A colourful history, great attractions, lively festivals, and delicious food combine to make San Antonio one of the best destinations in Texas. The city has a rich cultural mix of early Spanish mission beginnings, German settlement, cowboy heritage, and strong ties to Mexico. This all combines to create a progressive city.
San Antonio is home to four of the biggest attractions in Texas- the River Walk, the Alamo, Missions National Historical Park, and SeaWorld. Hands down it’s my favourite city in Texas and over the years I think I’ve brought every friend and family member here, at least once, to visit. While you could easily spend a week here, if time is short then a weekend getaway offers a great taste of the city to see the main sights, and then decide what you’d like to come back to see more of.
This weekend guide will get you started with suggestions for things to see and do, places to stay, shop and dine, and city events and festivals. I hope you enjoy San Antonio!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure policy here.
Wander the River Walk (Paseo del Rio)
Easily one of the biggest attractions in San Antonio, and with good reason- the River Walk is awesome! It is one of the few places I’ve been in the state where I’ve actually seen people out walking, despite the August heat. It’s even been listed in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. So what is it exactly?
The River Walk is a set of cobblestone and flagstone paths that follow about 20 blocks around the San Antonio river. It is below street level and sometimes feels like a whole other world, especially as you wander through the arbors of palms, olive trees, cottonwoods, cypress, and willows that shade the sidewalks.
All along the edges are a variety of indoor/outdoor restaurants, cafés, bars, hotels, and shops- there is really something for everyone’s taste to be found. One of the best ways to take it all in is on one of the cruises they offer during the day and into the evening. In addition to seeing all the sites, the boat drivers are great guides and full of information about the city and the main landmarks the cruise takes you by. The cruises are about 35-40 minutes long, and even though I’ve done them several times I’d still hop on one again if I was in town.
Tip: In order to perform maintenance and cleaning the River Walk (or portions of) is drained for about 10 days in January in some years. It is worth checking their schedule to see if this will coincide with a trip you are planning so you don’t end up just seeing the muddy bottom.
- Rio San Antonio River Barge Rides – Book your tickets online and print out a map of the cruise route
- River Walk area map
Mission Trail and the Alamo
The only UNESCO site in Texas, the San Antonio Missions are the next must-see on the list of the things to do in the city. Spanish priests established these five missions along the San Antonio river in the early 1700s with a church, residences, and a granary. For the most part only the churches remain today but they are still active congregations so you can attend a service if you’d like.
Four of the five missions make up the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, with the fifth (and undoubtedly most famous), the Alamo being located in the heart of the city. More than 100 years after the missions were established, the Alamo was the scene of the 13 day stand-off in the Texas Revolution between 189 colonists and the Mexican Army. Among those who lost their lives in this battle were Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, both names you’ll find often in San Antonio, and around Texas.
Tip: The only drive listed in the book Great American Scenic Drives for Texas, it is best to give yourself about 3-4 hours to drive the 25 miles (round trip) to visit all of the missions. This can be done by car, or by bicycle on the trails that have been set up specifically for this purpose.
Stroll through the King William Historic District
After Texas won statehood, affluent settlers from Germany flocked to San Antonio and settled into a 25 block district that they named after the Prussian King Wilhelm I- today it is known as the King William Historic District. From the 1850s to 1920s this was considered the most elegant neighborhood in San Antonio, and although it has decayed a bit over the years, many of the distinctive (and beautiful!) homes have been restored to their former Victorian, Creole Colonial, or Romanesque styles.
To visit this lovely area you can download this walking tour map created by the San Antonio Conservation Society. Imagine walking or cycling the area in the spring or autumn. What a wonderful way to while a few hours away.
In addition to strolling the pretty streets there are also a couple of the homes you can visit. The Steves Homestead is an elegant three-storey mansion that is furnished in period style and has a few other buildings on the property. Or the Guenther House decorated in Art Nouveau and Victorian styles can be visited and includes a museum, shop, and restaurant. Perhaps a cup of tea and some apple strudel after an afternoon exploring this area?
Shop in La Villita National Historic District
The “Little Town” was initially developed as a Spanish squatters’ settlement along the San Antonio river but in the mid-19th century Anglo and European immigrants began arriving. The adobe huts were replaced by sturdier limestone buildings and the district became the town center until its decline in the early 20th century.
During the 40s and 50s artists moved in and began renovating the old structures and they have remained. Today La Villita is very much a showcase for artisans and crafts people with many crafts- like pottery, weaving, jewellery, and clothing- coming from Mexico and Central America. This is definitely the area of San Antonio to visit if you want to find some items to take home as mementos of your trip or gifts for others.
Tip: If you need the facilities there is a free public washroom in this area behind the Arneson River Theater seating.
Helpful Links: La Villita Restaurant and Shop Guide with map
Admire the Beauty of the San Fernando Cathedral
The original cornerstone for the nation’s oldest cathedral was laid by Canary Islanders in 1738, and 20 years later they finished it, just in time for the Bishop of Guadalahara’s visit. At the time the domed, mission-style church could be seen for miles around and the city was named for its patron saint- Villa de San Fernando.
Today we don’t see quite the same church in this spot, as it was replaced stone-by-stone and built into the Gothic-style cathedral in about 1872. And they did it all without an interruption in services! Remnants of the original sanctuary walls can still be found behind the alter though, along with the remains of Alamo defenders in the inside of the left alcove.
View the City from Above at the Tower of the Americas in Hemisfair Park
Zip up 750 feet in less than a minute in a glass elevator that takes you to the top of the Tower of the Americas for a view of the city of San Antonio. The view can even come with dinner! Take your time over dinner as the restaurant makes one revolution an hour so you’ll be able to see it all.
The symbol of the 1968 World’s Fair, the Tower of the Americas can be found in the wonderful outdoor space called Hemisfair Park. Stroll the park to enjoy the beautiful landscaped areas with large shade trees, flowering plants, and cascading waterfalls.
The park is also home to the Institute of Texan Cultures, which is an ethnic history museum that focuses on the people of 26 ethnic and cultural groups of Texas. For the kids there is also a “Magik Theater” and a playground that is built like a fortress. So much to do!
Learn About Texas History at the IMAX Theater
To get the most of your trip to San Antonio, and especially before you visit the Alamo, the 45 minute docudrama Alamo:The Price of Freedom really should be one of the first things you do when you get to town.
The film was shot in 1987 at Alamo Village at Brackettville (unfortunately closed indefinitely at this time), which was the same set used for the original John Wayne version. Unlike that version though, this new version has historians that double as actors and it has a more factual story than John Wayne’s version.
The six-storey IMAX screen is located in the Rivercenter mall so it’s easy to find and can double up with a little souvenir shopping in the evening.
Enjoy Tranquility at the Japanese Tea Garden
Constructed in 1917-18 the quarry was shaped into a complex that included walkways, stone arch bridges, and island, and a Japanese pagoda. The local residents then donated bulbs to help beautify it. It has continued to develop over the years, with a major renovation and grand reopening in March 2008. It now contains floral displays, shaded pathways, koi ponds, and a 60-foot waterfall.
Discover Geological Wonders at Natural Bridge Caverns
Discovered in 1960, the Natural Bridge Caverns were turned in to a commercial venture in 1964 and are now regarded as the largest known commercial caverns in Texas. They were so named from the 60 foot natural limestone slab bridge that spans the amphitheater setting of the cavern’s entrance; the span was left suspended when a sinkhole collapsed below it.
There are a few tours to pick from, depending on the time you have available and how much you like dark, tight spaces. The 75 minute Discovery Tour, which takes you 180 feet below ground with a guide to point out and teach you all about the formations, is a great tour to start with. For hundreds of years these formations have been growing into stalagmites, stalactites, flow stones, chandeliers, and soda straws.
Tip: Save money by purchasing tickets online in advance, or by buying one of their combo tickets if you’d like to try a couple of tours.
Learn the Lay of the Land on a Segway Tour
For a neat way to get a feel for the city, learn where everything is, and hear stories about the history and architecture, a segway tour could be just the thing to do. There are several options/companies in the city and they offer tours like general sightseeing, historical landmarks, or haunted San Antonio. Depending on the tour you opt for you could see sights like Alamo Plaza, the famous (and haunted!) Menger Hotel, Tower of the Americas, San Fernando Cathedral, Hemisfair Park, River Walk, and La Villita. The company we used was Segway Nation and they did a fantastic job.
This particular activity might not be for everyone though. There are age and weight restrictions, so check those details out on their site before you promise the kiddos you’re going. It also takes a little getting used to (they will train you to use the segway) and while I felt a little wobbly and nervous at times (I didn’t fall off though), the kiddo thought it was a piece of cake.
Tip: To save money, check out Groupon as they often have deals on Segway tours for 40-55% off depending on the company.
Romantic Getaway for Two
For a romantic weekend in San Antonio a stay at Noble Inns in the King William Historic District is a great choice. They have three properties to choose from- the Oge House, Pancoast Carriage House, and the Jackson House. For our stay we opted for Jackson House Room 4 and it was so lovely.
Decorated in pale green and red, the room features a super comfortable king-size bed, antique claw-footed soaking tub in the bathroom, a fireplace with antique mantle piece, and many other thoughtful and pretty touches.
Common areas of the B&B include the parlor where we could read a book or visit by the fire, a heated spa-pool in a conservatory, and the most delicious breakfasts in the dining room each morning. Seriously do not miss the breakfasts, especially if Bananas Foster is on the menu. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
Besides being able to stroll through the King William District, the Jackson House is within walking distance to the River Walk that will take you in to the downtown area.
It is such a quiet, pretty little B&B and we loved our stay. I’d definitely recommend it to those looking for unique accommodations with a historical, romantic touch.
Right on the River Walk
Set over 16 stories, the Hyatt Regency was where I chose to stay when the kiddo and I visited San Antonio for a weekend away. Some of the really neat features of this hotel were the large, multi-storey atrium that had water that came in right off the River Walk. This is part of the ‘Paseo del Alamo‘ that is a public thoroughfare that provides a shortcut between the River Walk and the Alamo.
The rooms were typical hotel rooms, comfortable and clean, but what they lacked in unique décor they more than made up with the view of the city and location right on the River Walk. We loved that we were able to pop in to the hotel quickly, especially when it got a little chilly and we could come back and get a sweater and then head right back out again to explore more of the River Walk in the evening. If it had been a little warmer we likely would have taken advantage of the roof top pool for a swim or the outdoor dining area.
This is a great option to be right in the heart of the city, at a reasonable rate.
Weekend with the Family
When out traveling with the kiddos sometimes it’s nice for everyone to have their own space, to have kitchen facilities to save money on food, and a comfy living room for everyone to gather around in the evenings for a movie, or to play some cards. This is where our favourite option for accommodations comes in- Airbnb!
While we haven’t used Airbnb in San Antonio specifically, we have over 30 Airbnb stays under our belt and another 10 are already booked for this year. With this many stays we’ve learned a few things about finding some good places and I’ve found a few to recommend for you in San Antonio. Check them out!
- Alamodome Overnight– As the name suggests this house is close to the Alamodome and is a one mile walk to downtown. It has three bedrooms, can accommodate up to nine guests and has free parking on premises. The photos show a bright, fresh, and clean home that invites families, or groups, to come in and stay awhile. There is even a swing on the front porch!
- 1920s Cottage Fully Furnished– A cute and cozy cottage in the Government Hill neighborhood, this home has two bedrooms and sleeps four. It gets great reviews and the photos show a home with lots of charm that has been wonderfully maintained over the years. The sun room and deck both caught my eye as ideal places to cozy up with a glass of wine, or cup of coffee, and a good book.
- Close to downtown, a little charmer– Close to the Pearl historic brewery complex, this little home has two bedrooms to easily accommodate four people, with a sofa bed to sleep a extra guest. The backyard dining areas (yes, plural…there are two) look inviting as does the outdoor shower! It’s about a mile to hop on to the River Walk and you can catch a river taxi easy to get right into the heart of downtown.
These are just three of the neat places I found on a search of San Antonio, but there are many more to suit all kinds of tastes and budgets. If you’ve never used Airbnb before and aren’t quite sure what to do, please feel free to check out this post to help you get started.
And don’t forget to click the link below to get $40 off your first booking if you sign up for a new account. If you do, we thank you so much as we’ll also get $20 off our next stay (which we’ll definitely use!).
For even more information to help you plan your trip to San Antonio, click on the images below.
There are lots of great events happening all year round, and dining…well you’ll never be at a loss for where to eat!
Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission but this does not affect the price to you. Please read my full disclosure policy here.