A relatively tiny city by Texan standards, San Antonio was traditionally a short day trip from Austin or Houston. The city has bulked up over the years, however, and the list of best things to do in San Antonio has grown in tandem; today, you can’t get away with exploring the city in a single afternoon because San An is a bonafide weekend getaway.
Long before San Antonio earned its place on national travel lists, visitors flocked to this culturally-explosive city to float down the charming River Walk, to experience Tejano culture, and of course, to ‘Remember the Alamo!’ As years passed, San Antonio grew (adding about 100,000 new residents over the past decade) and its attractions expanded to include buzzy new neighborhoods, cultural experiences, and a thriving culinary scene to boot.
What’s the best way to fill up your weekend escape? Proving its status as one of Texas’ premier travel destinations, the best things to do in San Antonio range from historic excursions to exciting bars and restaurants—here’s everything worth checking off your list.
Best things to do in San Antonio, ranked
1. Pearl District
The Pearl District, San Antonio’s hippest neighborhood, gets its name from the historic Pearl Brewery, which has since been renovated and reopened into the artsy-boutique Hotel Emma. Cram-packed with historic buildings, beautiful restaurants (we love Mon Chou Chou), charming gift shops, and art galleries, the Pearl District is a true cultural hub. You can jam to live music during the monthly night market, grab a drink or snack at the Bottling Dept Food Hall, listen to literary readings at Twig Book Shop, or do some shopping among the independent boutiques all within a few blocks.
2. The River Walk
The River Walk, also known as Paseo del Rio, is situated 20 feet below street level and spans 15 miles long. But it's a five-mile stretch in downtown San Antonio that's the most popular where homes, shops, museums, hotels, and restaurants flank the river. The stone pathways that make up this particular area are peppered with mariachi bands and river taxis that entertain people while they gaze at the beautiful architecture that surrounds them.
3. San Antonio Museum of Art
Located in a complex that once housed Lone Star Brewery, the San Antonio Museum offers visitors a cultural experience unlike any other. The museum features an impressive art collection that spans over 5,000 years and touches upon many different genres, from antiquity to contemporary. However, the museum is best known for having the most impressive Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art collection in the southern United States, and an astounding Latin American art collection in the Nelson A. Rockefeller Latin American art wing. Admission for adults is $20, but SAMA offers free hours on Tuesday and Sunday.
If you fancy an artsy activity that’s a little bit boozy, head to Hopscotch. Since opening, the immersive art experience has drawn visitors who flock to get selfies with vibrant-yet-thoughtful displays from talented artists across a variety of mediums. Not to spoil the surprise, but expect plenty of mindboggling optical illusions and ample neon lights. A full-service bar turns up the fun, and many of the exhibits are themed to diversity and inclusion—proving that love is love in Texas, too.
5. Natural Bridge Caverns
The Natural Bridge Caverns are the largest known commercial caverns in Texas. Discovered by four students from a San Antonio university in the 1960s, the caverns are named after a 60-foot limestone slab bridge found at the entrance. The natural wonder attracts a daily dose of tourists and locals for tours 180 feet below ground that show ancient formations and large caves. With multiple tour options and surface attractions (like obstacle courses and gem and fossil mining), there's something for everyone at Natural Bridge Caverns.
6. San Antonio Botanical Garden
Covering 38 acres of land, the non-profit San Antonio Botanical Garden is a family-friendly site that delights all sorts of visitors. Each season brings new exotic plants, desert greenery, and even a rose garden that attracts a wide range of birds and insects. Stick around after exploring and dine at their gorgeous garden restaurant, Jardin.
7. El Mercado
El Mercado (or the Market Square) covers three blocks of an outdoor plaza lined with over 100 locally-owned restaurants and shops. As the largest Mexican market in the United States, El Mercado is a central staple of the cultural experience of San Antonio. Visitors to El Mercado can explore indoor and outdoor shops full of authentic Mexican crafts, snack on delicious Mexican pastries at Mi Tierra Restaurant & Bakery, and enjoy live bands and other entertainment in the plaza on the weekends.
8. Ranger Creek Brewing and Distillery
If whiskey and beer are your go-to drinks, a tour of Ranger Creek Brewing and Distillery is in order. Since opening in 2010, Ranger Creek has been a beloved “brewstillery” of San Antonio and offers $10 tours that include three tastings. Beware: tours fill up quickly, so make sure to purchase a ticket in advance.
9. McNay Art Museum
Set against the backdrop of a Spanish Colonial mansion, the McNay Art Museum is a sight to behold. The museum is named after artist and art collector Marion Koogler McNay, who moved to San Antonio from Ohio in 1926. McNay began construction on a house in 1926 that would become the McNay Art Museum, the first modern art museum of Texas, in 1954. During her lifetime, McNay collected over 700 works of art by Diego Rivera, Van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Picasso, but today, the museum has expanded to include 22,000 pieces of art, mostly from the 19th- and 20th-centuries.
11. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
12. Quadrangle Fort Sam Houston
13. Japanese Tea Garden
14. San Pedro Springs Park
15. The DoSeum
16. Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center
17. Buckhorn Saloon and Museum
18. Alamo City Ghost Tour