San Antonio is currently the second largest city in Texas and the seventh largest city in the United States. San Antonio is the top tourist destination in Texas and was recently voted the number one most affordable, top two for ethnic food and cheap eats, and top five for family vacations in a 2016 poll in Travel + Leisure magazine. Over 26 million people visit San Antonio every year! And thousand write papers on this city!
In addition to all of the standard tourist draws like Sea World and Fiesta Texas, San Antonio is a city of culture. You won’t find a huge downtown with massive skyscrapers and areas of commerce. Instead, you’ll find a city that works at preserving its historical buildings and at integrating them into the present.
The River Walk is approximately 2 1/2 miles of scenic walkway that runs alongside the San Antonio River. It is vibrant and alive with shops and restaurants for all types of budgets. It is free to walk through the entire river walk area. While walking along the river, find the Arneson River Theatre. It is one of the most unique venues for a show because the audience sits on one side of the river on natural stone seating while the performers perform on a stage across the river. The theatre seats approximately 800 people and there are often free shows open to the public on any given day.
While at the theatre, walk up to the top of the seats and leave the River Walk for a short visit to La Villita Historic Arts Village. La Villita literally means “little village” and it consists of several historic homes that comprised San Antonio’s first real neighborhood. There are several historic buildings including the “Little Church of La Villita” that were built by early German and French immigrants. The area is now an artisan area with different types of artisan shops and restaurants. To walk through La Villita is free of charge and information is available to any history buffs who might want to know more about the historic buildings within the little village.
If you’re in the mood for something quieter and less busy, San Antonio has several renowned museums in and around the downtown area. The museum furthest away from downtown, but definitely worth the visit, is the McNay Art Museum. The McNay is a beautiful museum which began as an endowment from Mrs. Marion Koogler McNay to establish the first museum of modern art in Texas. It has grown from 700 pieces to over 20,000 pieces of modern art. The beautiful park grounds are open to the public for picnics and the museum itself is offers free admission on Thursday nights and the first Sunday of the month.
Working your way back towards the city center, you’ll find the Witte Museum of Science and History. If you’re visiting San Antonio with your kids, you’ll definitely want to visit the Witte Museum! The Witte is located on Broadway in Brackenridge park on the banks of the San Antonio river. Major exhibits change regularly and the permanent exhibits include natural science, San Antonio culture, and history. The new Science Treehouse is a must for children of all ages. Admission to the Witte is free on Tuesdays from 3:00 pm until 8:00 pm.
While you’re so close to Brackenridge park, why not pack picnic lunch and enjoy the shady picnic sites along the San Antonio River? There are walking trails throughout the park and a children’s playground available for their use. After your picnic, drive to to the other side of the park and visit the Sunken Gardens, otherwise referred to as the Japanese Tea Gardens? This park was part of an old quarry that was renovated into a large lilly pond with exotic plants and stone bridges. The Sunken Gardens have recently undergone a $1.5 million dollar renovation to repair the waterfall and pond. The result is a beautiful lush area that invokes peace and tranquility and is free and open to the public 7 days a week.
Another great museum of national renown is the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). San Antonio’s historic Lone Star Brewery was purchased and after a $7.2 million dollar renovation, and became the San Antonio Museum of Art in 1981. Past exhibits have included photographs and art by Eudora Welty, Allen Ginsburg, Donald Lokuta, Fernando Botero, and Masterpieces of the Impressionist Movement. SAMA’s permanent collections include American Art, Asian Art, European Art, Contemporary Art, Latin American Art, Oceanic Art, and Western Antiquities. In 2005, a 15,000 square foot addition was added to house the Asian Art collection making this collection the largest collection of Asian Art in the southern United States. Admission is free on Tuesdays from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
If you happen to be in San Antonio over a weekend, stop by old Pearl Brewery and visit the new Pearl Farmer’s Market. Every Saturday, come rain or shine, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, the farmer’s market is open to the public. The market is located by the west bank of the San Antonio River and local food producers from in and around the San Antonio area come to sell their goods. Admission to the market is free and it is part of the new addition of the San Antonio River Walk so visit the market, buy some goodies and take a stroll along the river.
Of course, no visit to San Antonio would be complete without a visit to the Alamo! Most tourists visit the Alamo because it is directly downtown in the middle of all the action but the Alamo is only one of a series of five missions
that complete what is referred to as the Mission Trail. The National Park Service maintains all of the missions and admission is free to all of them, including the Alamo. The missions are important to the history of San Antonio because these were some of the first communities to begin shaping the area that was to become San Antonio, Texas. Some of the missions were even instrumental to irrigation and are still in use to day for that very purpose. A hike and bike trail connects 4 of the missions on the Mission Trail but they can be reached by vehicle as well. The only mission not accessible by the trail is the Alamo itself.
And just in case I haven’t provided you with enough free places to visit and things to do, I have one final freebie for you. One day, while walking my dog in my old neighborhood, I stumbled across the most unusual museum I had ever seen! I had driven and walked by it before but it was always closed and I had no idea what lay behind those closed doors…you definitely need to visit Barney Smith’s Toilet Art Museum! Mr. Smith is one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet. He is happy to show off his collection of hand-painted and designed toilet seats and he has over 600 of them!! His museum has been featured on several television shows and in several articles. Make sure you click on the link and call before you drop by. Admission is free and you won’t regret the visit!
I hope that this article has given anyone planning on visiting San Antonio, and maybe even some San Antonio natives, the tools to find some great places to visit and some awesome sights to see that won’t cost you a dime. Happy traveling everyone!