Tips + Trends

The Alamo is Just the Beginning. Check Out the Best of San Antonio

Founded by Spaniards, ruled by Mexicans, settled by Germans and influenced by ethnic groups from around the world, the seventh-most populated city in the U.S. has tons to offer: Food, culture, family-friendly fun — there’s a lot to see and do in San Antonio, the Alamo City beyond the Alamo.

Family

The Alamo

Home of the famous 1836 battle, this historic fort and living-history museum attracts more than 2.5 million people a year. There are tons of free and family-friendly activities on site, but a guided tour is the best bet. Check out the rules before entering the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Natural Bridge Caverns

Located a half-hour north of town, the guided tour sends you on a half-mile hike, 180 feet below the surface, for a glimpse at stalagmites, stalactites and flowstones. Afterward, kids can pan for gems, fossils and minerals, and experienced thrill-seekers can try the guided Adventure Tour, which includes rappelling.

San Antonio Zoo

The 35-acre zoo has a collection of animals representing 750 species. Locals and visitors rave about the abundant birdlife and the opportunities to feed giraffes, hippopotamuses and other creatures. At the zoo’s Kronkosky’s Tiny Tot Nature Spot, kids 5 and under can explore underground, play around a riverbank, run through a cane maze, feed fish in a pond and more.

Outdoors

Riverwalk

things to do in san antonio
The River Walk is a must-do. (Photo: Getty Images)

The iconic meandering path that hugs the San Antonio River, lined with restaurants, bars, shops and live entertainment, is a quintessential San Antonio experience. Arrive just before the sun sets and watch as the hanging lights start to illuminate the picturesque bridges along the route.

San Antonio Botanical Garden

A 41-acre oasis of greenery and plant life in the center of the city invites visitors to unplug and soak in the outdoors. Don’t miss the glass Conservatory with plants from around the world in the exhibit rooms encircling the courtyard.

Mission San Jose

things to do in san antonio
Make sure to visit San Antonio’s famed missions. (Photo: Getty Images)

Controlled by the National Park Service and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this “Queen of the Missions,” founded in 1720, is not to be missed. Missions were not churches, but entire communities, with the church as its central focus.

Arts & Entertainment

Japanese Tea Garden

Built in an abandoned limestone quarry in modern-day Brackenridge Park, the tea garden’s roots date back to 1918. This scenic park — located between the Sunken Gardens and the San Antonio Zoo — features a lush, year-round garden and floral display; stone bridges; a 60-foot waterfall; koi ponds; and the historic Jingu Tea House.

Largest Boots in Texas

things to do in san antonio
These boots were definitely not made for walking. (Photo: Alamy)

Originally commissioned in 1979 by some grandiose Texans in Washington, D.C., these oversized boots crafted by artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade moved to San Antonio in 1980. Stretching 35 feet up and 30 feet long, at one time they were billed as the World’s Largest Boots. Today, they remain firmly planted adjacent to the Saks Fifth Avenue store at the North Star Mall.

San Antonio Fire Museum

Opened in 2013 on the site of San Antonio’s old Fire Station No. 1, the museum is packed with antique equipment, old photos from the 1880s and nearly half-a-century’s worth of fire trucks. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

Dining & Drinks

Il Forno

The latest project from acclaimed San Antonio chef Michael Sohocki focuses on delicate Neopolitan-style pizza and highlights meats cured in house. Sohocki built his own wood-burning oven, hence “Il Forno.”

The menu changes with the seasons, but check out the maiale intero, which means “whole pig” in Italian, if it’s on the menu. It features homemade prosciutto, coppa and pepperoni and layered with house-made mozzarella from local milk.

Estate Coffee Company / Oak & Salt

A small-batch craft coffee roaster, espresso bar and a specialty food and spice shop can all be found under one roof on San Antonio’s East Side. So grab an artisan espresso drink, cold brew, pour over, teas or a unique house-made chai at Estate and then browse Oak & Salt for small-batch provisions like hard-to-find salts and spices, crafted-on-site oils and cocktail mixers, condiments, kitchen tools and a lot more.

The Squeezebox

A newer joint with a decidedly old-school vibe, Squeezebox has referred to itself as “the sounds and soul of San Anto on the St. Mary’s Strip.” This low-key cantina honors the city’s Tejano roots and provides a tiny but packed dance floor when local legends are performing. Check out the free jukebox stocked with classic 45 records.

The Well

Eating, drinking, dancing — even a dog park — all at this Texas-style eatery featuring smartly tweaked versions of comfort-food classics, with a beer garden out back and dancing on the weekends. Check out the King Ranch Chicken, sausage on a stick, 3-chili rubbed brisket, twice-cooked wings or the Texas torpedoes (fried jalapenos stuffed with chorizo), and grab a picnic table or a ledge out back amid the live oaks and Astroturf.

Pearl Brewery

As one of the most happening spots in San Antonio, Pearl Brewery is a historic brewery that has been transformed into a wildly popular dining, shopping and live entertainment center surrounding a boutique hotel. There are grocers (Larder), full-service restaurants (Supper, Il Sogno Osteria, and Boiler House to name a few), charcuterie (Cured), a bar (Sternewirth), a jazz club (Jazz, TX) and a bakery (Bakery Lorraine).

Bliss

This Southtown institution, specializing in creative new American cuisine, is certainly worth the visit. Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite at the bar or sharing a large table with friends, don’t miss Mark Bliss’ take on the fried oyster slider — with buttermilk chive biscuits, candied bacon, spinach, brown butter hollandaise and chives.

Shopping

Market Square (El Mercado) Enjoy the sights and flavors of old Mexico at this historic outdoor market in downtown. Explore more than 100 locally owned shops, stalls and produce stands at this three-block plaza. Listen for the strains of mariachi music and look for live dancers strolling the area.

North Star Mall

Known as much for the large boots out front, this Uptown mall features more than 200 specialty stores, including anchor tenants Dillard’s, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Plenty of upscale, casual and fast food options are laced throughout the property.

Alamo Quarry Market

Constructed on the site of a 1908 cement factory in north-central San Antonio, shoppers simply need to look for the four smokestacks to find this open-air lifestyle destination center featuring 60 stores, a 16-screen movieplex and a dozen fine- and casual-dining options.

Southtown

Just a stone’s throw from the Alamo, but worlds away, is Southtown. Known as the arts district, this two-square-mile stretch is one of the best neighborhoods to visit in San Antonio for culture and history and to escape the teeming masses in the touristy center of town. With historic homes, funky shops and art galleries, the Blue Star Arts Complex, and excellent restaurants and bars, it’s accessible and walkable — or a great spot to rent a bike.

Healthy Living

Scale Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock is a pink granite dome that rises 425 feet above the central Texas Hill Country, but that’s just the exposed part of the largest batholiths in North America. The rest stretches 62 miles, most of it underground. After a hike on the 1.3-mile Summit Trail, leave time for lunch in the nearby hamlet of Fredericksburg, originally settled by German farmers.

Tube the Guadalupe River

There are plenty of options for a day-trip adventure along the Guadalupe River. Kick back in a tube, raft or inflatable kayak for a relaxing trip where you can paddle yourself in a one-person raft at your own pace, or as part of a group, with or without an experienced river guide. For more excitement, make sure your itinerary includes a trip over Huaco Falls.

Paddle the San Antonio River

Paddle down the San Antonio River past the Missions National Park by kayak, and navigate the six chutes along the 2- or 3-mile courses. Certified instructors make an easy trip even easier for inexperienced kayakers. Hourly kayak and standup paddleboard rentals are also available. Tours are booked online or over the phone.