, and turkeys that roam around the ground freely in search of food. The Fort Sam Houston museum can also be found on-site and features over 8,200 artifacts about the fort’s history.

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San Pedro Springs Park, the second oldest park in all of the U.S., is home to what's arguably one of the nation's best swimming spots. The pool in the park is surrounded by BBQ pits, picnic locations, and tennis courts. Expect 46 acres of outdoor heaven.

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This is one of the country’s most innovative children’s museums. The rotating exhibition includes an impressive spy academy, an outdoor park, spaces designed to inspire creativity, and hands-on exhibits that teach kids about science, art, sound, and more. 

 

Remember: everything is bigger in Texas, including religious iconography. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center has the largest Virgin Mary mosaic in the world. At 40-feet tall, the mosaic was constructed in the shape of a prayer candle in 2004 by artist Jesse Trevino, whose work can be found all over town. After admiring the mosaic, venture inside to learn more about the center which preserves Latino arts and culture through workshops, art shows, and dance, music, and theater programs.

 

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If taxidermy, Texas history, and beer are your things then the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum is for you. A local bellhop, Albert Friedrich, opened the saloon in 1881; at the time, if customers didn’t have enough cash to pay for drinks, Friedrich was known ton accept horns, pelts, and other objects as forms of payment. His gamble paid off: the saloon is now also a museum, displaying eclectic oddities that the owner collected over the years (think rattlesnakes in jars, antlers, and much more). Today, the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum has expanded to include a Texas Ranger Museum with quirky rotating exhibits, a cafe, and the original bar where Pancho Villa is said to have planned the Mexican Revolution and Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders.

Swing by the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum with a Go San Antonio City Explorer Pass.

Founded in 1718, San Antonio is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Given all that history, it’s only natural for residents to expect a ghost or two. Alamo City Ghost Tours immerses you in the city’s paranormal activity scene while recounting grisly tales of public executions, death, and murder that occurred along the streets and alleys of downtown San Antonio.

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