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, resident numbers have grown massively over the past few decades and San Antonio is now one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. If you have a day or two to spend exploring the city, 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 area of the Riverwalk. Filled with bar, restaurants and shopping tents and stalls, this is a lovely place for a serene walk away from the madness of Downtown SA traffic. Of course, walking is free, so there’s no cost to exploring beneath the bridges and though the tunnels, and there are many spots to sit on the banks of the river and simply enjoy the atmosphere. There’s a small outdoor amphitheatre to lay back and take in the sounds of Mariachi bands and the smells of fresh coffee and a host of spices and there’s lots of window shopping to be done. If you work up a hunger while there, the Villita Cafe is a reasonably priced (and extremely popular) spot for breakfast, lunch, or just a glass of sweet tea or coffee.
Go back in time at The Alamo
I’d done a bit of research speaking to other bloggers and reading various articles on the history of the Alamo before my trip and they all pretty much said the same thing: it’s way smaller than than you think and it’s right in the centre of town. Of course, they’re absolutely right. If you expect a massive church and wide open Texan space, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But, if you’re looking to learn about the people who fought and died for Texas’ independence from Mexico, and whose traditions and culture live on in the city and beyond, you’ll enjoy your visit. Although the actual Alamo is smaller than you might expect, it’s surrounded by manicured gardens; a tent where you can watch a documentary about the history, and various exhibitions on show. You could easily spend a couple of hours at this sight without being overloaded with too much information.
Reminisce at San Antonio Missions
There are 4 remaining missions in SA, all of which are designed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO (although, given the US has now decided to resign from the body, they won’t be for long…). The Missions National Park is located a little south of downtown and all 4 Missions can be visited free of charge. The NPS has a fabulous museum in the visitor center, offering a look back into the history of San Antonio and the people who helped shape the city you see today. If you have time, it’s a wonderful way to spend half a day. If you don’t have spare capacity 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 and decided to branch out a little further afield. It turned out to be one of the highlights, not just of San Antonio, but of the whole trip around Texas. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but this is a fabulous spot. The parking lot and Chinese style pagoda (it was supposed to be Chinese originally…) give absolutely no insight to what you’ll find once you climb the steps and both Les and I turned to each other and grinned when we looking out scores the ponds, trees, waterfalls and beautifully coloured flowers that were all around. 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 and bask in the southern sunshine.
Amble around King William Historic District
This beautifully peaceful area reminded me of wandering around the centre of Savannah and it had much the same air of old world charm as it’s Georgian counterpart. Located on the south end of the San Antonio River, this area spans 25 city blocks and 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, but that only makes wandering amongst them more fun. 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 that 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, as in my case), this shouldn’t stop you from paying a visit to the SA Library. You don’t even have to pretend you’re looking for a copy of the latest Patricia Cornwell novel just to feel like you fit in because 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), and it’s stunning shape. Inside is also adorned with original art works 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, but if not, it won’t cause you any pain.
Soak up the atmosphere at El Mercado
San Antonio’s Market Square comprises 3 blocks of outdoor trading and is the largest Mexican market in America. It can be extremely 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
Just along from the front entrance to the Western Art Museum lies its beautiful sculpture garden. Although there’s a $10 fee for the museum proper, entry to the garden next door is free of charge. It’s a small space but well situated along the Riverwalk and has some beautiful works of art, showcasing the history of Western Art through a range of beautiful bronze statues.
What are your favourite free sights in and around San Antonio?