Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in San Antonio
A National Historic landmark, the Spanish Governor’s Palace is perhaps the last remaining early-Spanish mansion in Texas. A poignant reminder of San Antonio’s early-18th-century past, the former capitol building is almost 300 years old.
Now a museum, the building has a Spanish colonial design built around a lovely central courtyard and fountain. The white stucco walls are fringed with purple bougainvillea, and the interior is decorated with rugged colonial furnishings, whitewashed walls and a sturdy timber roof.
The Alamo is one of the most famous sites in US history, forever linked to the 13-day siege in 1836 that ended with the deaths of defenders James Bowie, William Travis and Davy Crockett. The 18th-century Mission San Antonio de Valero complex became known as the Alamo after it was fortified by Mexican soldiers. When the complex was taken by Texan troops in December 1835, the fight was on between the Texan defenders and Mexican attackers.
After the events of the 1830s, the Alamo’s semi-ruined buildings were used as a garrison and storehouse. Over the past 100 years, the Alamo has been restored and now receives more than 2.5 million visitors a year. Tour the chapel and barracks, small museum, diorama and gardens to learn more about the Alamo and early-Texan history.
San Antonio’s historic roots are preserved at La Villita Heritage District, a protected enclave of heritage buildings. The arts village is a living and breathing part of San Antonio, with boutiques, restaurants and galleries taking up the historic old buildings.
On a walking tour of the precinct you’ll see Cos House, one of the oldest buildings, dating back to before 1835. Other old buildings include the 1873 house occupied by Villita Stained Glass, and the 1839 cottage known as Losana House.
Shops in this vibrant quarter include Texan outfitters, art and craft galleries, souvenir shops and jewelry stores. You’ll also find a couple of typically Texan grills and cafes for snacks, meals and cocktails.
San Antonio makes the most of its river winding through town, with the San Antonio River Walk - or Paseo del Rio. Away from the traffic, beneath ground level, the landscaped walkways bordering the meandering San Antonio River are lined with shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Following the walkways is a great way to get around town, from sight to sight, without having to negotiate traffic. You can also take a cruise along the River Walk, to see how a little imagination and good civic planning can turn a river into a truly unique city feature.
The oldest continuously operating religious community in Texas, San Fernando De Bexar Cathedral was constructed between 1738 and 1749. In fact, the dome of the original church was the point from which all mileage in Texas was measured in the 1700s. The cathedral is well-maintained, and mass still goes on daily so make sure to be respectful when entering.
One major attraction inside the sacred space is the Alamo Coffin, located near the church entrance, which is believed to hold the remains of the men who lost their lives at the Alamo. The cathedral played a part in the battle, as it was President-General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s headquarters during the siege of the Alamo, and from where he sent a terrifying message. Instead of flying the tri-color Mexican flag from the church’s belfry he flew a blood-red flag, letting the defenders of the Alamo know he would kill them even if they surrendered.
This mission was originally established in 1716 as Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais in East Texas with the purpose of converting local Native Americas to Christianity. It was moved to San Antonio in 1731, and today stands as the best preserved of the Texas missions. An interesting fact about these missions is they were not churches but Indian towns with the church as the focus where Native Americans learned to become Spanish citizens -- a process that required becoming Catholic.
Visiting the site today, you’ll get a clear sense of what mission life was like hundreds of years ago. It’s also interesting to take in the stone building with its Spanish Colonial architecture. Notice the intricate Renaissance details, colorful Moorish designs, Romanesque attributes and gothic arches. On the grounds, you can still see the quarry from which the Native Americans collected the stone to build the mission.
Built in 1968 to host the 1968 Worlds Fair as well as commemorate San Antonio’s 250th birthday, the event was the southwestern United States’ first official world fair. The event was so monumental that over 30 nations took part in the festivities. Today, the 15-acre HemisFair Park is a place where people come to ride bikes, bring their children to the playground, enjoy the native flower gardens and listen to the relaxing sounds of fountains and cascading waterfalls.
In HemisFair Park, you’ll also find a variety of attractions, for example, the Tower of the Americas, which is surrounded by beautiful man-made waterfalls. If you take the elevator to the top you can enjoy aerial views from the observation deck or the rotating restaurant, as well as a 4D Theater Ride that takes you on a sensory journey through Texas. Additionally, the Mexican Cultural Institute resides in the park, and is free to enter and enjoy the artwork, artifacts and exhibits.
Located in the center of HemisFair Park, this 750-foot tall tower offers one of the best aerial views of San Antonio in the city as well as a variety of experiences. First there is the Flags Over Texas Observation Deck, which allows you a bird’s-eye view of iconic sites -- either through the telescope or by using photographs on the deck floor that show you where to find specific buildings and landmarks. Additionally, you can learn about over 300 years of Texas history through a mural exhibit on the walls. Included in your admission ticket is also a 4D Theater Ride, “Skies Over Texas.” The interactive ride takes you on a sensory journey through the state to watch NASA astronauts train at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, attend a local football game, view horses running in the wild and visit some of San Antonio’s most important attractions.
More Things to Do in San Antonio
Stuffed critters, a shooting gallery and museums of Americana and the Texas Rangers make having a drink at the Buckhorn Saloon a memorable experience.
From cattle to fish, birds and game, the Buckhorn Museum is a taxidermist’s dream, stuffed with more than 520 species from around the globe. Look out for the huge black marlin, ’78 Point Buck’ and prehistoric Irish elk complete with antlers.
The collection housed in the adjoining Ranger Museum includes weapons, badges, photos, a Bonnie & Clyde exhibit and ‘Ranger Town’, re-creating early-20th-century San Antonio. Drop in for lunch at the cafe, or choose a locally brewed ale at 130-year-old saloon bar.
Mission San Jose, also known as San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, is the largest mission in San Antonio, TX. Due to its size, it was known as the Queen of the Missions. It was established in 1720 and completed in 1782, and it was built with Texas limestone and brightly colored stucco. The mission was surrounded by fields and had livestock, as well as its own gristmill and granary, which have been preserved. Spanish missions weren't just churches, but communities with the church as the main focus. At its height, Mission San Jose provided sanctuary and a social and cultural community for more than 300 Indians.
Mission San Jose's church dome and roof collapsed in 1874, and its church tower collapsed in 1928. Luckily in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) almost fully restored Mission San Jose to its original design. More recently, the mission underwent massive historically accurate renovations which were completed in 2011.
Brackenridge Park is a park and recreation area located near the San Antonio River in San Antonio, TX. There are many activities visitors can enjoy, such as fishing, boating, hiking, running, bird watching, golf on the oldest municipal golf course in Texas, and other sports. Some people come for picnics in the park or gatherings with friends and family. You can also take a train ride on a 3.5-mile miniature railway. Adjacent to the park, you'll find the San Antonio Zoo which has the third largest collection of animals in North America. Another popular attraction is the Japanese Tea Garden, a garden with flowers on display all year round, stone bridges, shaded walkways, a 60-foot waterfall, and a few ponds.
The Brackenridge Park Conservancy was created to preserve the park's natural, historic, educational and recreational resources. The Mabel Jingu Enkoji Fund supports the Japanese Tea Garden and provides cultural programming.
San Antonio’s Market Square is a vibrant Mexican marketplace, featuring crafts, entertainment and food from south of the border. Shops and stalls sell Mexican fabrics, pottery, leather goods, toys and jewelry, and the central El Mercado is the largest Mexican market outside Mexico.
Market Square is a great place to graze on Mexican tortillas and enchiladas, plus a farmers market specializes in Southwestern and Mexican produce.
For a sit-down meal, visit the famous 24-hour Mi Terra Cafe for Tex-Mex cuisine served under twinkling Mexican lights. While you dine and shop, Market Square entertainment includes strolling musicians and cultural shows.
Full of exploration opportunities and endless adventure, the Natural Bridge Caverns were discovered near San Antonio in 1960 by some university students, one of whom then went on to assist the landowners with how to proceed with development. During excavations, artifacts dating back to 5,000 DC were unearthed at the entrance trail. These included a jawbone and femur from an extinct species of black bear. Even so, the caverns are still being explored, and it’s believed more passages exist.
Visitors to Natural Bridge Caverns can partake in a number of activities. One of the most popular is a 75-minute walking tour that takes you 180 feet (55 meters) underground to discover the hallways and various speleothems, or stalagmites, which are formed by mineral deposits. Other above-ground options include ziplines, a canopy explorer course and the opportunity to mine for gems, minerals or fossils.
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