Have you ever traveled somewhere and been completely surprised? I went to San Antonio for a wedding and made it into a 5-day trip. I didn't have any preconceived expectations for San Antonio. It’s not a city I had ever thought much about and I barely even knew it existed. This lack of expectations led to amazement at the beauty, friendliness and diverse nature of the city. Walking along the riverwalk, it felt almost tropical. There were tropical-like trees, birds I’ve never seen before and so many colorful flowers. I’m not one to admire nature too often but San Antonio was so pretty, it would have stood out to anyone. San Antonio has plenty to offer, even for those on a budget. So grab a pen and paper and get ready to take notes because we have a few freebies to kick off your list of to-dos.
One of the original Franciscan missions in the area, The Alamo has become one of America’s most famous battlegrounds. After Mexico had released itself from Spanish rule, Texas entered a war with the country to gain their independence. While Texas won in the end, The Alamo was a bloody yet hard-fought battle that was ultimately lost. What makes this particular battle so famous was the 13-day fight the small army of 200 put up against a much larger one. This persistence has become a symbol to the people of Texas and one of pride. A few famous names were part of the Battle at the Alamo including Davy Crockett, James Bowie and William Travis*. It’s not a heartwarming story, it’s pretty sad to be honest not to mention violent. It is an interesting historical moment that you can see with your own eyes though. Parts of the mission are still standing and it has been preserved well. Visiting The Alamo is free if you’d like to walk around the grounds on your own or visit the Alamo Church. Tours start at $15 and are around an hour long.
McNay Art Museum
See American and European art that dates from the Renaissance to modern day at the McNay Art Museum. Admission costs $10 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and military. If you visit on Thursday nights or during the first Sunday of the month, take advantage of free admission. The museum has a collection of 20,000 pieces of art including Medieval and Renaissance art, 19th-20th century European and American paintings, sculptures and photographs, Art of New Mexico and much more. The grounds and mansion alone are incredible to explore. Besides the main collections, the museum holds exhibitions and events. Check them out before visiting to take advantage of what the museum has going on during your trip!
Thursday night complimentary admission goes from 4-9pm and on the first Sundays of each month it is available from 12-5pm. Access to special exhibitions is $10.
Pearl District/Pearl Brewery
The Pearl District is a newer neighborhood towards the end of the riverwalk in the heart of San Antonio. The district was named after Pearl Brewery which used to be the main brewing location for Pabst Beer. It's now a lively mixed-used area full of restaurants, shops, events and more. The river taxi stops at the Pearl District which also marks the end of its route. Businesses in the district include Hotel Emma, The Culinary Institute of America San Antonio, a year-round Farmers Market, The Bottling Department, and more. Stop in for a quick bite at Bakery Lorraine or enjoy an expertly crafted meal at James Beard award-winning Chef Andrew Weissman’s Il Sogno Osteria. Browse through a variety of shops from cozy bookstores to boutique clothing. It’s a beautiful neighborhood to walk around. Hotel Emma alone is so much fun to walk through and explore.
San Antonio Missions National Park
See history with your own eyes at San Antonio Missions National Park. A World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the park consists of four Spanish colonial missions - Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada - along with the Alamo. All five missions are standing almost exactly as they were first built. They’re beautiful pieces of history that have been maintained as much as possible. Mission Concepcion and San Juan are the closest to the original construction. The original frescoes are still visible at Concepcion. It’s a bit of a hike to visit all four missions on foot, especially if you’re coming from the heart of San Antonio, but they’re completely free to visit. There are services that take you to the missions for a small fee if you’re not up for a day’s hike.
San Antonio Museum of Art
Another great museum for your list, the San Antonio Museum of Art does have an admission fee. Visit from 4-9pm on Tuesdays or 10am - 12pm on Sundays and you’ll be treated to free admission! The museum has a rich collection of American art including Spanish Colonial and Latin American Folk Art. Other collections range from Egyptian, Greek and Roman art to Chinese ceramics. Interesting enough, they have one of the largest collections of art from ancient Mediterranean civilizations in the South. It’s a beautiful space with plenty to see and learn. And you can’t beat free admission opportunities!
Take a Self Guided Tour
Get in a variety of destinations at once using one of San Antonio’s free Self-Guided Tours. Visit one of five wine trails to experience Texas Hill Country. Tickets are available for special privileges but I’ve never found myself bored in a vineyard before. If you love history, there are several tour options including one focused on Spanish Colonial San Antonio and a four-day historical tour. There are two tours available for romantics and a few for families including a self-guided ghost tour. There are tour options for sports fanatics and nature lovers looking for a good hike or bike tour. Visit San Antonio is a great resource to find maps, guides and ideas.
The San Antonio River Walk
Other than The Alamo, the River Walk is the most famous destination in San Antonio. Located just below street level, the river walk provides paths and arched bridges for pedestrians to explore on foot. For tours and a ride to farther destinations, water taxis are available for an affordable fee. The taxi extends all the way down to the Pearl District. There’s plenty to explore along the river walk from restaurants to shopping, venues featuring events and performances, historical sites and more. The heart of the city is located just off the river walk as well as The Alamo, four missions plus more. Strolling down the river walk is completely free and one of the easiest ways to discover San Antonio.
*Information on The Alamo sourced from: http://www.history.com/topics/alamo