What to See and Do in San Antonio, Texas

Updated on May 24, 2017
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy loves to share her wandering adventures, including her home state of Texas, and the many places she's traveled.

The San Antonio River Walk

You can take a guided River Boat Tour or stroll along the banks of San Antonio's River Walk during your visit.
You can take a guided River Boat Tour or stroll along the banks of San Antonio's River Walk during your visit. | Source

Great Things to See and Do in San Antonio

Just about everyone has heard of the famous San Antonio River Walk, with its guided boat tours and restaurants overlooking the scenic inner-city river flowing through the downtown area. But this city, the second largest in Texas and seventh largest in the United States, has a wealth of other attractions for visitors.

San Antonio's greater metropolitan area, which includes the charming German town of New Braunfels to the north, is home to about 2.2 million people. Many originally moved to the area because of the five large military installations the city hosts, but they stayed for the beauty and warm climate. The city has now blossomed into a major center of business and industry as well as a place known for its history, traditions and educational opportunities.

As big as the city is, it is still quite easy to see many sights in just one or two days. Many historical spots are in the downtown area (making it easy to drop by the River Walk afterward), and the city boasts a viable transit system for getting to other sights you may want to see while there.

The San Antonio Zoo: A Great Day Trip for Families

This hippo at the San Antonio Zoo enjoys a brief cleaning from some friendly fish.
This hippo at the San Antonio Zoo enjoys a brief cleaning from some friendly fish. | Source

Visit the San Antonio Zoo, Sunken Gardens, and Ride the Eagle Train in One Morning or Afternoon

The San Antonio Zoo, though perhaps not as large and famous as some others in the country, is well worth a visit. It's open from 9-5 daily, every single day of the year (although zoo members can get a head start at 7:30 a.m.). The zoo has free parking, just a few yards away from the front gate, and excellently designed and maintained exhibits.

City leaders assembled a collection of animals in the 1800s, and the current zoo opened its gates in 1914. Today, nearly 9,000 animals (from 779 species) are fed and cared for in habitats reminiscent of everything from African desserts to tropical rainforests.

From March to November, visitors can enter a contained butterfly exhibit where hundreds of the beautiful, delicate creatures fly freely, often landing on the shoulders and heads of surprised patrons. The butterflies are imported from breeders across the world while still in the pupae stage and spend their short (2-3 week) lifespans in this safe environment, where thousands of visitors admire them each year.

Regular Zoo admission is $12 for adults and $9.50 for children 3-11 years old, with free admission for children younger than that and discounts for various special age groups or populations. Some special features, such as the butterfly exhibit, have a small extra charge.

The San Antonio Zoo Has a Butterfly Enclosure and Other Great Exhibits

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The San Antonio Zoo has an enclosed butterfly exhibit. The delicate creatures land on your arms and flit above you while you stroll through the paths.Lions and Tigers and Bears!  This funny guy is just a few of the great bears at the San Antonio Zoo!The San Antonio Zoo's Flamingo habitat is stunning. These gorgeous birds are just a few living there.
The San Antonio Zoo has an enclosed butterfly exhibit. The delicate creatures land on your arms and flit above you while you stroll through the paths.
The San Antonio Zoo has an enclosed butterfly exhibit. The delicate creatures land on your arms and flit above you while you stroll through the paths. | Source
Lions and Tigers and Bears!  This funny guy is just a few of the great bears at the San Antonio Zoo!
Lions and Tigers and Bears! This funny guy is just a few of the great bears at the San Antonio Zoo! | Source
The San Antonio Zoo's Flamingo habitat is stunning. These gorgeous birds are just a few living there.
The San Antonio Zoo's Flamingo habitat is stunning. These gorgeous birds are just a few living there. | Source

The Sunken Garden and the Eagle Train

The Sunken Garden (Japanese Tea Garden)

This exquisite spot should actually be called the Hidden Garden - the San Antonio Sunken Garden it is almost too easy to miss. Across the street from the Zoo parking lot, you will see a sign and some stairs leading up the hillside. At the end of the short climb, you will find an oasis-like lagoon with water lilies, stone bridges, tropical flowers and a 60-foot waterfall, all created from an old rock quarry.

Take your camera - you will want to capture shots of the ferns, koi fish and seasonal plants you'll see as you walk the pathways. Admission is free.

Ride the Eagle Train!

Kids of all ages (ahem!) will love taking a ride on the zoo's Eagle Train. You can get tickets at its cute depot next to the parking lot, which also has a gift shop, and soon you'll be chugging along the banks of the San Antonio River, through the tropical trees and around the zoo's park.

Don't Miss Riding the Train and Seeing the Hidden Gardens!

Pathway at the famous Sunken Gardens outside the gate of the San Antonio Zoo.
Pathway at the famous Sunken Gardens outside the gate of the San Antonio Zoo. | Source
The mini-train ride through the zoo and around it's perimeter is a must-do for kids of all ages (yes, that means Mom & Dad, too!).
The mini-train ride through the zoo and around it's perimeter is a must-do for kids of all ages (yes, that means Mom & Dad, too!). | Source

A Video Tour of the River Walk

The Witte Museum, the Alamo, and the Famous San Antonio River Walk

If you got an early start and you've seen the zoo and sunken gardens, stop by the Witte Museum or Market Square in Downtown San Antonio to escape the heat of the day before heading for the Alamo and River Walk (just be sure to get to the Alamo before it closes!).

The Witte Museum offers a variety of long-term as well as themed (temporary), such as ongoing displays of Texas wildlife and ecology and special exhibits on topics ranging from Darwin to how royal coronations are staged.

Market Square in San Antonio is a historic area with an authentic Mercado (featuring shops filled with items from Mexico) a Farmer's Market and restaurants. You can buy anything from souvenirs to leather goods and fine jewelry in the maze of shops, and the restaurants in the square are among the landmark eateries in the city.

Every first-time visitor should see The Alamo and experience the genuine feel of history the grounds impart. If you haven't seen this historic site before, you will be surprised at how small it looks. Tucked between high-rise commercial buildings in the downtown area, it is dwarfed by modern architecture and came close to being razed for 'progress' in the early half of the 20th Century, until local historians fought to preserve it.

The Alamo is also part of the San Antonio Mission Trail, but is operated separately due to its unique place in Texas history. It is open daily (except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guides explain the displays and various ways the series of rooms in the building were used, and visitors should spend a few minutes contemplating the events that happened there. Be sure to visit the gift shop and gardens while you're there.

The San Antonio River Walk is undoubtedly the most widely known feature of the city. Located right across the street from the Alamo, it is the next logical stop on your tour of the downtown area. It's also the perfect place to stroll as the sun goes down and the heat fades, and you'll likely want to have your evening meal at one of the dozens of restaurants overlooking the river.

You can also take a guided boat tour, which is a great way to learn how the River Walk came to be, and the history of the development of the area. As you round one of the corners, the guide may point out the stage on which a scene from Miss Congeniality was filmed (the bathing suit competition).

If you reach the River Walk before 5 p.m., ask for directions to La Villita, which is at the top of the stairs opposite the stage mentioned above. This tiny enclave of preserved streets and restored houses now holds shops and galleries, and it's a pleasant place to stroll and shop during your trip to the River Walk.

Many Popular Sites in Downtown San Antonio Are Near Each Other

show route and directions
A markerSan Antonio Zoo & Sunken Gardens -
San Antonio Zoo, 3903 N St Mary's St, San Antonio, TX 78212, USA
get directions

B markerWitte Museum -
Witte Museum, 3801 Broadway St, San Antonio, TX 78209, USA
get directions

C markerEl Mercado -
San Antonio Market Square, 1037 E Houston St, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA
get directions

D markerThe Alamo -
The Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA
get directions

E markerThe San Antonio River Walk -
River Walk, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA
get directions

The Famous San Antonio River Walk Is a Must-See Experience

The San Antonio River Walk is a perfect spot for a great lunch or dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants.
The San Antonio River Walk is a perfect spot for a great lunch or dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants. | Source

San Antonio's Historic Missions

Many people may not know of the San Antonio's rich history of missions; there are five missions in or on the outskirts of the city. Four are preserved through the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park; the fifth mission is actually the Alamo, which many people may not realize has a religious heritage as well as a political one in Texas' history.

The history of the area's missions has a cultural impact that altered the lives of the original settlers in Texas, the American Indians. After attacks from the north by Apache tribes, and after deadly illnesses brought up from Mexico threatened their populations, the Native settlers in Tejas (Texas) converted to Christianity and adopted Spanish lifestyles and customs as a form of survival.

  • Mission Espada: This mission was established in Augusta (near what is now Weches, Texas) in 1690 and moved to its current location in San Antonio in 1721.
  • Mission San Juan Capistrano: Established in 1716, it is one of several that was moved after it was originally founded.
  • Mission San Jose: This mission was founded in 1720, and the park's Visitor Center is located next to it on its grounds.
  • Mission Concepcion: Founded in 1716 in East Texas, it was moved to San Antonio in 1731.
  • The Alamo: The fifth of the missions, is now a greatly revered historical site in Texas.

Other places of interest in San Antonio:

San Antonio's highlights are too numerous to list in just one short article, but here are other spots you may want to see:

River Center Mall: This large indoor mall is right on the River Walk, has a parking garage and offers easy access to the River Walk and Alamo. The stores, restaurants and food court are favorite places to browse and enjoy.

Alamodome: Not far from the downtown area, this arena hosts everything from major sports games to special events. Parking is a bit awkward at times (as with any gigantic facility), but the 'Dome' is a great facility and a popular venue for many purposes.

Fort Sam Houston Museum: This small but interesting museum has an exhibit of the U.S. Army's history and activities at the site dating to 1845. Its displays include uniforms, arms, flags and many other artifacts documenting the military evolution of the fort.

Sea World San Antonio: This popular destination has educational exhibits, entertainment and fun attractions for families of all sizes and age groups.

You'll find Texans to be friendly, hospitable and happy to answer questions. Plan to see as much as possible during your visit to San Antonio, and plan to return often!

San Antonio's Trail of Missions

show route and directions
A markerMission Espada -
San Francisco De La Espada, San Antonio Missions, 10040 Espada Rd, San Antonio, TX 78214, USA
get directions

B markerMission San Juan Capistrano -
Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio Missions, 9101 Graf Rd, San Antonio, TX 78214, USA
get directions

C markerMission San Jose -
Mission San Jose, San Antonio, TX, USA
get directions

D markerMission Concepcion -
Mission Concepcion, 807 Mission Rd, San Antonio, TX 78210, USA
get directions

E markerThe Alamo -
The Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA
get directions

Questions & Answers

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    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Victoria - thanks for reading and sharing!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Thanks for the virtual tour! Loved the photos! Many votes!

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 5 years ago

      Thanks! :)

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Audra Leigh - thanks so much for your kind comments! I'll send you a note about the grey areas!

    • profile image

      iamaudraleigh 5 years ago

      I have just read a terrific hub on San Antonio! It was written well and easy to follow. Your pictures, especially the hippo, were cool! I like bullet points and maps too! How do you use the grey areas? Well done Marcy...voted up and shared because it was great!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Thank you, Martie! Have you seen these places? I love going down to San Antonio for the day - then spending an evening on the River Walk. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 5 years ago from South Africa

      What a marvelous tour of San-Antonia! Thanks, Marcy :)

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Eliza - what a kind thing to say! Thanks so much for your sweet words - I'm so glad you like the hub, and thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments!

    • ElizaDoole profile image

      Lisa McKnight 5 years ago from London

      Wonderful hub about San Antonio Marcy. To top off all your other talents, you are also a wonderful photographer! Great pics and info!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, MJ - thanks for your terrific memories about Austin and San Antonio! We love our bats here; some restaurants near the bridge where they live have been known to come around to the tables and let diners know the bats will be flying shortly. Then everyone gathers on balconies or near the bridge to watch them. It is indeed amazing.

      I hope you get a chance to see San Antonio and Central Texas again! There's plenty to see and do!

    • profile image

      mjkearn 5 years ago

      Hi Marcy,

      was in Austin in 2005 with work for Intel. Loved the place and was stunned by the bats under the bridge. I'd never seen anything like it before or since.

      Took the recommended trip to San Antonio which if I remember was a bit of a drive but, oh boy, was it worth it.

      Did the River Walk both by foot and boat and also managed to see the Alamo. Unfortunately that was all there was time for but in all my travels, mainly Europe, San Antonio is the one place that when asked if I could go anywhere tomorrow, it would be there.

      Great hub, great info and thanks for sharing. Voting up,

      MJ.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Teaches! I'm so glad you have San Antonio on your list of places to see - I know you'll love it! Many thanks for reading and commenting here!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      This city has been our bucket list for quite a few years. I enjoyed your tour of the area. It makes me want to go this year. Thanks for sharing this information which I will keep for the time we do visit.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Alocsin - I hope you get a chance to visit soon! I think you'd enjoy it here in Texas! Thanks for reading, commenting and voting!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I certainly knew about the Riverwalk and the Alamo, but didn't know about all the missions, the zoo and the Sunken Gardens. I now know what hub to turn to for when I visit San Antonio. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      I'm so glad you've had a chance to see San Antonio, YogaKat - and I'm delighted that you enjoyed it. That was a perfect age for your kids to experience the historic feel of the city! Thanks for reading and sharing that memory!

    • YogaKat profile image

      YogaKat 6 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

      We did a vacation in San Antonio many years ago - my kids were 11 and 13. We enjoyed the River Walk and seeing the Alamo while learning it?s history was awesome. We were there for a few days before heading to "Wine Country" were we saw a rodeo and went to another mission - sadly I do not recall which one. This mission however had a film which explained the Spanish and Mexican influences on Texas/Tecano culture. I love my San Antonio memories and also this hub, which flashed them all back. Awesome hub Marcy.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Jenna - I so appreciate your kind words, and I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. San Antonio is great, and even those of us who live here enjoy visiting it whenever we can!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Nettlemere - I'm so glad you're being lured by what San Antonio has to offer! I do hope you get to Texas for a visit sometime - I'd love to see you and show you around. Thanks for reading and commenting here!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Hi, Kitty - yes, the River Walk is great - it almost reminds you of Venice (with a Spanish flair). So glad you like the hub, and thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
      Author

      Marcy Goodfleisch 6 years ago from Planet Earth

      Oh, I hope you visit, Jackie! And let me know you're coming so I can show you our beautiful state - we'd have a great time!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 6 years ago from Southern California

      This is a very complete article! The city sounds so interesting, and it was a brilliant idea to put up the mapquest locations for each place. Voted up.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 6 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      You've made San Antonio sound like a very enticing place, which isn't something I normally say about cities.

    • kittyjj profile image

      Ann Leung 6 years ago from San Jose, California

      San Antonio River Walk sounds great. I love the video. The place is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 6 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Awesomehub. Some great history there. I have never been to Texas and not that far away, I really would like to. Maybe someday.

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