11 Fun Things to Do in San Antonio
San Antonio is a wonderful city for sightseeing, but if you want to add some fun activities to your itinerary, there are some great opportunities for mini-adventures in or near the city. For a different perspective, take a cruise along the River Walk, see the Alamo and the city's historic missions on a bike ride, try progressive dining to expand your restaurant repertoire, or enroll in a short culinary workshop. If you have time to venture outside the city center, you'll find no shortage of things to do, from caving and golfing to indulging your inner cowboy in nearby Hill Country. Depending on when you plan to visit, you may even be able to enjoy the city's famous Fiesta.
1 Cruise the San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio's centerpiece is the River Walk, where stone walkways and restaurants line the San Antonio River flowing through the city center. Set below street level, this is a beautiful area with calm waters, graceful bridges, birds, and plenty of shade from large trees that tower over the banks. Most people come down here for a stroll, but one of the most relaxing ways to experience the River Walk is from the comfort of a barge on a guided tour or dinner cruise. The barges that cruise the river can hold up to 40 passengers on a basic sightseeing cruise. For dinner cruises, the barge is set with a large table in the center and can accommodate up to 20 guests. These slow-moving boat tours are a wonderful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and a great opportunity to rest your legs after a day of sightseeing.
2 Bike the Mission Trail
In 2015, the San Antonio Missions were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first such designation in the state of Texas. The five missions, including the famous Alamo (Mission Valero) were built in the early 1700s, established by the Franciscan Order in an effort by Spain to colonize and evangelize the region. Today, they are one of the city's greatest tourist attractions. If you have time to see only a few of the missions, be sure to see the Alamo, Mission San Jose, and Mission Concepción. The remaining two include Mission San Juan and Mission Espada.
To combine a little outdoor activity with your sightseeing consider biking between the missions. With a full day and the help of the city's bike share program, you can bike all the way from the Alamo in downtown to the other four missions on an eight-mile one-way ride or a 16-mile return trip. The Mission Hike and Bike Trail, which runs along the river and up to the missions, is both scenic and informative and a lovely way to spend a day. The city's BCycle makes the transportation part easy, with bike stations that accept credit cards spread out along the route where you can pick up or drop off a bicycle in 30-minute intervals. Day passes or seven-day passes are available. There are stations at all of the missions, so if you have two vehicles you can park one at either end of the trail and bike in one direction, stopping at the missions as you go. For a longer term bike rental it's also possible to rent a bike from a rental shop. One of the best areas to rent a bike and start a ride from is at the Blue Star Arts Complex.
3 Explore Caverns or Do the Canopy Challenge and Zip-Line at Natural Bridge Caverns
Less than 30 minutes from San Antonio is Natural Bridge Caverns, the largest commercial caves in Texas. These spectacular caves are known for their huge open rooms but also have narrow passages and interesting formations. Two types of cave tours are available and take approximately 70 minutes. But there are more things to do here than just touring the caves, and if you're looking for more of an adrenaline rush, try the Canopy Challenge, a course of platforms and ladders 60 feet above the ground, as well as a zip line. Younger children can also get in on the action with the Canopy Kids Course. Another above ground option at the caverns is a gem and fossil mining experience that allows kids or adults a chance to see how miners panned for gold and find and identify their own gems in mining rough. Also on site is a maze and a place to buy souvenirs, food, and fresh fudge.
4 Explore Historic Market Square (El Mercado)
Market Square is the place to go to find unique items and souvenirs. This three block strip of shops and restaurants is known for being the largest Mexican market in the United States. The indoor El Mercado sells everything from sombreros to pottery. Locally owned shops display handcrafted art works and all kinds of interesting items that range from paintings and dolls to blankets, jewelry, ponchos, dresses, shoes, musical instruments, and much more.
When you've had your fill of shopping, check out Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería for lunch, dinner, a treat from the bakery, or simply to have a look around. This restaurant is a San Antonio institution that has been in operation by the Cortez family since 1941 and is the size of an entire block. Open 24 hours a day and serving Mexican food, this one-of-a-kind restaurant is elaborately decorated with Christmas lights and fiesta flags and includes a bakery counter, with baking done right on site. Musicians stroll through the restaurant for added atmosphere. Be sure to see the huge mural on one of the dining room walls showing famous people and members of the Cortez family.
5 Shop the Farmers Market and Dine around the Pearl
The Pearl is a trendy historic district of San Antonio, with lovely restored buildings, unique shops, and a reputation for great cuisine and hip restaurants. On weekends, the Pearl is home to a lively Farmers Market, with vendors from a 150-mile radius of the city set up at tables on a pedestrian-only street, selling fresh produce, baked goods, sauces, and other specialties.
The Pearl district has become synonymous with great cuisine and wonderful dining experiences. While fine dining is a term that comes to mind, the restaurants here are not all about white table cloths and expensive entrees. This area is about atmosphere and tasty dishes. The Pearl is also home to a Culinary Institute of America campus, one of only three such campuses in the United State. The CIA, as it is more commonly known, has strong ties to this area, and its signature restaurant, the Nao Latin Gastro Bar, is located here. If you are having trouble choosing between the restaurants in this area, consider a progressive meal, with appetizers at one restaurant, dinner at another, and dessert at a third.
6 Enroll in a Culinary Boot Camp
If you ever wanted to enhance your skill level in the kitchen, San Antonio may be just the place to make it happen in a hurry. This city has the distinction of being the location of one of three Culinary Institute of America (CIA) campuses in the United States, and as a result, food is a serious topic in this city. Fortunately, the CIA has come up with a unique program for food enthusiasts who want to become better cooks. The institute offers short, Culinary Boot Camps for all kinds of culinary interests. Courses range in length from two to five days, and topics cover everything from baking to cooking and can be based on the type of food you want to cook, regional and ethnic cuisine, or holiday specialties. While there is no pre-requisite to register, there is a Basic Boot Camp for beginners who want to learn the basics before moving on to more complex classes.
7 Take a Day Trip to New Braunfels for Country Music and Small-Town Charm
About 40 minutes northeast of San Antonio is the town of New Braunfels, with charming historic areas and country music performances by some of the biggest names in the industry. The Gruene Historic District is one of the main highlights, with an old Grist Mill that has been converted into a beautiful riverside restaurant and the famous Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in America. Today, this building is still in operation, with live music performances every day. Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, and George Strait are just some of the performers who have graced this small stage over the years. Also not to be missed is the General Store, which looks like it might have been transplanted here from a whole other era.
If you are visiting during the summer, there are all kinds of things to do, including tubing down the Guadalupe River. On hot days, the river is almost clogged with tubers floating along, enjoying the sun. You can also combine a trip to New Braunfels with a stop at Natural Bridge Caverns for a full day adventure.
8 Experience San Antonio | The Saga at Main Plaza
For some light entertainment after dinner, head down to Main Plaza to see one of San Antonio's most visually compelling attractions. The Saga is a unique visual experience offered free of charge every evening. This video art installation, created by Xavier de Richemont, is a 24-minute video, with choreographed music and narration, projected after dark onto the side of San Fernando Cathedral at Main Plaza. This 7,000-square-foot projection highlights the history and progression of San Antonio through an amazing display of colorful images and Surround Sound.
9 Celebrate with the Locals at Fiesta
Fiesta is an annual 10-day celebration of epic proportion, held in the spring. Parades and events, including the famous Battle of Flowers parade, are constant in San Antonio during this time, giving the city an almost electric vibe. Stores, restaurants, and houses are decorated for the event, people collect, trade, and wear metal pins, and the Fiesta King and Queen, chosen each year based on how much money they have raised for charity, reign over the celebrations. It's not uncommon to see traffic stop as a "royal" motorcade drives through the city. If you are going to be in the city during this time, check the event schedule and plan on seeing some of the activities.
10 Explore Texas Hill Country on a Day Trip to Bandera
Just an hour away from San Antonio, the small town of Bandera proudly calls itself the "Cowboy Capital of the World." This is a place that truly embraces cowboy culture, with rodeos, dude ranches, and country music. If you are looking to enjoy some outdoor fun, Bandera is the answer, with ranch tours, horseback riding, golfing, and rodeo and music shows. You can even try living the cowboy lifestyle by staying at a guest ranch.
11 Play a Round of Golf
While golf may not be the first thing that springs to mind when considering a trip to San Antonio, there are some fabulous courses in this area of Texas and some beautiful golf resorts. La Cantera Resort & Spa, with the Palmer Course and the Resort Course, is one of the most popular places to stay and play. Other resorts in the area worth checking out are the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa and the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa.