Beautiful Things to do in San Antonio

February 11, 2021
Things to Do in San Antonio

Truly, our hearts were left in San Antonio.  Once upon a time we lived here (it was last year), and we loved every minute of it.  The culture of this city is unlike any we’ve ever visited.  It is a fun and friendly blend of American and Mexican culture, married together is such a way that it brings out the best of everything.  

Downtown San Antonio is safe and clean.  There is the basic tourist-y area near the Alamo and Riverwalk that collects most of the visitors.  The Historic Market Square, Tower of the America’s, San Antonio Missions, and King William district are all within walking distance to downtown as well.  

There are also many great things to do outside of the city.  San Antonio is surrounded by small towns like Fredricksburg, Bandera, Gruene, Helotes, Boerne, Luling, and many more that are all worth exploring.  The hill country region is rich in history and rife with swimming holes.

We have tried to blend some of our favorite places with the traditional tourist attractions to create a well-rounded list of things to do.  We understand that many folks will stick to the downtown area and get the usual San Antonio experience, and there is nothing wrong with that!  However, if you have the time, consider taking a drive to some of the other locations.  It’s worth it.

1.  River Walk

Things to Do in San Antonio

The River Walk is a collection of stores and restaurants that line a meandering river amid the downtown buildings.  Tour boats run beneath colorfully lit trees, telling the history of the city and its landmarks.  Restaurant seating intimately lines the walking paths.  Footbridges whimsically cross the river.  Horse drawn carriages straight out of Cinderella make fairytale dreams come true.  This is a tourist destination (and that’s ok).

The River Walk is easily one of our favorite things we’ve ever done.  We came here while considering a move to San Antonio and fell in love immediately.  The ambiance is magical, especially at night.  

We recommend staying in a hotel on the river (if you can swing it).  Honestly, the food isn’t that great at most of the restaurants.  Try Acenar if you like Mexican, and Biga on the Banks for fine dining.

2.  Port Aransas and Padre Island National Seashore

Things to Do in San Antonio

Port Aransas is the nearest coastal town (besides Corpus Christi) to San Antonio.  The drive is over two hours and totally worth it.  You can drive through Corpus to get there, or turn north through Aransas Pass and take the free ferry over to the island.

The beach on Mustang Island runs over twenty miles.  The water is warm and soothing (never mind that it’s brown, you’ll get over it).  The fishing is terrific right from shore, off the pier, or on the jetty that seems to stretch for miles into the sea.  Folks navigate the beach in golf carts.  Waving hands and smiles from strangers are never in short supply.  At night you can catch Atlantic ghost crabs.

The town of Port Aransas is friendly and beachy with lots to offer.  The houses are colorful.  The ice cream and candy are plentiful.  The restaurants are good!  We strongly recommend Irie’s Island Food (amazing), or Padre Island Burger Company (must-do every time we visit the coast).  

3.  Hamilton Pool

Things to Do in San Antonio

Between San Antonio and Austin is a small town called Dripping Springs.  There isn’t much to do here except visit the incredible oasis known as Hamilton Pool.

Hamilton Pool was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed.  Picture a river cascading thirty feet into a perfect blue/green lagoon that is backdropped by an above ground cavern, and there’s a sandy beach in the sunlight, and the whole place is surrounded by trees.  It’s paradisiacal.  

The downside is that you’ll need to reserve your tickets far in advance, as it books out for the season very fast.  Also, the timeslots allow for only 3.5 hours at the park.  Choose the AM or PM slot, either one is great.  Bring food and water, as none will be available.

4.  Garner State Park

Things to Do in San Antonio

Floating the river in San Antonio is a splendid way to spend the day.  While certainly not the only floatable river in the city, the Frio River is a popular place to float, and home to a bevy of outfitters to help you get on the water.

Garner State Park is a gorgeous setting with river access amidst the Frio’s most popular stretch.  The beauty with GSP is there isn’t a need to float away at all.  The river here is slow, and you can linger in perfectly clear, cool river water shallow enough for children to play.  

Cypress trees line both shores of the river and it seems like there’s a rope swing in every one.  Bomb from the trees or drop anchor and read a book.  For a little exercise, hike to the top of Mt. Baldy, the quintessential backdrop for the scene.  Everyone is having a good time here.

5.  The Alamo and San Antonio Missions

Things to Do in San Antonio

With 2.5 million visitors yearly, The Alamo is the top tourist attraction in all of Texas.  Most everyone who travels to San Antonio will take at least a moment to check out the ultimate symbol of American bravery.  So revered is the Alamo that no building can ever be constructed that will cast a shadow on it.

According to historians, the Texian army defeated Santa Anna’s army in the battle of San Jacinto in 18 minutes.  You can tour the facility in less than that, or take some snapshots from outside the building.  Frankly, it’s an old building with little inside, but the history is priceless and it’s a worthy tour when in town.

The Alamo is the first of five Spanish Frontier Missions that stretch southward over eight miles.  The missions were small towns that operated as schools, churches, farms, and fortresses.  The early missionaries brought locals in to provide basic education and religion.  The San Jose Mission is probably the best preserved and provides a great representation of what life was like here hundreds of years ago.

6.  Historic Market Square

Things to Do in San Antonio

Have you ever walked into a place and the energy felt great?  Of course you have.  Well, that was our impression of the Historic Market Square.  This is the Mexican cultural hotspot in downtown San Antonio.  The Market is like a party for the senses, with over three blocks of stores, restaurants, food carts, colorful décor and live music.  If you’re looking to bring home some souvenirs, the HMS has over 100 shops that sell clothing, handcrafts, and decorations.

The market is open most every weekend year-round.  The most famous restaurant, Mi Tierre Café, is tourist central.  It has a beautiful bakery and the food is OK.  If you’re hankering for good Mexican food, try Rosario’s Mexican Café Y Cantina.  It’s a 20-minute walk from here, in the historic King William neighborhood.  The King William neighborhood has some grand, historic manors and hip hangouts. It makes for a fun-filled date-night all by itself.

7.  Fiesta — Battle of the Flowers

Things to Do in San Antonio

Fiesta is San Antonio’s signature event.  Also known as The Battle of the Flowers, the festival commemorates the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.  More than 3 million people take part in over 100 events around the city for ten days in mid-April.  

The list of events is staggering, a menu of good times that cannot be consumed in a single year.   Some of the most popular events are the River Walk boat parade, NIOSA, A Taste of New Orleans, Oyster Bake, and Fiesta in Blue.  Two evenings of concerts are put on in downtown SA.  The Battle of the Flowers parade, the oldest event, is hosted entirely by women and draws 350,000 people on the second day of the festival.  

Every year dozens of souvenir pins are created and sold.  Some folks have collected the pins for decades (and wear them all at once).

NIOSA (Night In Old San Antonio), is a four-night block party in downtown.  Mention it to most anyone and you’ll get a head shake or chuckle – it is notoriously crowded.  Incredible food items from different countries are served from specialty booths for good prices.  Enjoy beignets, baklava, fried ravioli, gyros, frog legs, sopapillas, bratwurst, and cowboy klopse.  While it becomes quite the party at night, the vibe is awesome, live music is everywhere, and the people are friendly despite the crowds.  Bring cash, patience, and an appetite for a one-of-a-kind experience.

8.  Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Things to Do in San Antonio

Normally we wouldn’t put a chain business as a top ten attraction.  It would be easy to include Sea World or Topgolf because they are great things to do in San Antonio.  All that aside, we spent more time at Six Flags than anywhere except home, work, school, or church.  It would be disingenuous to not include it.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas is one of the better Six Flags rollercoaster parks.  It has the added benefit of being undercrowded and clean.  If you can visit early in the year (Feb-April), the weather is temperate and the crowds are light.  The waterpark opens in summer and it’s a pretty good one.  

Be sure to ride the Iron Rattler, which boasts a 171’ drop at 81 degrees and a top speed of 70 mph, and the Superman, our personal favorites. 

One last thing:  Fiesta Texas does Fright Fest better than anyone.  With a half-dozen haunted houses, multiple “scare zones”, and a devilish assortment of zombies, clowns, and mutants dedicated to their craft, Fright Fest delivers the goods.  When you hear the creepy sounds blast through the speakers at 7 PM, its time to hide your children.

9.  Tower of the Americas Chart House Restaurant

Things to Do in San Antonio

“Churro and a cupcake” is how we’ve heard the Tower of the America’s described.  It’s hard to see it any other way now.  

A 15-minute walk from the Alamo, the tower resides in a pretty park with fountains and giftshops.  The elevator ride is fast and fun.  The views from the top are as good as you’ll find in San Antonio – which isn’t the world’s most scenic city, not gonna lie.  Nonetheless, earth looks good from 600 feet up wherever you are, especially as the sun sets and the city lights up.

We’ve found this is our go-to place for fancy dinners.  The service is fantastic, the food is delicious, the prices are reasonable, and the view changes as the restaurant revolves.  

10.  Original City Market BBQ in Luling

Things to Do in San Antonio

As sure as the sun will rise, San Antonians are gonna eat BBQ.  You’re going to hear a lot of conflicting information about BBQ, especially in this town.  In our opinion, the best BBQ is in Austin.  However, if you’re in San Antonio and want to eat some mouth-watering, tell your grandkids about it BBQ, don’t just go to Rudy’s and pretend it was amazing (its good, not great).  We recommend you drive east to Luling, Texas.

The Original City Market BBQ is the best BBQ we had while in Texas (along w/ la BBQ in Austin).  The place is well-known.  It’s on the humble side – imagine convenience store meets cafeteria in 1978.  You might think you’re in the wrong place when you enter.

In the back of the “restaurant” is the smokehouse.  Enter through the door on the right – there will probably be a line.  Once inside everything will come into focus and you’ll understand.  The hot sausage is divine.  The brisket and ribs are first rate.  See the ladies at the kiosk for an assortment of scrumptious sides.  They’ll hand you a bottle of homemade BBQ sauce if you like.  Use it all and ask for another.  Drink that #$%@ like soda pop.  

Notes:

Best for Children: River Walk, Garner State Park, Six Flags

Best Time to Visit: March/April and November.

The weather is unpredictable in San Antonio. Daily swings in temperature are common. Storms are unpredictable. June through September is hot.

Best Family Adventure: Hamilton Pool, Garner State Park

Most Romantic: Tower of the Americas, Fiesta

Best for Photos: San Antonio Missions, Hamilton Pool

Best for Hiking: Garner State Park, Enchanted Rock

Map of San Antonio: Click Here

Things to Do in San Antonio

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