A half-marathon. That’s what brought me to San Antonio. I had always wanted to visit, but it wasn’t until my husband mentioned the Rock & Roll race that I decided to bite the bullet and book a flight. The race was the main reason we traveled to San Antonio. But when we weren’t running – which was most of the time – we were exploring as much of the city as possible.
San Antonio has been on my U.S. travel list for a long time. I’ve heard a lot about the Alamo City, but all the stories didn’t prepare me for what I experienced. San Antonio’s vibrancy, history and culture blew me away. I was surprised how much I loved this city. It exceeded most, if not all, of my expectations.
We couldn’t see everything the city has to offer, but we managed to pack in a lot in a short period of time. If you only have a couple days, here are some recommendations for things to see and do in San Antonio.
Visit the San Antonio River Walk
The River Walk is arguably one of the top attractions in San Antonio. This network of walkways along the San Antonio River sits one story below the streets of downtown. The River Walk has been a staple of San Antonio since the 1930s, and the city takes pride in the development and beautification of the waterway. It’s grown significantly over the years.
The most well-known section is the Downtown Reach, located in the heart of San Antonio. It’s lined with dozens of restaurants, pubs, and bars, bustling with activity at nearly all hours of the day. Barge-like boats float down the river, offering visitors guided tours of the historic buildings surrounding the River Walk. This portion includes historic spots like the Majestic Theatre and the Pioneer Flour Mills. You will also find sites like the Shops at Rivercenter and the Blue Contemporary Art Center.
The Mission Reach stretches 8 miles south of the Downtown Reach. This section is home to the historic San Antonio Missions Trail, where you can view four 18th century Spanish colonial missions. You can enjoy the Mission Reach by foot or rent a bike and pedal your way past these beautiful, historic structures.
Museum Reach is a relatively new addition to the River Walk. Opened in 2009, the 1.3-mile stretches north of Downtown. This part of the river runs by a series of attractions, including the San Antonio Zoo, the Brackenridge Park and Japanese Tea Gardens, and several popular museums. You can also easily access the hip Pearl District from this reach of the river. Pedestrian paths make it easy to journey along the reach by foot. But if you don’t feel like walking, you can hail a water taxi to take you where you want to go.
Go to the Tower of the Americas
Located right next to downtown San Antonio, the Tower of the Americas is a 750-foot observation tower and restaurant. It was built as the theme structure for the 1968 World’s Fair, and is the the tallest structure in the city. It’s the perfect spot to take in a view of San Antonio (best done on a clear day). Enjoy a dinner with a view at the revolving Chart House Restaurant. Or simply head to the observation deck to snap some photos of downtown. While you’re there, be sure to check out the Flags Over Texas exhibit, which tells the story of the six flags that once flew over Texas.
Part of your admission ticket includes the 4D film experience, Skies Over Texas. The show takes you on a virtual trip across the state, highlighting aspects of the Texas culture as you jolt around in your seat. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who has a sensitive stomach, as the 3D film and moving seats may not agree with you. Also, if you prefer not to be sprayed with water, give this one a miss.
Cost of admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and military, $9 for kids 4-12, and free for kids 3 and under.
I would recommend spending some time exploring the fountains and art surrounding the towers. It’s completely free to wander around these beautiful mini waterfalls and works of art. A nice complement to the landscape around the tower.
Stop by the Alamo
When in San Antonio, you have to make a stop at The Alamo. It is the city’s namesake, after all. I’ve seen hundreds of photos of the Alamo, but it wasn’t what I expected. I was surprised by the simplicity and size of it. It was a little underwhelming, to be completely honest. Still, I felt it necessary to step inside the mission and explore the grounds. Such an historic site deserves a look, if for no other reason than to appreciate the role it played in the country’s past.
It’s perfectly fine to snap a quick photo and move on. If you decide to venture inside, I recommend purchasing an audio tour. You will get a more in-depth overview of the structures, their purpose and how they were used during the Battle of the Alamo.
Admission is free. Audio tours are $7
Head to Brackenridge Park Conservancy
There’s a whole day’s worth of activities to enjoy at Brackenridge. This 343-acre recreational destination is located just north of downtown San Antonio. The public park was created from lands that were donated back in 1899 by George Washington Brackenridge. Today the park is home to several San Antonio favorites. If you only have a couple days, like we did, I suggest picking one (maybe two) of these to check out.
- Head over to the San Antonio Zoo, home to 750 different animal species. You can wander at leisure through the 56-acre zoo, or take a behind the scenes tour to get up close with some of these creatures.
- Built in what was once an operating rock quarry, the Japanese Tea Gardens feature shaded walkways, stone bridges, a beautiful year-round garden, a 60-foot waterfall and dozens of ponds filled with Koi.
- The Witte Museum specializes in natural history, science and Texas culture. Explore one of the permanent exhibits dedicated to Texas heritage, dinosaur history, scientific innovations and native cultures.
- For a unique way to experience the park, hop aboard the San Antonio Zoo Eagle Train. The miniature train takes riders on a 2 1/2-mile ride around the park, crossing the San Antonio River twice and making stops at most of the park’s popular attractions. (Train cost: $5)
If none of those sound appealing, you can always just enjoy a nice stroll on one of the many trails that weave through the park. It’s a peaceful escape from the city, an ideal spot to relax and appreciate nature.
Make a Stop at Pearl Brewing
Like many major cities in the country, San Antonio has been experiencing a renaissance in some of its outlying neighborhoods. Pearl Brewing, or simply the Pearl, is a multi-purpose gathering spot where locals and visitors come to eat, drink and be merry. But it wasn’t always a hot spot for restaurants, shops and hotels.
The Pearl was built on the 22-acre campus of the San Antonio Brewing Association. It was first founded in 1881 as J. B. Behloradsky Brewery, or City Brewery (much easier to pronounce). It changed ownership soon after and became the San Antonio Brewing Company, and the first bottles of Pearl beer came off the production line in 1886. It was the largest brewery in Texas by 1916, and was the only San Antonio brewery to survive prohibition. In 1985, it was purchased by Pabst Brewing Company, which began transferring production to Miller Brewing in 1999. In 2001, San Antonio Brewing closed.
Soon after, the complex was purchased and a revitalization effort was put into motion. Today, the district is a vibrant, thriving neighborhood. The Pearl is now home to award-winning restaurants, boutique shops, local businesses, a cooking school, and even another brewery. What’s most impressive about the Pearl is how the old buildings’ architectural features have been almost seamlessly incorporated into the contemporary design. It’s a nod to the area’s past, even as the city looks towards the future. I fell in love with the neighborhood. The atmosphere and energy is infectious, and the mixture of modern and traditional seriously made me giddy. Needless to say, many, many photos were snapped.
Grab a Bite (or Sip) of San Antonio Fare
From bold Texas barbecue to savory Mexican dishes to classic American cooking, San Antonio serves it all. As I mentioned, there are dozens of great eateries located along the River Walk. On our first night, we grabbed the first open table we could find at one of the Mexican establishments. Since we were only grabbing a drink, we didn’t get a chance to taste the food. But the pickled-pear margarita I had was delicious. A hint of sweetness, a touch of heat, served in an ice-cold glass: Delicious!
Where to Eat
If you’re looking for a true taste of San Antonio, here are a few eateries to try:
- County Line River Walk has been serving slow-roasted BBQ for over 30 years. They must be doing something right.
- Rosario’s Mexican Café and Cantina is considered one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city. They serve traditional south-of-the-border dishes with a contemporary twist.
- Good Time Charlie’s, located north on Broadway, has been a San Antonio establishment since 1979. If you’re looking for a straightforward burger, this is the place for you. We had lunch here after our marathon, and that juicy cheeseburger really hit the spot.
- The Pearl has several esteemed restaurants to enjoy. Dine on wild game and seafood at the Boiler Room; Mexican-style street food at La Gloria; or Peruvian-Asian dishes at Botika.
Quick Tip: If you do plan to dine along the river, be prepared to pay a little more for your meal. The restaurants here tend to be a bit more pricey than spots off the River Walk.
Where to Drink
There are a number of great bars, breweries and cocktail lounges in San Antonio where you can grab a quick drink or two. I tend to lean towards the breweries, but there are many other options to choose from.
- Alamo Beer Company is located just east of downtown, a short walk from the famous monument after which it’s named. The 18,000-square-foot brewery consists of three structures, all built in metal warehouse style to fit with the neighborhood. You can grab a stein or a flight from the tasting room, and enjoy your drinks inside or out in the beer garden.
- Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery is located in the Pearl, on the ground floor of the historic Pearl brewhouse. There are 21 locally brewed beers on tap, as well as a well curated menu of impressive takes on Texas cuisine.
- The Brooklynite is considered one of the best cocktail bars in San Antonio. Nestled on Brooklyn Avenue on the banks of the San Antonio river, the Brooklynite serves classic cocktails and house-made specialties.
- The winos out there can head to High Street Wine Co., located in the Pearl District. The comfortable and welcoming environment is an ideal spot to enjoy the curated selection of wines by the glass, flight or bottle.
San Antonio has so much to see and experience. I only wish I had a little more time to explore everything else the city has to offer. My two days in San Antonio left me wanting more, and I’m already planning my next visit.
Have you ever been to San Antonio? What did you love about the city?
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