This historic Texan city is often considered to be the home of Texan liberty as it is where the Battle of the Alamo was fought. The city has grown rather a lot since it was founded in the eighteenth century, and is now the third largest city in Texas, and is among the largest cities in the country. Here are some of the best things to do in San Antonio.
Some of the earliest history in the city is seen in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which is a part of the Spanish attempt to settle and control this area of Texas from the seventeenth century onwards. This is a great place to visit, offering a blend of history, culture and the wealth of different attractions to enjoy as well.
Why Is San Antonio A Great Place To Visit?
San Antonio is a city that has a little something for everyone, and when it comes to thrills and spills, you will certainly find that it doesn’t fall short when compared with some of the major cities across the country. If seeing some of the most interesting marine wildlife in the world is your thing, then Seaworld offers the thrills of a water park with some fascinating attractions with penguins, seals and sea lions, along with a killer whale. Six Flags Fiesta Texas is the largest of the amusement parks in the city, and has some great rides to enjoy along with a selection of shows.
The history of the city is one of the major attractions for many, with The Alamo building being a former mission that was the site of the famous battle. It is only a small place, but is such a key part of the country’s history. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is home to another four Spanish missions that were located to the southern side of modern San Antonio, and offers more of a look at this way of life. For a look at the cultural history of the city, the Aztec on the River is an interesting theatre that was recently restored, and has a Wurlitzer organ, while it is also worth taking time for a stroll around the River Walk and King William Historic area.
If you are a little more pressed for time, and looking to squeeze in as much of San Antonio as you can, then there are also several different tour options available, including helicopter, Segway and kayaking tours, to complement the usual bus and walking tours. The city hosts a range of events every year as well, including the largest indoor rodeo in the country, and the Texas Folklife Festival celebrating the ethnic and cultural history of the city. However, it is the Fiesta celebrations at the end of April that tend to draw the largest crowds, with a great combination of music, entertainment and great food and drink.
Like most major cities, the downtown area of the city is where you will find the majority of the business community and the local government centers, but here in San Antonio this rubs shoulders with the city’s great history. The Alamo Plaza historic district is one of these areas, and no visit to San Antonio is complete without a look around this historic mission, the birthplace of Texan freedom. The San Fernando Cathedral is another historic building in this area facing on to the main plaza, and is well worth a visit, having also played its role in the siege of the Alamo when it was taken by the Mexican forces and a flag of ‘no quarter’ was raised.
Downtown is certainly not just about taking quiet reflection on the history of Texas, as it is also a lively bustling area with shopping, entertainment and attractions to explore. The River Walk is a pleasant area for a stroll but is also one of the best leisure areas of the city, with a wealth of bars and restaurants to enjoy, while another great option is to take in a show at The Majestic Theater. You can also take one of the boat tours of the city center here, which offers a different perspective on San Antonio.
One other activity not to miss during a visit to this part of the city is the Tower of Americas, which spent much of the twentieth century as the largest observation tower in the country. At 750 feet tall, it offers panoramic views across the city, and while you can climb the 952 steps, most people will take the elevator!
As this is the city center, there is no shortage of accommodation available, and here are a couple of the options on offer in downtown San Antonio:
Budget – The Inn At Alamo / Riverwalk – Offering comfortable but basic accommodation, this hotel is within easy walking distance of the attractions of the downtown area. Rooms are air conditioned with a free breakfast, while there is also an outdoor pool. Rates start at around $50 a night.
Mid-range – Emily Morgan Hotel – This historic hotel is one of the oldest high-rise buildings in the city, and was converted into a pleasant hotel which offers well furnished accommodation. Rooms offer flat screen TVs, desks and hot drinks facilities, along with access to the outdoor pool. Rates begin from around $120 per night.
Luxury – Grand Hyatt San Antonio – In an ideal location for the River Walk area, this hotel is well furnished with luxury beds, large TVs and some great city views. The hotel has a large fitness center, and the rooftop pool is a very attractive feature. Rooms from around $176 per night.
Just to the north of the main downtown district of San Antonio is Midtown, a vibrant combination of urban residential areas with good access to the city center and a range of boutique shopping areas and entertainment and arts venues. The site of the former Pearl Brewery, which produced much of San Antonio’s beer for over a century is one place to visit here, with the Wednesday and Friday farmers’ market offering a relaxed place to explore, shop and see some of the district. There are several lively nightlife areas in Midtown too, including the gay village of the city.
There are also some nice attractions worth visiting in Midtown as well, with the San Antonio Zoo being one of these interesting places with over 750 different animal species to see here. The different areas include an impressive bear enclosure and a collection of wild cats such as lions, along with some of the herbivores of Africa including rhinoceros and giraffes. There is also a large aquarium of marine animals to see here as well. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens are also worth visiting, offering an idyll of peace where you can explore the beautiful plants of the area and see the birds and butterflies there.
There are fewer accommodation options in this part of the city, but it is easily accessible from the Downtown district.
Here are a couple of options in the Midtown area:
Budget – Americas Best Value Inn – This basic hotel to the north east of the downtown district offers simple accommodation, with air conditioned rooms that also have a TV and Wi-Fi. The hotel also has a small outdoor pool area. Rates from $50 per night.
Mid-range – Bonner Gardens Bed and Breakfast – This attractive bed and breakfast is housed in a pleasant spacious house in the Monte Vista area, with a lovely pool and high ceilings. The rooms are tastefully decorated and furnished, and are very comfortable. Rooms from $80 per night.
The area directly to the south of the main Downtown business district of the city, Southtown is another vibrant urban area that is well known for the wide range of galleries, arts spaces and theatre venues in this part of San Antonio. While Austin may be known for its ’weird’ atmosphere, Southtown was once dubbed the most eccentric area in Texas by a local magazine. South Flores Street is a particularly popular area among artists, performers and musicians, and you will find plenty of artists and temporary exhibitions to enjoy here. At the heart of this district is the Blue Star Arts Complex, which is a large arts space that has regularly changing exhibitions.
There are plenty of opportunities to relax and hang out in this part of the city as well, including ‘The Friendly Spot’ with its regular outdoor movie showings. First Friday of the month is also an event in this district, when local vendors and street performers come together to give the area a wonderful atmosphere, combining a street market and bustling range of live entertainment.
As this is more of a residential area, the hotels aren’t as common as they are downtown, but still a few good options to try:
Budget – Studio 6 San Antonio – Located just off the I-35, this hotel offers a convenient location for Southtown and is within reach of the downtown area. This hotel has simple rooms with cable TV and coffee making facilities, and is a great base for exploring the city on a budget. Rooms begin at $50.
Mid-range – Best Western Alamo Suites – This comfortable hotel is another with a good location for the Southtown area, and features kingsize beds and basic kitchen facilities including a microwave and refrigerator. The hotel also enjoys an indoor pool and hot tub. Rooms from around $80.
Mid-range – Candlewood Suites San Antonio Downtown –The suites at this hotel include a large comfortable bed and sitting area, along with a kitchenette so that you can cook for yourself. The hotel also offers a fitness suite and swimming pool, with rates beginning from around $100 per night.
North And Northwest San Antonio
Generally considered to be the more upmarket area of San Antonio’s suburbs, the north and northwest of the city are also home to some of the city’s larger attractions. One of the main attractions of this area is the Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park, which occupies a large site that once served as a limestone quarry for the city. The park has a range of big roller coasters that will throw visitors in all directions, along with a water park, and several venues that offer shows and themed performances throughout the different areas of the park.
There are several shopping areas to be found in this part of the city, with a range of shopping malls, including The Shops at La Cantera which has some of the top luxury name stores to explore. Another of the theme park attractions to be found in this part of the city is Morgan’s Wonderland, which is a great theme park for younger visitors. They offer some exciting rides and the park is also known for its focus on accessibility, which helps to provide rides and entertainment that are just as fun for disabled visitors.
Because this is a large area of the city, there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from, including the following options:
Budget – Best Western Plus Medical Center South – This hotel offers rooms that are simple and comfortable, with a desk, TV and refrigerator. The hotel also has an outdoor pool and fitness center, along with having a free breakfast as well. Rooms from $60 per night.
Mid-range – La Quinta by Wyndham – Located just off the Western Loop highway in Northwest San Antonio, this hotel offers spacious suites with a sitting area and TV. The hotel has a nice outdoor pool and the breakfast is included in the room price. Rates begin from $80 per night.
Luxury – Home 2 Suites by Hilton – This comfortable hotel is located near the city airport, and has spacious suites with a lounge area and big screen TV, along with a small cooking area. Breakfast is included, and the outdoor area of the hotel has a swimming pool and grill area, and there is also a small snack shop and pantry store on-site. Rates begin at $110 per night.
South San Antonio
While San Antonio’s most famous Spanish mission is that at the Alamo, the South of the city is also home to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which is home to four more historical Spanish missions. These were built in the area between 1690 and 1720, and they were founded by the Catholic Spanish missionaries with the idea of helping to spread Catholic Christianity among the Native Americans living in these areas. The best preserved of the four is Mission Concepción, which is an impressive building with a sanctuary, nave, convent and granary area, with some impressive fresco and painting work in the building.
The South of the city is also home to several outdoor areas that are worth a visit, and the Republic Golf Club is one of the areas where you can play eighteen holes while also enjoying some nice views of Salado Creek as you play. For those with an interest in nature, there are many bird species to be seen at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, which is a peaceful park worth a visit. One of the features of the south of the city is that it does have some military facilities, and this has led to the Texas Air Museum being hosted in the city, and has some military aircraft along with some early examples of airplanes that can be viewed as well.
As a mainly residential part of the city, there are fewer hotels to be found, but you will still find several options to try.
Budget – Roosevelt Inn Motel – Offering simple accommodation that has large beds, the rooms here have air conditioning and a flat screen TV. There are also nearby leisure facilities including a tennis court and golf course, and vending machines available. Rooms begin from $45.
Mid-range – Mission Inn – Rooms here have cable television and air conditioning, and a small sitting area for relaxing. Located a short drive from the Missions in the city, this hotel also offers microwaves and refrigerators in each room. Rates begin from $59 per night.
Mid-range – Holiday Inn Express San Antonio South – This hotel offers rooms that are well furnished that have cable and satellite TV channels, air conditioning and a work desk. Breakfast is include in the rate, and the hotel also has a fitness center and outdoor swimming pool. Rooms begin from around $79.
East San Antonio
The east of the city is a varied area which has several large stadiums and venues where people will go to enjoy music and entertainment in the city. The AT&T Center is home to the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, and is also the home of the San Antonio Rampage, who play in the American Hockey League. The AT&T Center is home to the annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, which draws over two million visitors to enjoy the rodeo displays and the range of livestock on display. The Alamodome is also located in the east of the city, and is mainly home to the University of Texas Roadrunners and the San Antonio Commanders, who both play American football.
East San Antonio was historically the African-American district of the city, and Ellis Alley was one of the first areas where the historic homes were built along this street, while the Knob Hill district is also home to some of the grand old homes of the city. The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum has a collection looking at the history of this part of the city and the role the community played in the development of San Antonio. If you do find that you need to cool off, Splashtown is the place to go, being a water park offering plenty of rides, flumes and pools to help you relax.
There are several accommodation options that you can take advantage of in the east of the city, including:
Budget – Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham San Antonio – This hotel offers comfortable accommodation with rooms having air conditioning, along with a microwave and refrigerator. There is breakfast included, while there is also a swimming pool and hot tub, along with a fitness center. Rates begin at around $52 per night.
Mid-range – Super 8 by Wyndham San Antonio – Located just off the I-10 and in a good location for the AT&T center, this hotel offers comfortable rooms and is decorated in a quirky style. Rooms have coffee makers and refrigerators, while there is also a small outdoor pool. Rooms from around $90 a night.
Mid-range – Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites San Antonio SE – The air conditioned rooms of this hotel offer comfortable and spacious accommodation, with a couch and large beds. There are also cable and satellite channels on the flat screen TV, while there is also a small fitness center and swimming pool. Rooms begin from $96.
Travel To And Getting Around San Antonio
For international visitors or those who are traveling from quite a distance, the city is served by the San Antonio International Airport with over thirty different routes from the US and across the world. The airport is located in the north of the city, but the bus to the downtown area is cheap and usually takes around 30 minutes, while there are also taxis available. San Antonio also has an Amtrak station with routes to Chicago, Los Angeles and New Orleans. There are also buses with national routes and routes to Mexico as well.
When it comes to getting around the city, buses are operated by VIA Metropolitan Transit, with several different types of services that you can use. The express routes are usually those connecting the city center areas with the suburbs and only have a few stops, while the metro and frequent routes have more stops. There are also a few skip routes which miss several stops, so it is worth checking the route you need before hopping on a bus. There are also plenty of taxi cabs available throughout the city, but if you are looking to explore some of the other attractions outside the city center, car rentals are also an option.
Food And Drink In The City
As you would expect in such a large city, there is certainly no shortage of places to eat and drink during your visit, whether you stay in the city center or head out to some of the other districts of San Antonio. The Riverside area is probably the place to head if you are looking to find the widest range of restaurants available, while the Pearl Brewery development and the Blue Star area of Southtown also have a range of interesting restaurants to try. When it comes to taking a night out in San Antonio, downtown generally has the biggest collection of bars, with Howl at the Moon being an interesting spot with a live show and some great piano covers and music to enjoy along with a few drinks.
One of the signature dishes that is found in restaurants across San Antonio is puffy tacos, where the tacos are deep fried to puff the dough up, which can then be filled with chicken, beef or the usual taco fillings. Another of the dishes found in many restaurants across San Antonio is chicken fried steak, which is essentially a tender piece of steak that has been breaded and deep fried, before being covered in a peppery cream sauce. You will also find a wide range of other cuisines on offer here as well, with Mexican food certainly taking pride of place in many restaurants, along with a great series of upmarket options in the downtown area.