Top 12 Things to Do in San Antonio, Texas

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Emily Johnson

From its colonial missions and Old West legends to vibrant cultural festivals, San Antonio offers visitors an incredible diversity of sights and attractions. As one of America’s fastest growing cities, San Antonio seamlessly blends historical charm with modern urban amenities. Iconic landmarks like the Alamo and Riverwalk now share the stage with world class museums, restaurants, and shopping.

AttractionDescription
The AlamoIconic historical site and museum.
San Antonio RiverwalkVibrant waterfront with dining and shops.
The Missions of San AntonioUNESCO World Heritage Site with missions.
Six Flags Fiesta TexasTheme park with rides and entertainment.
San Antonio Museum of ArtArt museum with diverse collections.
Natural Bridge CavernsLarge cave system with tours.
San Antonio Botanical GardensGardens with global plant collections.
Tower of the AmericasObservation tower with city views.
San Fernando CathedralOldest operating cathedral in the U.S.
Market SquareLarge Mexican market with shops and food.
Japanese Tea GardensBeautifully landscaped gardens and tea house.
Natural Bridge Wildlife RanchDrive-thru zoo with exotic animals.

With so much to experience across San Antonio’s distinctive neighborhoods, paring down just twelve top things to do proves challenging. But if limited time demands tough choices, make sure your San Antonio itinerary includes these essential attractions and activities.

The Alamo

Name and Location: The Alamo is located right in the heart of downtown San Antonio, originally founded as Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718. It sits on Alamo Plaza along the San Antonio River Walk.

History and Significance: The Alamo was site of the legendary 1836 battle where Mexican troops seized the former mission compound from Texian defenders. Today it represents a shrine of Texas Liberty and independence, leaving a lasting legacy.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore the grounds, see artifacts from the 1836 battle, and visit the Shrine, Long Barrack Museum, Gardens and Gift Shop. Reenactments and historical demonstrations bring the history to life.

Visitor Information: The Alamo is open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas day. No admission fee is charged. Guided tours and audio guides are available for purchase.

No trip to San Antonio would be complete without visiting its most iconic landmark. The Alamo serves as hallowed ground commemorating the 1836 Battle of the Alamo where 189 Texan defenders fought and died fighting for Texas independence from Mexico. Today the Alamo still stands, now preserved as a museum and shrine within an urban park just north of downtown. Visitors can tour the grounds for free and view artifacts like Davy Crockett’s buckskin vest or Jim Bowie’s legendary knife. While the site sees over 2.5 million visitors per year, an air of reverence remains palpable, punctuated by the ghostly memories of cannon blasts and battle cries. Make sure to visit the Alamo at night too after the crowds leave to fully absorb the epic history.

The San Antonio Riverwalk

Name and Location: The San Antonio River Walk is located along the San Antonio River in downtown San Antonio, running 15 miles through the city center along both banks, one story below street level.

History and Significance: Originally developed in 1939 as a Works Progress Administration project to control flooding, the River Walk has transformed into one of the most popular pedestrian waterfronts frequented by visitors and locals alike, lined with shops, restaurants, bars and attractions.

What to Expect: Visitors can meander along stone paths and pedestrians bridges overlooking the river and waterfalls. Highlights include outdoor dining, boat tours, street performers, riverside shopping at places like Rivercenter Mall and the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Visitor Information: The Riverwalk is open 24/7 for free public access. Boat tour tickets can be purchased from operators near most entry points.

Without a doubt the number one attraction bringing over 14 million annual visitors to San Antonio, the charming Riverwalk transforms downtown into a vibrant pedestrian waterfront. Lined with lively restaurants, bars, boutiques and attractions, the cobblestone paths and vaulted bridges along the San Antonio River provide 15 miles of scenic walking to enjoy. Outdoor patios everywhere encourage grabbing a drink or a bite while appreciating the tranquil atmosphere and people watching. Beyond downtown, the Riverwalk continues southward through lush parks and the San Antonio Museum Reach lined with public art. Visitors and locals alike flock to the Riverwalk daily to unwind while soaking up San Antonio’s unique ambience.

The Missions of San Antonio

Name and Location: The Missions of San Antonio consist of five historic Spanish frontier missions situated along the San Antonio River basin, including the Alamo. The four southern missions are part of a National Historical Park.

History and Significance: Founded in the early 18th century to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity and expand Spanish territory, the missions represent Spain’s religious and agricultural colonization efforts with self-sustaining farming communities, churches, and stoneworks.

What to Expect: Visitors tour grounds containing preserved churches, farmlands, stone aqueducts and granaries. Reenactments and Ranger programs demonstrate mission lifestyle history, blacksmithing, weaving, cooking and more.

Visitor Information: The missions are open Tues-Sunday for self guided tours. Fees are charged at some locations. Visitors can also obtain passes for the National Historical Park system.

To immerse yourself in San Antonio’s colonial foundations, make sure to visit at least one of the missions anchored along the San Antonio River. Founded in the early 1700s by Franciscan friars, these religious outposts converted indigenous peoples to Christianity while also serving as frontier settlements. Today the four best preserved missions in San Antonio stand as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with original adobe walls, chapels and frescoes. Wander through olive orchards and take in the architectural grandeur of Mission Concepción, dubbed the “Queen of Missions.” Or witness daily life within Mission San José’s walled compound. For a proper introduction to San Antonio’s early history, the missions prove both visually striking and culturally enlightening.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Name and Location: Six Flags Fiesta Texas spans 200 acres over rolling terrain in northwest San Antonio, located at the intersection of Loop 1604 and Interstate 10.

History and Significance: Opened in 1992, it was the first Six Flags park built from scratch. The park features rides, rollercoasters, entertainment, Looney Tunes characters and waterpark attractions styled after Texas culture and landmarks. Popular rides include Superman Krypton Coaster, Poltergeist and Road Runner Express.

What to Expect: Visitors enjoy rollercoasters, family rides, waterslides and pools, kid play areas, shows, seasonal events like Fright Fest, parades and character meet and greets across the park alongside dining and shopping options.

Visitor Information: Fiesta Texas is open seasonally. One day tickets, season passes and vacation packages can be purchased online. Expect crowds during peak seasons so arrive early or purchase Fast Passes.

When the summer Texas heat becomes overwhelming, cool off with a day of thrill rides, entertainment and fun at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Located north of downtown San Antonio, this expansive theme park packs in world class rollercoasters, log flumes and everything in between across its 200 acres. The park organizes into different themed sections like the old west town Rockville or medieval castle realm Excalibur. Be sure to catch a show too like the cowboy stunt performance or even seasonal events like Fright Fest. With the splashing water rides at White Water Bay next door too, Six Flags Fiesta Texas offers excitement for visitors of any age.

San Antonio Museum of Art

Name and Location: The San Antonio Museum of Art is located on the famous River Walk in downtown San Antonio, just north of the Blue Star Complex.

History and Significance: Founded in 1981, it holds a collection spanning 5,000 years of global art focused on American, Latin American and Asian collections, including works by iconic artists like Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet and Georgia O’Keeffe.

What to Expect: Guests view painting, sculptures, artifacts and textiles from antiquity through modern eras laid out over 35 galleries. Interactive touch screens provide exhibit insights on featured pieces, along with special programming and events.

Visitor Information: Open Tues-Sun, closed Mondays. General admission is $20 with senior, student and military discounts available. Family packages offered. Garage parking is located across the river.

For art lovers, San Antonio’s Museum of Art located right on the Riverwalk houses an impressive collection of ancient Mediterranean art, Asian art, Latin American art, modern American paintings and much more. The museum’s Latin American galleries shine in particular, boasting one of the most comprehensive assemblies of objects from the region. Don’t miss folk art treasures like inlaid wood furnishings or Mayan stone panels either. Spanning everything from 5000 year old Chinese ceramics to cutting edge light installations, the San Antonio Museum of Art encapsulates creative artifacts both historic and contemporary from across world cultures.

Natural Bridge Caverns

Name and Location: Natural Bridge Caverns contains magnificent cave formations found 60 feet underground on a 180 acre park site located just north of San Antonio off Interstate 35 near the city of New Braunfels.

History and Significance: Naturally carved over the course of millions of years, the caverns were discovered by students in the 1960s and soon after developed into a popular show cave experience that remains today. The limestone cavern system extends 1,000 feet wide in places.

What to Expect: Guided tours take visitors into cavern chambers revealing unique speleothems like stalactites, soda straws, stalagmites and cave pearls formed over millennia. Special adventure tours also available. Above ground activities include camping, gem mining, mini golf and more.

Visitor Information: The caverns are open daily year round aside from major holidays. General admission is $24 for a basic tour with add-on adventure tours available. Sturdy walking shoes advised. Hard hats and flashlights provided.

Looking for a cool adventure beyond the city? Make the short drive north to visit Natural Bridge Caverns, an astonishing underworld of towering stalagmite structures and glittering limestone formations. Go deep inside one of the largest cavern systems in Texas through guided tours teaching about the caves’ unique geology and ecosystems. The cathedral-like Queen’s Chamber impresses with a 180 foot long by 40 foot wide array of frozen calcite waterfall formations. Newly discovered areas contain rare shield formations unseen for over 150 million years too. For an extra thrill, try the Canopy Challenge ropes course crossing the pit cave entrance 25 feet in the air! With so much still undiscovered, Natural Bridge Caverns remains an adventure for all ages.

San Antonio Botanical Gardens

Name and Location: The San Antonio Botanical Gardens is located adjacent to historic Brackenridge Park just north of downtown San Antonio, accessible from Highway 281.

History and Significance: Opened in 1980 after quarry remediation and expansions, it contains towering bamboo groves, tropical plants, water features, Native Texan displays, an expansive rose garden and outdoor concert space laid out over 38 acres.

What to Expect: Guests traverse trails, streams and ponds passing a diversity of flowers, ornamental plants and themed gardens like the Texas Natives trail, Rose Garden, Conservatory and Japanese Garden alongside restaurant, gift shop and seasonal butterfly exhibits.

Visitor Information: The Botanical Garden is open daily aside from major holidays. Admission is $12 for adults with annual membership and volunteer options. Free parking is available on-site.

Escape into 33 acres of formal gardens, fountains, towering trees and exotic specimen plants from around the world at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens adjacent to Brackenridge Park. Especially vibrant in spring and summer, blooming roses, orchids and waterlilies populate meticulously curated beds and greenhouses. Walking paths wind underneath massive oaks, towering bamboo stands and even through a primitive Garden of Eden. Concerts, festivals, annual plant sales and classes occur year round too like gardening workshops or yoga in the gardens. For plant lovers and those looking to decompress into nature despite the urban location, the San Antonio Botanical Gardens delight across every season.

Tower of the Americas

Name and Location: The Tower of the Americas sits uniquely positioned in downtown Hemisfair Park as the tallest observation tower in San Antonio at 750 feet high, located off E Market St.

History and Significance: Constructed for the 1968 World’s Fair, the tower has provided panoramic views of San Antonio from its revolving Chart House restaurant, outdoor observation deck and 4D Skysurf Theater ride for over 50 years since opening.

What to Expect: Visitors ride glass elevators up the tower shaft to thetiered observation deck offering unparalleled 360° views of greater San Antonio or dine at the revolving restaurant to watch the city below rotate past as they eat. A basement 4D ride simulates skydiving.

Visitor Information: The Tower is open daily aside from holiday closures. Tickets run $14 with discounts for seniors, military and children. Validated parking available at Hemisfair garages. Timed-entry tickets help regulate capacity.

For unparalleled 360 degree views across San Antonio and into neighboring Texas Hill Country, head up into the iconic Tower of the Americas in Hemisfair Park. This 750 foot tall tower with observation deck, restaurant and banquet hall was constructed for the 1968 World’s Fair to symbolize San Antonio’s ambition. Take the quick elevator ride up to the Blighty Top of Texas restaurant and outdoor observation deck for panoramas reaching up to 40 miles on clear days. Come back after dark to witness the entire city glittering below too. For an unforgettable dinner, try getting reservations for New Year’s Eve when the Tower of the Americas offers front row views of San Antonio’s massive fireworks show.

San Fernando Cathedral

Name and Location: San Fernando Cathedral is located in downtown San Antonio overlooking Military Plaza as one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States.

History and Significance: Founded in 1731, this active Catholic church witnessed the Battle of the Alamo and funneled settlers west. It hosts relics and tombs of Texas Revolution heroes like Davy Crockett plus iconic images like the Virgin of Candelaria.

What to Expect: Visitors admire the cathedral’s ornate Gothic-inspired architecture and artwork inside while learning history through self-guided touring. Hourly reenactment shows bring Spanish Colonial frontiers past to life interpreted by costumed actors.

Visitor Information: The cathedral offers free self-guided tours daily, though access depends on church services and events. Guided tours available for purchase. Validated parking available at lots off Military Plaza.

As the oldest operating cathedral in the United States, San Fernando Cathedral anchors San Antonio’s main historic square a few blocks from the Alamo. Completed in 1750 as the masterpiece of frontier architecture in Texas, today the cathedral still hosts daily mass along with serving as a popular tourist attraction. Tour guides relay intriguing tales like the buried remains of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie underneath the sanctuary according to local lore. Students of history and architecture admire the ornate gilded altar and paintings. Looking above, the dazzling color streaming through stained glass windows seems to shift continuously throughout the day. For a taste of Mexican religious heritage too, San Fernando Cathedral makes an atmospheric stop.

Market Square

Name and Location: Market Square in downtown San Antonio comprises the El Mercado marketplace section centered around the Farmer’s Market Plaza between Dolorosa, Produce Row and Santa Rosa Streets.

History and Significance: For over a century, Market Square has served as the largest Mexican market outside Mexico filled with authentic imports, arts, crafts, produce and prepared foods that celebrate San Antonio’s early Spanish roots and modern Latino culture.

What to Expect: Visitors browse festive merchant stalls under brick arches and covered walkways filled with handmade crafts, textiles, jewelry, candles, paper flowers and iconic Mexican tin ornaments alongside restaurants and counter-service eateries dishing up street tacos, tortas and more in vibrant surroundings.

Visitor Information: Market Square stays open daily with many shops and restaurants open extended hours, especially on weekends when mariachi music fills the air. Garage parking is available off-site. Cash recommended for purchases.

For Mexican goods, food and culture, the Market Square area just west of downtown hosts over 100 locally owned shops and restaurants that deliver authentic ambience. Historic Market Square claims the title of the largest Mexican market outside Mexico. Wander through the bustling El Mercado marketplace under brightly colored festive decor sampling sweets, browsing handicrafts and snacking on street food. Nearby Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery runs 24 hours a day, instantly transporting diners south of the border with mariachi bands and Mexican decor. Throughout Market Square, everyday feels like a fiesta across its festive plazas and aromatic eateries. It rightfully serves as the cultural heart of San Antonio.

Japanese Tea Gardens

Name and Location: The Japanese Tea Garden is nestled inside the city’s Brackenridge Park near downtown San Antonio, centered around the Jingu House reached from Avenue B near the San Antonio Zoo.

History and Significance: Constructed for the 1968 World’s Fair to commemorate San Antonio’s ties with sister city Kumamoto, Japan, it authentically replicates Asian garden architecture, koi ponds and winding pathways over 5 acres.

What to Expect: Guest traverse stone bridges and paths around cascading waterfalls, tranquil ponds filled with huge colorful koi fish, native plants like cherry trees, bamboo shoots and pagodas imported directly from Japan before relaxing in the traditional tea house while sampling complimentary cups of green tea.

Visitor Information: The gardens remain open daily aside from some winter weekdays. Entry costs $5 for adults with annual passes and discounted rates offered. Free parking available at the site.

Within the grounds of Breckenridge Park lies one of San Antonio’s hidden scenic gems – the serene Japanese Tea Garden. Originally constructed in 1918, this five acre site creatively blends Eastern and Western ideals into a relaxing urban oasis. Winding gravel paths pass through cherry trees, water features and pagodas, creating intimate spaces to admire bonsai trees and bright koi fish seemingly at every turn. Look closely to spot stone shrines, Buddhas and other authentic touches transported from Japan. Many visitors come specifically to sample the tea house’s 65 different varieties of tea. An uplifting sense of harmony and tranquility permeates the Japanese Tea Gardens from the first step inside the gates.

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

Name and Location: Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is a 400-acre safari park located roughly 25 miles north of San Antonio near Natural Bridge Caverns, accessed from Interstate 35 between New Braunfels and San Marcos along the south access road.

History and Significance: Founded in 1974 by the Ohlen Family to shelter and protect exotic animal species from extinction while educating the public, it provides drive-through safari access viewing over 40 animal species from around the world across expansive Texas Hill Country acreage.

What to Expect: Visitors slowly drive personal vehicles along the 5-mile loop road to view exotic animals like zebras, gazelles, bison, rhinos, primates and more roaming grasslands and interacting up close beside the roadways from the safety of cars before exiting through the gift shop.

Visitor Information: The park stays open year-round for a $25 admission fee with annual memberships offered. Cash only at the main gate with cards accepted for gift shop purchases at the exit only. Call ahead during winter holiday weeks to confirm open status.

Calling itself “the drive-thru zoo,” Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch offers families a truly unique safari-like experience just north of downtown San Antonio. From the comfort of your own vehicle, traverse over 400 acres where exotic and endangered animals roam freely across natural savannas and wetlands. Prepare for ostriches to poke their heads curiously through open windows in search of snacks or a zebra to stare you down from the other side of the glass. Multiple expansions at Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch have added new drive-through sections like butterfly gardens or a petting zoo with fuzzy alpacas in recent years too. With over 500 animals and so many smile inducing close encounters, kids young and old embrace the adventure.

So there you have it – museums, theme parks, historic sites, cultural attractions and natural spaces…the top 12 things to do in San Antonio provide something for everyone. From the iconic Riverwalk to hidden neighborhood gems, San Antonio offers plenty of sites to fill any vacation itinerary. The city proudly showcases its Mexican-American cultural roots too alongside creative cosmopolitan advancements, merging heritage with an optimistic future. Visitors might come initially just to see the Alamo, but San Antonio’s warm vibe and diversity of experiences will compel you to return again and again. So come witness everything that makes San Antonio an authentic and compelling Texas destination.

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