Believe it or not, there’s vastly more to San Antonio than tour the Alamo and stroll the River Walk. While the city’s most popular attractions are certainly worth braving the crowds for a visit, there are plenty of other options suitable both for tourists looking to cram their visits with engaging activities and locals looking for a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
While the Alamo is outsized in cultural memory, visitors to the historic battleground often remark that it looks smaller than they thought it would be. That’s not helped by the skyscrapers and shopping mall that surround the downtown landmark. However, that’s no cause to dismiss the significance of the site of the 1836 battle that became the rallying cry for the Texas Revolution. The historic Mission is currently in the midst of a controversial redesign, so visitors should expect to see evidence of construction — and maybe even protests. 300 Alamo Plaza, (210) 225-1391, thealamo.org.
The historic River Walk’s expansion to include a 15-mile stretch of the San Antonio River has made it a hotspot for visitors and locals alike. The tourist-centric downtown stretch is augmented by the Museum Reach to the north, which winds past the San Antonio Museum of Art and up to the Pearl Brewery with several public art installations to enjoy along the way. The Mission Reach to the south is an eight mile stretch of the river with a convenient entry point at Confluence Park, 310 W. Mitchell St. That newest expansion is augmented with access to four of San Antonio’s historic Missions: Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada. 849 E. Commerce St., thesanantonioriverwalk.com.
Tower of the Americas
From Seattle’s Space Needle to Dallas’ Reunion Tower, people love a downtown spire. Built for San Antonio’s HemisFair ’68, the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas is the best way to get a bird’s-eye view of downtown, either from the observation deck or while dining in the Chart House Restaurant. Little known fact: the Tower of the Americas once doubled for the Space Needle in TV pilot intended to resurrect the ‘80s talking car show Knight Rider. 739 E. César E. Chávez Blvd. (210) 223-3101, toweroftheamericas.com.
SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas
Marine theme park SeaWorld has long drawn tourists eager to see aquatic mammals and enjoy amusement park rides all in one place. Though the park has not completely removed animal shows from its attractions after negative press following the 2013 documentary Blackfish, it has stopped breeding orcas and refocused its programming on educational content (10500 Sea World Dr., (210) 520-4732, seaworld.com/san-antonio). Adventure-seekers who balk at SeaWorld’s animal rights track record can opt to enjoy the rollercoasters, water slides and even a Texas-sized and shaped wave pool at Six Flags Fiesta Texas instead (17000 IH-10 West, (210) 697-5050, sixflags.com/fiestatexas).
San Antonio’s major museums offer something for everyone, from tourists seeking a bit of culture to families looking for interactive, educational fun for the kids. Art aficionados of all sorts can find plenty to enjoy at the San Antonio Museum of Art (200 W. Jones Ave.), the McNay Art Museum (6000 N. New Braunfels Ave.) and the Briscoe Museum of Western Art (210 W. Market St., briscoemuseum.org), and anyone looking for something a bit more cutting edge can get their fill of contemporary art at Artpace (445 N. Main Ave., artpace.org) or Blue Star Contemporary (116 Blue Star, bluestartcontemporary.org). While neither is technically a museum, they make great additions to any tour involving SA’s visual arts scene. Those seeking kid-friendly fare would do well to check out the DoSeum (2800 Broadway St., thedoseum.org) or the Witte Museum (3801 Broadway St., wittemuseum.org).
San Antonio Zoo
Going to the San Antonio Zoo isn’t a trip to see lonely animals pacing in cages. The zoo’s commitment to education and conservation includes upgraded habitats for its resident animals, as well as captive breeding programs for endangered animals that recently resulted in the first ever successful hatching Texas blind salamanders in captivity. Whether it’s simply a walk amongst the natural-looking landscapes or participating in a behind-the-scenes experience with rhinos or hippos, the zoo has plenty of options for visitors to enjoy. The kid-friendly destination also got a major upgrade last year, when the beloved mini-theme park Kiddie Park moved from its original location at the intersection of Broadway and Mulberry to be situated next door. 3903 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 734-7184, sazoo.org.
San Antonio Botanical Garden
Cursed with a black thumb? The experienced employees of the San Antonio Botanical Garden may be able to help out — or at least do the work for you. The expansive property features areas showcasing different varieties of Texan plant life from the Hill Country to East Texas, with a spectacular blooming of Texan wildflowers each spring. The garden also features a conservatory with multiple greenhouses filled with plants from around the world, and the tranquil Kumamoto En Japanese Garden. 555 Funston Place, (210) 536-1400, sabot.org.
The Historic Pearl
Whether it’s great food, boutique shopping, fancy drinks or a luxurious stay at the award-winning Hotel Emma, this downtown destination has it covered. Located in the redeveloped Pearl Brewery, the complex also plays host to plenty of live music and special events, including an extremely popular weekend farmer’s market featuring local vendors slinging everything from organic veggies to handmade goats’ milk soap. Appropriately, craft beer is also available in the impressive Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery, located in Pearl’s former brewhouse. 303 Pearl Parkway, (210) 212-7260, atpearl.com.
First Friday and Second Saturday Art Walks
On any given day, there’s plenty to do in Southtown, the just-south-of-downtown arts district. Nut things really light up on the first two weekends of each month. Every First Friday, South Alamo and the Blue Star Arts Complex fill with vendors and food trucks, and area galleries open new exhibitions. Must-stops include Presa House Gallery (725 S. Presa St.), FL!GHT Gallery (112R Blue Star) and the Upstairs Studios at Blue Star (1420 S. Alamo St.). For Second Saturday the festivities move to Flores Street, where Freight Gallery (1913 S. Flores St.), the 1906 S. Flores Art Complex (1906 S. Flores St.), Dorćol Distillery (1902 S. Flores St.) and more get in on the action.
San Antonio added a new jewel to its crown last fall when Ruby City officially opened to the public. The contemporary arts center is the posthumous legacy of artist, philanthropist and Artpace founder Linda Pace, who gave London architect David Adjaye an illustration of a “ruby city” that appeared to her in a dream and made him promise to make it a reality. Ruby City has already attracted international attention both for its architecture and world-class art collection. Combined with its free admission, it’s a must-visit for anyone in San Antonio and a worthy itinerary addition for out-of-town visitors. 150 Camp St., (210) 227-8400, rubycity.org.
Centro de Artes
The city-run museum on downtown’s Historic Market Square is “dedicated to telling the story of the Latino experience with a focus on South Texas through local and regional art.” This spring, the two-story space is home to an exhibition on each floor: “XicanX: New Visions,” a group show featuring work by 34 contemporary artists that “expands upon how Latinx artwork can be established across ideological borders” and “Los Maestros: Early Explorers of Chicano Identity,” which showcases three members of San Antonio’s first Chicano arts collective, Con Safo: Jesse Almazán, José Esquivel and Rudy Treviño. 101 S. Santa Rosa Ave., (210) 206-ARTS, getcreativesanantonio.com/City-Exhibits/Centro-de-Artes.