The hustle and bustle of downtown San Antonio can overshadow one of the city’s best qualities — its abundance of green spaces. The city has preserved thousands of acres of natural areas in parks, with a multitude of amenities for visitors of both the two- and four-legged varieties.
Confluence Park and Mission Reach
Built as a hub for environmental education, Confluence Park (310 W. Mitchell St.) is “envisioned as an interactive teaching tool” that educates visitors on local ecosystems, and watershed dynamics in particular. Visitors are greeted by a dramatic, arched pavilion set against the backdrop of the San Antonio River. It’s more than just a lovely design to look at — the sweeping curves of the structure serve to collect rainwater as part of the park’s energy-neutral design. This year, Confluence Park has been awarded the American Institute of Architect’s Institute Honor Award in recognition of its design achievement. Confluence Park also serves as the gateway to the Mission Reach, a paved eight-mile trail that runs along the San Antonio River on a path that takes visitors past Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Espada. The trail can be biked, walked or run, and if you’re feeling aquatic there are kayak chutes built into this stretch of the river as well.
Adjacent to the Witte Museum and San Antonio Zoo, Brackenridge Park (3700 N. St. Mary’s St.) is a popular destination for a variety of outdoor activities. Visitors can meander down paved paths that run alongside a quiet stretch of the San Antonio River with plenty of tables scattered about for sunny picnics. The historic Japanese Tea Garden (3853 N. St. Mary’s St.) is a must-see for its Instagram-worthy landscaping, waterfall and gently swimming koi, plus you can enjoy a light lunch or a cup of tea in the restored Jingu House. Fun fact: Brackenridge Park is also the site of the last known train robbery in the state of Texas. In 1970, the miniature Brackenridge Eagle train (now called the San Antonio Zoo Eagle) was robbed by two masked men, who made off with a mere $500 (and were later apprehended).
Phil Hardberger Park
Need a place to blow off steam with your pup? Just south of Shavano Park, Phil Hardberger Park (13203 Blanco Rd.) is the paradise you’re looking for. Combined, the two dog parks at Hardberger comprise more than three acres, with areas for both large and small dogs to roam safely off-leash. There’s even a two-story doghouse for smaller pups to enjoy! The park also features several miles of both paved and unpaved trails along which you can take Fido for leashed walks or runs.
Visiting family on the North Side and need something to do that doesn’t involve a trek all the way down Highway 281? McAllister Park (13102 Jones Maltsberger Rd.) is deceptively large, stretching across a total of almost 1,000 acres. The park features 15 miles of both paved and unpaved trails, a dog park, sports fields, playgrounds and multiple pavilions for visitor use. A breath of fresh air in what is now a densely populated area, park-goers can glimpse herds of deer amidst the dense growth of live oaks.
Most San Antonio parks let the city’s greenery take the forefront, but Pearsall Park (4838 Old Pearsall Rd.) is all about facilitating human movement. The park is “designed to offer a dynamic open space with fitness and recreational activities,” and boy howdy, does it. There’s a water park, an 18-hole disc golf course, a dog park, a skate park, a Fitness Challenge Zone and the largest playground available in the city. Walkers and runners can take advantage of a 5K running course with multiple routes that don’t cross any park or city roads, so your vehicular woes are behind you. On top of all this, the park was constructed with sustainability in mind, using repurposed materials and conservation-minded design to maintain a low environmental impact.
Denman Estate Park
Denman Estate Park (7735 Mockingbird Ln.) is less than 13 acres in size, and as such is often overlooked. Opened in a joint effort by the city and University of the Incarnate Word, the park features a short walking trail and a few other amenities, but that’s not what makes it special. Ensconced in this small acreage is a gorgeous example of authentic Korean architecture, a monument constructed by hand by artisans in San Antonio’s sister city of Gwanju, Korea. This small oasis in the Medical Center is not as expansive as many of the other parks on this list, but is worth a visit for the monument alone.
Medina River Natural Area
Believe it or not, the pristine wilderness of the Medina River Natural Area (15890 Hwy. 16 S.) is inside Loop 1604. The forested property covers an expanse of 511 acres and features seven miles of trails and a group camping area. Birdwatchers should flock here to catch a glimpse of the green kingfisher and painted bunting. While swimming and boating aren’t allowed, there are several fishing spots along the picturesque river, which is lined with old-growth cypress trees.
The best part? Many of San Antonio’s parks (including several of the ones listed above) are connected by the approximately 65 miles of paved greenways that run throughout the city. Hikers and bikers looking for something more substantial than the shorter in-park paths can use these greenways to traverse from park to park.
For more info on parks and recreation in the city, check out sanantonio.gov.