In search of an authentic family getaway? Look no further than San Antonio. This 18th-century metropolis is one of America’s favorite cities. Filled with historic sites, theme parks and museums, San Antonio creates the perfect backdrop for a memorable family experience.
Step back in time to the days of colonial Spain when you visit the 18th Century Missions that spread European culture and converted native people to Christianity—forever changing the face of America. Originally established as a mission in 1718, the Alamo is most well known for its 1836 battle where 189 defenders of Texas freedom held the mission against more than 4,000 Mexican soldiers for 13 days during the Texas Revolution. The Alamo remains in the heart of San Antonio as a symbol of liberty. Its tranquil gardens and famous façade welcome more than 1.8 million patrons each year.
San Antonio is also home to four more Spanish colonial missions, which comprise the largest concentration of Spanish colonial architecture in North America and are collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Alamo. They are connected by the San Antonio River and Mission Trail, an ideal place to hike and bike. The “Queen of the Missions,” Mission San José was established in 1720. Its grand stone walls, bastions, granary and magnificent church took 62 years to complete. Arguably the most beautiful mission, Mission Concepción looks much like it did almost three centuries ago with original frescos and stunning limestone details. Mission San Juan’s fertile farmlands allowed it to be self-sustainable, while its surplus helped supply the region with produce. Mission Espada contains the best-preserved segment of the acequia (irrigation system) that was used to bring water to the fields. Peruse them all, perhaps during a Sunday mariachi mass as these four missions are still active Catholic parishes.
Make a stop at Market Square, the largest Mexican market north of the Rio Grande. Here, a rich mix of family owned cafes, artists and merchants fill fountain-laden plazas with the bright colors and warm hospitality of the Mexican culture. Nearby, the Historic King William District was settled in the early 19th century by German immigrants who built mansions along a slow bend in the San Antonio River. Their culture lives on in their beautiful houses which have been reincarnated into galleries, cafes and museums.
San Antonio is also a top destination for theme park lovers. Enjoy animal interactions, water parks, award-winning shows and thrilling rides. At SeaWorld San Antonio (the world’s largest marine life park), you can feed the dolphins and also see beluga whales, penguins, sea lions and more. Take a thrilling ride on roller coasters like Wave Breaker: The Rescue Coaster or The Texas Stingray. Just down the road, Six Flags Fiesta Texas is kickin’ up a good time with more fun than you can pack into one day. Catch an entire ensemble of award-winning shows. Ride Joker: Carnival of Chaos, a 14-story pendulum ride with speeds up to 75 miles per hour, just one of several thrilling DC Comic-themed rides at the park. Take a dip in the Texas-shaped pool at the White Water Bay water park. Stay into the evening for a spectacular fireworks display and canyon light show.
Designed specifically for individuals with special needs, Morgan’s Wonderland is the world’s first ultra-accessible family fun park, for all ages and all abilities. Morgan’s Wonderland is completely wheelchair-accessible, and features more than 25 elements and attractions including rides, playgrounds, gardens, an eight-acre fishing lake, 18,000-square-foot special-events center, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest areas throughout the park. Following recent expansion, the park also includes Morgan’s Inspiration Island, the world’s first and only ultra-accessible splash park for its visitors.
Just north of San Antonio, Schlitterbahn has been ranked the #1 water park in the world according to the Travel Channel. Located on the banks of the spring-fed Comal River, Schlitterbahn has tube chutes, water slides, uphill water coasters and more. Families can cool off at Splashtown, a water park with 20 acres of attractions. Here, they will loop around the Siesta Del Rio, rock their cares away in the wave pool or shoot through miles of tubing fun. Aquatica San Antonio, SeaWorld’s neighboring South Seas-inspired water park offers rides from the serene to extreme, including Tonga Twister offering 400 feet of twists and turns enhanced with a sight and sound experience.
At The RIM shopping center in north San Antonio, families will find a variety of entertainment venues offering hours of nonstop fun. At Topgolf San Antonio, there’s no pressure to be good at golf. Even non-golfers will enjoy this three-story driving range’s fun and competitive golf games. Speed demons will love Andretti Indoor Karting & Games where they can race state-of-the-art electric go karts on two multi-level tracks, while slow pokes can try their hand at Andretti’s duck pin bowling lanes, indoor ropes course, laser tag arena or variety of classic arcade and virtual reality games. Those seeking even bigger thrills can book a flight at iFly San Antonio where the dream of flight becomes reality. After training with a certified bodyflight instructor, daredevils will experience the sensation of skydiving in a wind tunnel-powered indoor flight chamber.
LEGOs, aquatic animals and history keep things exciting for families at The Shops at Rivercenter in downtown San Antonio. Kids become LEGO masters as they build their way through LEGOLAND Discovery Center San Antonio’s 10 themed play zones, plus two indoor rides and a 4-D cinema mean even more fun. Don’t miss Miniland® San Antonio – a replica of the Alamo City made with more than 1.5 million bricks! Next door, families can get up close to 5,000 marine and fresh water creatures at SEA LIFE San Antonio Aquarium. An underwater tunnel offers the sensation of traveling through the ocean. History buffs won’t want to miss Battle for Texas: The Experience, an immersive museum experience featuring authentic Alamo artifacts and multimedia reenactments.
For celebrity sightings, the nearby Louis Tussaud’s Plaza Wax Museum houses more than 225 life-like characters in four themed sections, while the world’s largest Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium proves truth can be stranger than fiction. The Guinness World Records Museum is a state-of-the-art, interactive experience that brings the world-famous book to life. Another popular stop is the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum which showcases a 131-year old bar, one-of-a-kind oddities, Western memorabilia, and offers visitors a journey back to the Old West through exhibits, an old-fashioned arcade, the saloon and a shooting gallery.
San Antonio’s unique blend of art villages, marketplaces, outlet malls and chic retail spreads invites visitors to explore a shopping destination as rich and diverse as the city itself. Shopping with a view of the River Walk is available at The Shops at Rivercenter; take shopping outdoors at The Shops at La Cantera; or explore more than 200 discounted retailers at the Prime and Tanger outlet malls located in nearby San Marcos just north of the city. Kids especially love the largest pair of cowboy boots in the world, found right outside North Star Mall. Towering 40 feet high and 20 feet long, these boots are sure to kick-start a great time for every family!
San Antonio also has many museums to fill the day, including ones that are totally kid-centric. Little ones can roam through a miniature model of a city and play with sound and light in the Sensations Studio at The DoSeum—an interactive learning center where kids play to learn and parents learn to play. The nearby Witte Museum features scientific and historic exhibits like mummies and a dinosaur gallery. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum underwent a recent transformation to expand on popular archaeological attractions, add outdoor features, and provide new facilities for learning opportunities for children and adults alike. Discover the Witte’s various new additions, including laboratories, galleries, and classrooms. Here, children can try out the hands-on exhibits and see how science is used in the “real world.”
Families enjoy nationally-acclaimed museums including Centro de Artes which proudly displays collections, exhibitions and educational programming dedicated to Latino culture. The Institute of Texan Cultures is another of the city’s Smithsonian affiliates. It tells the stories of the people and cultures that built Texas. Other notable museums include the McNay Art Museum, which has a grand collection of French Impressionist pieces and the San Antonio Museum of Art, which offers the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art—the largest repository of its kind.
With more than 50 courses and practice greens, San Antonio is the perfect golf destination for families. They can take a shot at Hill Country resort courses; make a round along the San Antonio River at Brackenridge, Texas’ most historic course; or test their swings at one of many greens nestled in limestone rock quarries. And with theme parks and attractions close by, there’s something for every member of the family in San Antonio.
Abundant sunny weather throughout the year beckons families to enjoy the great outdoors. San Antonio sits on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, a picturesque region that lures visitors with its beautiful terrain. Adventurers can tube or canoe down spring-fed rivers, fish, water-ski or sail at area lakes and ride horseback across prairies and hike beneath the shade of stately live oaks.
For many, San Antonio is the Paseo del Rio, an urban masterpiece better known as the River Walk. These cobble- and flagstone paths border the San Antonio River, 20 feet below street level, as it winds through culture-rich downtown. The River Walk has multiple personalities, quiet and park-like in some stretches, while other areas are full of activity with European-style sidewalk cafes, specialty boutiques, art galleries, theaters, high-rise hotels and more. River cruises are available and accompanied by knowledgeable guides who share stories of surrounding sites. A total of 15 miles in length, the River Walk also offers artistic attractions which include the San Antonio Museum of Art, public art installations and kayaking on the south end.
A beautiful museum of plants, the San Antonio Botanical Garden offers a place for families to connect with nature. The 38-acre garden offers ample space for kids to get hands-on with nature – to climb, tumble and stretch their limbs and imaginations. The recently added Family Adventure Garden offers 15 unique areas for kids to explore, while the colorful Zachry Foundation Culinary Garden and CHEF Teaching Kitchen gives all ages the chance to learn about planting, harvesting, preparation and, of course, the enjoyment of food.
Animal lovers should make time for the San Antonio Zoo. It’s the third largest in the nation with more than 3,500 animals. Little discoverers can see rhinos and spider monkeys, visit the African Plains and Amazonia and peek under the sea at the aquarium. Nearby Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is the perfect place for a safari. Here, more than 500 animals from six of the seven continents roam free on a 400-acre preserve. The Giraffe Barn offers a chance to get close to the giraffes and their habitat. Nearby, families can explore the underground at Natural Bridge Caverns where they can tour a vast cave system on guided paths or try more adventurous spelunking experiences. Above ground, the Twisted Trails Zip Rail and Ropes course offers traditional and unexpected ropes course challenges climbing to 60-feet in the air.
The city is full of park activities. Favorites include birding along Mission Trail or at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, cycling the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System and hiking along the shady paths at Brackenridge Park where a miniature train and picnicking along the San Antonio River attract locals.
In San Antonio, visitors can catch a basketball game almost all year long. The five-time world champion San Antonio Spurs heat up the AT&T Center October through June. In the fall, University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunner fans fill the Alamodome to see San Antonio’s first NCAA Division I Football team. If you’re in the mood for some peanuts and Cracker Jacks®, spend the evening with the San Antonio Missions. The Missions are the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, so fans get to watch these future stars of the baseball diamond vie for a spot on a big-league roster. Prefer “the beautiful game?” The San Antonio FC brings USL Championship soccer to Toyota Field from March to October.
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