‘The city of San Antonio is located around 2 hours south-west of the Texas state capital, Austin, and is home to around 2.5 million people…’
Population wise, San Antonio has grown massively over the past few decades and is now one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. It’s also a great city for free activities. You needn’t break the bank, and you can still have a great time.
Relax on the Riverwalk
Running along both sides of the San Antonio River is the pedestrian-only Riverwalk. Filled with bars, restaurants and shopping tents and stalls, it’s a great spot for exploring, away from downtown traffic. There are many spots to sit on the banks and simply enjoy the atmosphere. There’s a small outdoor amphitheatre to lay back and take in the sounds of Mariachi bands and the fresh coffee aroma. If you work up a hunger, the Villita Cafe is close by. It’s an extremely popular spot for breakfast or just a glass of sweet tea or coffee.
Go back in time at The Alamo
I’d done a bit of research on the history of the Alamo before my trip and they all pretty much said the same thing: it’s way smaller than you think and it’s in the centre of town. If you expect a massive church and wide open Texan space, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking to learn about the people who fought and died for Texas’ independence, you’ll enjoy your visit. Although the actual Alamo is smaller than you might expect, it’s surrounded by well-manicured gardens. It also has a tent where you can watch a documentary about its history, as well as various exhibitions. You could easily spend a couple of hours at this site without being overloaded.
Reminisce at San Antonio Missions
There are 4 remaining missions in SA, all of which are designed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. The Missions National Park is located a little south of downtown and all 4 Missions are free of charge. The NPS has a fabulous museum in the visitor centre, offering a look back into the history of San Antonio and the people who helped shape the city. It’s a great way to spend a day. If you don’t have time to see all four then the San Jose Mission and visitor centre is a great place to start.
Find your Zen at the Japanese Tea Garden
This is one of those sights that we stumbled upon because we felt we’d exhausted ourselves Downtown. It turned out to be one of the highlights of San Antonio. The parking lot and Chinese style pagoda (it was supposed to be Chinese originally…) give absolutely no insight into what you’ll find once you climb the steps. Both Les and I turned to each other and grinned when we looking out scores the ponds, trees and waterfalls. As well as a maze of paths and bridges to gently wander around, the park also has a beautiful cafe where you can enjoy the views with some bubble tea.
Amble around King William Historic District
Located on the South end of the San Antonio River, this area spans 25 city blocks. It showcases the 19th Century period homes and architecture in their perfectly preserved styles. Many of the homes are now galleries or museums as opposed to private residences. You don’t mind staring through windows when you know you’re not likely to freak out some poor woman who’s sitting down to a mid-morning coffee. It’s more sightseeing than stalker that way. Or that’s what I told the Police, anyway.
Marvel at the Public Library
Even if you forget your membership card (or don’t have one), this shouldn’t stop you from paying a visit to the San Antonio Library. You don’t even have to pretend you’re looking for a book just to feel like you fit in. The building is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Locals get books; tourists come to look at the architecture. The building is impossible to miss, due to its colour (Enchilada Red is the official term), as well as its shape. Inside is also adorned with original artworks and it’s even been used as a location for movies, such as Sky Kids 2 and Selena. If you have a hangover, it’s probably a bit on the bright side. However, if you haven’t over-indulged in too many margaritas, it won’t cause you any pain.
Soak up the atmosphere at El Mercado
San Antonio Market Square comprises 3 blocks of outdoor trading and is the largest Mexican market in America. It can be busy, but it’s easy to see why people flock to trade and buy here. It’s more manic than the Riverwalk shopping areas, but just as atmospheric, if not a touch louder. The location also hosts a range of festivals throughout the year and there’s always something new and exciting to experience.
Check out the sculptures at McNutt Courtyard Garden
A beautiful sculpture garden lies just along from the front entrance to the Western Art Museum. Although there’s a $10 fee for the museum proper, entry to the garden next door is free. It’s a small space but well situated along the Riverwalk. It has some beautiful works of art, showcasing the history of Western Art through a range of bronze statues.
What are your favourite free sights in San Antonio?