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16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in San Antonio

Written by Lana Law
May 31, 2019

Home to some of the most famous historic sites in Texas, San Antonio is a wonderful city for sightseeing. If you want to add some fun activities to your itinerary, you'll also find great opportunities for mini-adventures in or near the city.

Take a walk or cruise along the River Walk and then spend some time exploring the Alamo and the city's historic missions. To experience some of San Antonio's fine cuisine, try dining in the Pearl District, or enroll in a cooking class. 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.

Discover more things to see and do with our list of the top attractions in San Antonio.

See also: Where to Stay in San Antonio

1. The San Antonio River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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 towering over the banks.

Most people come down here for a stroll, or to enjoy a meal on one of the outdoor patios. 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. 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.

A great way to see the sites is with a combo San Antonio River Walk Cruise & Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour, which also includes access to the Tower of the Americas.

2. The Alamo

The Alamo

The Alamo | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The Alamo is one of the most important historical sites in the United States and a must-see attraction if you are visiting San Antonio. The Alamo was part of the mission station established here in 1718, its church built by Franciscans in 1744.

In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo, one of the most famous battles in US history, played out here, when a small force entrenched themselves in the Alamo against a Mexican army of 3,000. All the defenders were killed, including legendary figures Davy Crockett and James Bowie, in a battle that some estimate may have lasted only 20 minutes. The Alamo soon became the cradle of Texan independence, and the phrase "Remember the Alamo!" became a battle cry. The former mission is now a National Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Address: 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas

Official site: www.thealamo.org

3. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park & Mission Trail

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park & Mission Trail

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park & Mission Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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. The Mission Trail connects the missions.

Most people drive between the missions, but if you want 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.

If you are traveling with kids, pick up a Junior Ranger activity book at the Visitor Center.

Official site: www.nps.gov/saan/index.htm

4. San Fernando Cathedral & San Antonio|The Saga

The Saga projected on San Fernando Cathedral

The Saga projected on San Fernando Cathedral | Photo Copyright: San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau

Famous as the burial site of the heroes of the Alamo, the Roman Catholic San Fernando Cathedral (Church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe) is one of the oldest cathedrals in the US and is listed on the National register of Historic Places. The walls of the original church, completed in 1750 and built by settlers from the Canary Islands, now form the cathedral's sanctuary.

The cathedral is on Main Plaza, and at night, it becomes the stage for one of San Antonio's most visually compelling attractions, known as San Antonio|The Saga. Offered free of charge every Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening, this video art installation, created by Xavier de Richemont, is a 24-minute video, with choreographed music and narration, projected onto the side of San Fernando Cathedral. A 7,000-square-foot projection highlights the history and progression of San Antonio through an amazing display of colorful images and Surround Sound. If you are looking for something to do at night in San Antonio, this should be on your list.

Official site: www.mainplaza.org/san-antoniothe-saga

5. Natural Bridge Caverns & the Canopy Challenge and Zip Lines

Natural Bridge Caverns & the Canopy Challenge and Zip Lines

Natural Bridge Caverns & the Canopy Challenge and Zip Lines

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 they also have narrow passages and interesting formations.

Two types of cave tours are available and take approximately 70 minutes. But there are plenty of things to do here other 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 ziplines. Younger children can also get in on the action with the Sky Tykes, with a rope course designed for younger kids and toddlers.

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 here is a maze and a place to buy souvenirs, food, and fresh fudge.

Official site: www.naturalbridgecaverns.com

Popular Tours

6. Pearl District and Farmers Market

Pearl District and Farmers Market

Pearl District and Farmers Market | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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 tablecloths 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 States. 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.

Official site: http://atpearl.com

7. Historic Market Square (El Mercado)

Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería

Mi Tierra Café Y Panadería | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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.

Official site: www.marketsquaresa.com

8. Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden

The Japanese Tea Garden is a beautiful, relaxing space and a free attraction in San Antonio. A former rock quarry, this area has been transformed into a peaceful garden with exotic plants, ponds with Koi, waterfalls, and the lovely stone Pavilion. Walkways meander through the gardens. The Jingu House is an on-site restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining space.

Address: 200-414 Alpine, San Antonio, Texas

Official Site: https://saparksfoundation.org/japanese-tea-garden/

9. Day Trip to New Braunfels for Country Music and Small-Town Charm

General Store in Gruene Historic District, New Braunfels

General Store in Gruene Historic District, New Braunfels | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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, one of the most popular things to do is 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.

10. Fiesta San Antonio

Fiesta celebrations at Market Square

Fiesta celebrations at Market Square | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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.

Official Site: https://fiestasanantonio.org/

11. Culinary Boot Camps & Cooking Classes

Ice-cream dessert from the Pearl District

Ice-cream dessert from the Pearl District | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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 offers classes and unique programs for food enthusiasts who want to become better cooks. The institute offers short Culinary Boot Camps for different types of culinary interests, as well as individual cooking classes. Boot Camps 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.

If you aren't up for that much commitment, sign up for an individual, hands-on cooking class. These last three to five hours and are designed for participants to learn and have fun.

Official site: http://www.ciachef.edu/

12. San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum

San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum

San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum | AndYaDontStop / photo modified

If you are looking to spend some time exploring museums, consider a visit to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum for two very different perspectives.

The San Antonio Museum of Art features first-rate collections of Greek and Roman antiquities, as well as Asian, European, American, and Latin American art. Highlights include many fine examples of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artworks, as well as an exceptional collection of Chinese ceramics and other Asian art.

Another facility of note is the McNay Art Museum with its large collection of modern art, including contemporary Indian art. On the former estate of Marion Koogler McNay, in a large Spanish Colonial Revival house, the museum also boasts numerous works from the medieval and Renaissance periods.

After a series of recent expansions and upgrades, the Witt Museum, with a focus on natural history, science, and culture, is also worth a stop.

Address: 200 W. Jones Ave, San Antonio, Texas

Official site: www.samuseum.org

13. Zoos and Theme Parks

Zoos and Theme Parks

Zoos and Theme Parks

There's no shortage of kid-centric fun in San Antonio. One of the most popular things to do for families with children is spending a day at the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium, a 35-acre site with some 3,500 animals from 750 species.

In addition to the animals, the zoo also boasts a narrow gauge railroad, the San Antonio Zoo Eagle, as well as a fun carousel. Also worth a visit for animal lovers is the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, a "drive-through" safari with more than 50 free-roaming species from around the world.

Address: 3903 N. St. Mary's Street, San Antonio, Texas

Official site: https://sazoo.org/

14. Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Six Flags Fiesta Texas, a popular attraction designed with kids in mind, is a theme and water park set in a former rock quarry. You can find traditional roller coasters, more advanced thrill rides, as well as those designed for younger kids and families. The water park rides are always popular and offer a nice break from the heat of the day. You can also opt to sit back and enjoy a show.

Official site: www.sixflags.com/fiestatexas

15. Day Trip to Bandera

Day Trip to Bandera

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.

16. Golfing and Golf Resorts

Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Golf Course

Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Golf Course | Photo Copyright: San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau

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 & Spa.

Where to Stay in San Antonio for Sightseeing

To experience San Antonio's charm and unique ambience, the best place to stay is on the River Walk or in the Pearl District. Luxury and mid-range hotels can be found in both of these areas, and budget hotels are generally a 10-minute walk away. Below is a list of highly rated hotels in convenient locations:

  • Luxury Hotels: One of San Antonio's newest luxury hotels is the posh Hotel Emma in the trendy Pearl District. Set in a fabulously restored 1894 landmark building, this hotel offers a unique kind of elegance, with inviting and beautifully decorated rooms and common areas.

    Right on the River Walk is the Mokara Hotel and Spa, with large rooms and a lovely rooftop pool. If you prefer something a bit more hip and trendy, the boutique Hotel Valencia is a smaller property with stylish rooms and quaint dining and lounging areas. Rooms, some with Juliet balconies, overlook the River Walk or the quiet courtyard.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: The recently renovated Holiday Inn, at the northwest end of the River Walk area, is a large property with a contemporary design. A two-minute walk from the action and housed in a historical 24-story former bank skyscraper is the beautiful Drury Plaza. Perfect for families and also in a historic building is the Homewood Suites, with a variety of room sizes and layouts.
  • Budget Hotels: A short drive from the Riverwalk and the Alamo, and closer to mid-range than budget, is the Comfort Suites Alamo, with large rooms, an outdoor pool, and a free shuttle to the River Walk area. Closer to downtown and in a more convenient location is La Quinta by Wyndham, with a beautiful pool area and restaurants nearby.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to San Antonio

  • Sightseeing Tours: For maximum flexibility, consider the City Sightseeing San Antonio Hop-On Hop-Off City Tour. Accompanied by an audio commentary, this fun tour on an open-air double decker bus takes you to San Antonio's top sights and historical landmarks, and you can hop on and off the bus at any of the 12 stops. Depending on your schedule, you can choose from a 24- or 48-hour ticket. If you are also interested in a cruise along the river, you can purchase a San Antonio River Walk Cruise and Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour, which includes some extras as well.
  • The city's BCycle, San Antonio's bike share program, makes light transportation around San Antonio easy, with bike stations that accept credit cards, 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 if you want to try cycling the Mission Trail.

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Texas Cities: Cities in Texas are diverse, and each has its own character. If you are looking for a cosmopolitan experience, with fine dining and museums, or you just want to see Space Center Houston, set aside some time to explore the sites of Houston, less than three hours away. Alternatively, head north to Austin, just a 1.5-hour drive away, or Dallas, reachable in about four hours.

West Texas: This area of Texas offers a completely different experience and is often what many people are searching for when they plan an adventure to the state. Cities like Amarillo and Lubbock set the stage for trips to some of Texas' more remote areas. One of the great highlights of this area is Big Bend National Park. Set in the mountains and along the Rio Grande, this area offers some extraordinary scenery, with great opportunities for hiking and camping, and is also home to a handful of unique luxury resorts. And if you are continuing west, consider a stop in El Paso.

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