Long before San Antonio made its way onto national travel lists, visitors flocked to this culturally-explosive city to experience Tejano culture, float down the River Walk, and of course, to ‘Remember the Alamo!’ As the years have passed, San Antonio has grown and its attractions have expanded to include new neighborhoods and cultural and historical experiences, the likes of which don’t exist in the rest of the Texas. Whether you’re visiting San Antonio for a weekend or longer, you’ll want to check out all the best restaurants, bars activities and things to do in San Antonio.
Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere. You can also learn more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world, or take a look at our list of the 50 best things to do in the world right now.
Best things to do in San Antonio
The Pearl District is one of San Antonio’s newest and most popular neighborhoods. It’s named after the historic Pearl Brewery, which has since been renovated and reopened into the artsy-boutique Hotel Emma. Filled with historic buildings, unique restaurants, 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 a literary reading at the 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. The five miles located in downtown San Antonio is the most popular section of the river, home to shops, museums, hotels, restaurants and more. 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.
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 whiskey and beer are your go-tos, then 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 offering $10 tours that include a tasting and a souvenir pint glass. Beware: The tours fill up quickly so make sure to purchase a ticket in advance.
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.
Set amidst 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.
Featuring over 45 local vendors, the Pearl Farmers Market is chock full of yummy food and beverage options for the whole family. The Pearl Farmers Market is held on Saturday and Sunday with Saturday’s market featuring only producers and Sunday’s market focusing on artisanal and prepared foods. All vendors live and work within a 150-mile-radius of the Pearl Farmers Market ensuring that visitors to the market will be supporting local food producers.
First Fridays is a free monthly festival that takes over Southtown on (you guessed it) the first Friday of every month. Live music, food offerings and open art galleries are what you can expect during San Antonio’s longest running art walk. We highly suggest spending time exploring the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and all the galleries found in the King William Historic District on First Friday.
The annual Fiesta festival originated in 1891 as a way to memorialize the heroes at the Battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. Today, the city’s biggest festival takes place over 10 days in April and includes over one hundred events around town. Make sure to check out the Battle of Flowers Parade, which draws crowds in the tens of thousands, and is the only parade planned and directed by women. The Texas Cavaliers River Parade, held in the San Antonio River, and the nighttime Fiesta Flambeau Parade, which claims to be America’s largest illuminated parade, are also worth attending.
The Natural Bridge Caverns are the largest known commercial caverns in Texas, discovered by four students from a San Antonio university in the 1960s and named after a 60-foot limestone slab bridge found at the cavern's entrance. The natural wonder attracts a large daily dose of tourists and locals interested in taking tours 180 feet below ground to see ancient formations and large caves. With multiple tour options and surface attractions like obstacle courses and gem and fossil mining, there is something for everyone at Natural Bridge Caverns.
Covering 38 acres of land, the non-profit San Antonio Botanical Garden is a family-friendly site that delights all sorts of visitors. Each season brings with it new exotic plants, desert greenery and even a rose garden that attracts a wide range of birds and insects.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Antonio Missions National Historic 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 the missions are spread far apart, but are connected by the San Antonio River Walk Hike and Bike Path.
San Pedro Springs Park is the second oldest park in all of the U.S. and it is home to what is arguably one of the nation's best swimming spots. The pool in the park is surrounded by many BBQ pits, picnic locations, and tennis courts. Expect 46 acres of outdoor heaven.
This is one of the country’s most innovative children’s museums. Expect an exciting rotating exhibition that includes a super impressive spy academy, an outdoor park, spaces that inspire creativity, and hands-on exhibits that teach kids about science, art, sound, and more. While programming is aimed at families and kids with such events like free family nights, The DoSeum does offer adults-only nights for adults to become kids again.
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.
The Quadrangle was built in 1876 and once held the famous Apache leader Geronimo. Today, it’s an urban military post and tourist attraction that largely draws visitors interested in interacting with the resident peacocks, rabbits, deer, and turkeys that roam around the ground freely, searching for food. The Fort Sam Houston museum can also be found on-site and features over 8,200 artifacts about the fort’s history.
If taxidermy, Texas history, and beer are your things then the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum is for you. Local bellhop Albert Friedrich opened the saloon in 1881. At the time, if customers didn’t have enough cash to pay for drinks, Friedrich accepted horns, pelts and other objects as forms of payments. 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, quirky rotating exhibits, a cafe that sells food, and the original bar where Pancho Villa is said to have planned the Mexican Revolution and Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders.
This former rock quarry, first conceived in the early 20th-century, has been transformed into one of the most tranquil places in the city. Wander around the open space filled with gorgeous floral displays and let your feet lead you to the 60-foot tall waterfalls surrounded by koi ponds. Hungry? Grab a snack at the Jing House Cafe on premise.
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 ghosts to interrupt their daily lives. Alamo City Ghost Tours will immerse you in the city’s paranormal activity scene recounting grisly tales of public executions, death, and murder that occured along the streets and alleys of downtown San Antonio.