San Antonio is the home of the renowned 18th-century Alamo Spanish mission, which is preserved as a free-admission living history museum and park. Other free attractions include HemisFair Park and Brackenridge Park. For lower-cost transportation, visitors can ride the city's VIA Metropolitan Transit system, which offers bus and trolley service throughout the city's downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
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The Alamo is San Antonio's most famous preserved Roman Catholic mission, open to the public today as a living history site and museum. The mission was originally established as Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1744 and operated for over seven decades until its conversion into a Spanish military fortress in 1793. It is best known as the location of the famed Battle of the Alamo, which led to the deaths of as many as 600 Texas revolutionaries and eventually precipitated the state's successful secession. Since 1895, the site has been open to the public as one of Texas' top tourist destinations, attracting more than four million visitors each year. Visitors can explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site living history complex for free, including its preserved iconic chapel and its Long Barracks building, which holds a museum showcasing artifacts from the Texas Revolution. Daily historical programming include question-and-answer history talks, living history demonstrations, and audio and docent-led tours.
300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas 78205, Phone: 210-225-1391
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River Walk is a scenic pedestrian walkway system that connects San Antonio's biggest tourist attractions, including the San Antonio Zoo, Hemisfair Park, and the city's historic preserved Spanish missions. The walk, which is also known as the Paseo del Río, was developed in 1939 and spans the length of the San Antonio River within city limits, located one level below automobile traffic. It begins at the city's expansive Brackenridge Park and meanders through its downtown and museum districts, providing convenient access to attractions such as the Pearl District, the Witte Museum, La Villita Historic Arts Village, and the Shops at Rivercenter shopping mall. Many restaurants and bars within the city's downtown district offer riverfront seating along the walk, which is maintained as a public park and accessible 24 hours a day. Many annual special events take place along the walk, including the Fiesta de las Luminarias, which lights the walk's pathways with holiday lanterns and lights.
849 E. Commerce Street, San Antonio, Texas 78205, Phone: 210-227-4262
3.San Antonio: The Saga
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San Antonio: The Saga is one of San Antonio's newest and most unique attractions, located within the city's Main Plaza. The one-of-a-kind video art installation projects a visual journey of the city's history and evolution onto the face of San Fernando Cathedral, North America's oldest currently-operating sanctuary. Designed by renowned international artist Xavier de Richemont, the Grand Pinnacle Award-winning presentation lasts 24 minutes and can be viewed for free on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings three times throughout the evening hours. Custom-choreographed lighting, sound, and music elements elevate the spectacle and chronicle the city's place in American history and its development into the nation's seventh-largest city today.
115 N. Main Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78205, Phone: 210-225-9800
4.The McNay Art Museum
© The McNay Art Museum
The McNay Art Museum is Texas' first and only modern art museum, originally opened to the public in 1954 following art collection donations by Marion Koogler McNay. The museum's exhibits are housed within McNay's former Spanish Colonial Revival mansion, which sits on over 23 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds and botanical gardens. Collections focus on 19th and 20th-century modern art from Europe and North America, showcasing renowned works by artists such as Diego Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe, Henri Matisse, Edward Hopper, and Pablo Picasso. In all, over 20,000 works of art are held by the museum, including the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts, considered to be one of the nation's finest collection of theater arts and artifacts. Visitors can explore the museum for free on Thursday evenings between 4:00pm and 10:00pm or on the first Sunday of each month during the afternoon hours, though certain special exhibits still require a ticketed upcharge.
6000 N New Braunfels Ave, San Antonio, TX 78209, Phone: 210-824-5368
5.The San Antonio Museum of Art
© The San Antonio Museum of Art
The San Antonio Museum of Art is one of San Antonio's premiere art museums, originally opened to the public in 1981 within the city's renovated historic Lone Star Brewery complex. The museum serves as the anchor today of the Museum Reach of the city's River Walk and houses an impressive collection of more than 30,000 artworks and artifacts spanning from antiquity to the present day, including some of the nation's most impressive collections of ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Asian art. Other substantial collections include Latin American and contemporary art collections, including one of the nation's most impressive collections of Latin American folk art. Visitors can explore the museum for free on Tuesday evenings between 4:00pm and 9:00pm or Sunday mornings between 10:00am and noon, though some special exhibits still require a ticketed upcharge.
200 W Jones Ave, San Antonio, TX 78215, Phone: 210-978-8100
6.The Witte Museum
© The Witte Museum
The Witte Museum is San Antonio's premiere Texas history museum, located within the city's sprawling Brackenridge Park. The museum was originally founded in 1926 and is named in honor of city businessman Alfred G. Witte, a philanthropist and arts and history enthusiast. Today, it houses exhibits detailing the history of the state from prehistoric times through the present day, incorporating elements of science, art, and history and civics education. Its permanent collection showcases dinosaur fossils found within the region and expansive dioramas of Texas wildlife and ecosystems, along with historic artifacts and photographs related to the state's mission history, the Texas Revolution, and modern-day economic and civic topics. Significant collections of Texas art are also held, along with artifacts related to the state's pioneer heritage. Free admission is offered at the museum on Tuesday afternoons between 3:00pm and 8:00pm, though some special exhibits still require a ticketed upcharge.
3801 Broadway St, San Antonio, TX 78209, Phone: 210-357-1900
© The DoSeum
The DoSeum is San Antonio's premiere children's museum, originally opened to the public in 2015. The museum encourages San Antonio-area children and visitors to use their minds and bodies to foster creativity, innovation, and lifelong learning principles. Hands-on exhibits strive to provide a unique experience unlike any other children's museum in the nation, with exhibits featured such as an interactive robot, a children's river area, a spy-academy-themed math center, and a fully ADA-compliant treehouse playplace. Visitors can enjoy the museum for free on the first Tuesday of each month between 5:30pm and 7:30pm as part of Free Family Nights, which offer free admission wristbands for a limited number of visitors on a first-come, first-served basis. Visitors should note that parking for Free Family Nights is limited and should plan to arrive early to secure lot parking.
2800 Broadway St, San Antonio, TX 78209, Phone: 210-212-4453
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Brackenridge Park is San Antonio's most popular public park, spanning 343 acres just north of the city's downtown district along the beautiful San Antonio River. The park was originally established in 1899 and is named in honor of its land donor, George Washington Brackenridge. Today, the park is home to the world-famous San Antonio Zoo and the Witte Museum, which offers unique exhibits detailing Texas natural and civic history. Landscaped gardens within the park include a Japanese-style tea garden and the outdoor Sunken Garden Theater, a free-admission amphitheater that presents free and paid admission concerts and special events throughout the year. Visitors can also enjoy the park's Lambert Beach and Lions Field Senior Center, along with a number of baseball fields, children's playgrounds, and walking trails located throughout the park.
3700 N St Mary's St, San Antonio, TX 78212, Phone: 210-207-7275
9.Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
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Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has been voted as Texas' best outdoor campground and natural area by MSN.com, located approximately 17 miles north of Fredericksburg. The natural area is centered around its namesake Enchanted Rock, which rises 425 feet above the Texas landscape and is the United States' largest pink granite monadnock. Over 1,600 acres of outdoor activities and wildlife areas are offered at the national area, which is home to large populations of bats, foxes, Texas horned lizards, and the endangered invertebrate fairy shrimp. Popular visitor activities at the site include rock climbing, caving, hiking, and birdwatching for a variety of native and migratory species. Primitive backcountry camping is allowed with permits. Visitors can also embark on Summit Trail tours each third Saturday of the month, led by Friends of Enchanted Rock volunteer rangers.
16710 Ranch Rd 965, Fredericksburg, TX 78624, Phone: 830-685-3636
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Hemisfair Park preserves many of the buildings and structures constructed for the 1968 San Antonio World's Fair, held in conjunction with the city's 250th anniversary celebration. Following the fair, the park's lands were transferred to the ownership of the State of Texas, with 50 acres granted to the City of San Antonio in 1988 for public park development and preservation. Today, visitors can ride the 750-foot Tower of the Americas observation tower to its summit, which offers a lounge, a revolving restaurant, and unparalleled views of the San Antonio skyline. Other structures preserved from the Fair that are open to the public include the park's Convention Center Theater, Eastman Kodak Pavilion, and Women's Pavilion, which is in the process of being renovated and remodeled into a public museum.
434 S Alamo St, San Antonio, TX 78205, Phone: 210-709-4750
11.San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
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San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves the sites of four former Spanish Catholic frontier missions constructed between the 15th and 18th centuries by Spanish colonial settlers. The park was established in 1983 and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. Visitors can explore the park's Missions Concepción, Espada, San Jose, and San Juan for free daily, which are all located approximately two to three miles apart along the San Antonio River just past the city's downtown district. Other National Register of Historic Places-listed sites at the park include the preserved Ethel Wilson Heritage House, Espada Aqueduct, and Rancho de las Cabras. A visitor center at Mission San Jose also offers park information and historical exhibits.
2202 Roosevelt Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78210, Phone: 210-932-1001
12.The San Antonio Public Library
© The San Antonio Public Library
The San Antonio Public Library is San Antonio's National Medal for Museum and Library Service award-winning official public library system, offering 29 branches throughout the greater San Antonio metropolitan region. Visitors can explore all of the library's branches for free, including its 240,000-square-foot central library building in downtown San Diego, which was opened to the public in 1995. The striking modern library building was designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and is anchored by a multi-story atrium featuring a two-story blown glass sculpture by renowned contemporary artist Dale Chihuly. Vibrant colors abound, with outdoor landscaped reading room plazas offered as a unique alternative to stuffy indoor spaces. More than 580,000 volumes are offered at the library, which also offers public art gallery exhibits and special needs children's services. Other locations throughout the library system are home to children's playgrounds, public fitness stations, and outdoor walking trails.
600 Soledad St, San Antonio, TX 78205, Phone: 210-207-2500
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Travis Park is an outdoor park that sits on land formerly belonging to San Antonio's famous Alamo Spanish mission. Since 1870, it has been operated as a public park facility overseen by the City of San Antonio, located adjacent to the beautiful restored Saint Anthony Hotel. Today, the quaint park offers landscaped grounds, public benches and seating areas, and food truck pop-ups on weekdays between 11:0am and 2:00pm, highlighting some of the city's most unique and delicious food vendors. Annual public special events held at the park include the city's annual Christmas tree lighting event, which takes place in late November and illuminates a white fir tree with more than 250,000 lights and custom-designed ornaments. Live musical entertainment, free film showings, and children's activities are offered on site during the event. Other annual events include an outdoor jazz music festival and the Twilight in the Park fundraiser event.
301 E Travis St, San Antonio, TX 78205, Phone: 210-207-3677
14.The Japanese Tea Garden
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The Japanese Tea Garden is one of the most iconic features of San Antonio's sprawling Brackenridge Park, which is also home to the renowned San Antonio Zoo and the Sunken Garden amphitheater. The garden is constructed on donated lands from an abandoned mining quarry in the region and was developed between 1917 and 1918 by City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert, featuring a Japanese-style pagoda, stone arch bridges, a 60-foot waterfall, and an island within a lily pond area. Today, the National Register of Historic Places-listed garden has been fully renovated into a year-round attraction overseen by the City of San Antonio, which is open to the public each day from dawn to dusk. All areas of the garden, including its Jingu House Cafe, are fully wheelchair-accessible.
200-414 Alpine, San Antonio, TX 78212, Phone: 210-559-3148
15.King William Historic District
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King William Historic District spans 25 blocks along the southern banks of the San Antonio River in the city's downtown district, showcasing beautiful preserved 19th-century homes and businesses. The district's history dates back as far as the end of the 18th century and is located on land that originally belonged to the city's Alamo Spanish mission. Throughout the 19th century, it served as the city's primary German district, with many Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian-style homes constructed throughout the neighborhood. Today, many of the district's homes have been converted into museums, art galleries, boutiques, and cafes, preserved within a designated historic district. The neighborhood is home to a monthly art walk event and an annual King William Fair, which features a parade, art vendors, and live musical performances.
122 Madison Street, San Antonio, TX 78204, Phone: 210-227-8786
16.Landa Library and Park
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Landa Library and Park is a branch of the San Antonio Public Library system, located within the city's Monte Vista Historical Neighborhood within the former personal residence of Hannah and Harry Landa. The ornate home was constructed in 1928 by architect Robert B. Kelly and showcases beautiful design elements such as ornamental ironwork, a carved marble mantle, and a Venetian crystal chandelier. Since 1947, it has been operated as a free-admission public library and children's playground, circulating more than 45,000 volumes, including reference materials and audiovisual collections. Collection strengths include adult and children's popular fiction, cookbooks, gardening materials, and health volumes. The library's beautiful grounds, including its 1998 playground, are overseen by the Landa Gardens Conservancy.
233 Bushnell, San Antonio, TX 78212, Phone: 210-207-9090
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Main Plaza serves as the heart of downtown San Antonio, maintained as the city's public and visitor core since the early 18th century. The Spanish colonial-style plaza has been named as one of the United States' 10 Great Public Spaces and showcases the gorgeous San Fernando Cathedral, the country's oldest preserved cathedral sanctuary. Public presentations of San Antonio: The Saga, a unique multimedia visual installation detailing the city's history, are showcased several nights a week on the cathedral's facade. The flexible public space is home to public-use tables, charming fountains, and innovative landscaping, serving as the venue for several annual public special events, including city farmer's markets. Food trucks are often parked on site, with musical acts, art installations, and art vendors showcased on site periodically.
San Antonio, TX 78205, Phone: 210-225-9800
18.Market Square - El Mercado
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Market Square - El Mercado is a lively three-block outdoor plaza in downtown San Antonio that has been named as one of the United States' top 10 outdoor markets by Frommer's. The historic square is considered to be America's largest Mexican-style permanent market and is home to more than 100 speciality shops and vendors, including the shops of El Mercado and the Farmer's Market Plaza. Vendors sell a variety of unique art, apparel, and home good items, including hand-embroidered clothing and leather items. Street musicians and dancers abound throughout the year, with many Latin American-themed festivals hosted on site.
514 W. Commerce, San Antonio, Texas 78207, Phone: 210-207-8600
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19.Phil Hardberger Park
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Phil Hardberger Park is a 311-acre urban park and living history center in San Antonio that is located on farm property formerly belonging to Max and Minnie Voelcker. Since 2010, the park has been operated by the City of San Antonio, preserving former farm structures alongside outdoor recreational amenities such as basketball courts, children's playgrounds, and picnic facilities. Over four miles of walking and cycling trails are offered throughout the park, including the Geology Trail and the Savanna Loop Trail, which are located near the Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center. Other public attractions include a 1.8-acre large dog park and several off-leash play areas for smaller dogs.
13203 Blanco Rd, San Antonio, TX 78216, Phone: 210-492-7472
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20.Public Art San Antonio
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Public Art San Antonio is an official City of San Antonio public program that oversees major public art projects and murals throughout the city's downtown district, striving to create vibrant, diverse public art to enrich the lives of all area visitors. Public art pieces abound throughout the city's downtown district, including the Liquid Crystal tower by Jason Bruges Studio, the unique Lone Star CANdelier by Anita Valencia, made from nearly 2,000 recycled aluminum cans, and Christian Moeller's Cactus mural, all on view at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Other downtown public artworks include the 65-foot Torch of Friendship by Mexican contemporary artist Sebastián, Unamita at HemisFair Park, and Unity Plaza, which transforms the city's Public Safety Headquarters into a unique interactive place-making installation. Visitors can view public art throughout the city as part of self-guided tours, with information available on the PASA website.
203 S. St. Mary's Street, Suite 120, San Antonio, TX 78205, Phone: 210-206-ARTS
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21.San Antonio Downtown Bike Rides
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San Antonio Downtown Bike Rides offer five self-guided biking tour routes throughout the city's downtown district, recommended by the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau. Visitors can explore the Alamo HemisFair Out and Back route, which begins at the city's Alamo Spanish mission and loops through its downtown district to HemisFair Park, the site of the 1968 World's Fair, or loop the Brackenridge Park Out and Back between the city's downtown Main Plaza and the sprawling urban Brackenridge Park. Other routes explore the revitalized Pearl Brewery District, the King William Historic District, and the city's Mission Trail, with many routes encompassing part of the city's beautiful River Walk. More information about rider trails and routes is offered on in PDF form on the SACVB website.
22.San Antonio Downtowns Runs/Walks
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San Antonio Downtowns Runs/Walks offer beautiful walking and running routes for exercisers of all ability levels, recommended by the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. Five recommended routes span through the city's downtown and historic districts, including a Downtown/Southtown Route that passes attractions such as HemisFair Park, the La Villita Historic Arts Village, and the massive Rivercenter Mall. The Museum Reach Out and Back spans the route of the city's River Walk Museum Reach, while the Metro Health to Lexington Out and Back traverses the city's Metropolitan Health District and showcases the beautiful Spanish Governor's Palace. Other routes explore Brackenridge Park, the Alamo Spanish mission, Market Square, and the Blue Star Arts Complex. For more route information, a visitor PDF is offered on the SACVB website.
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23.The San Antonio Fire Museum
© The San Antonio Fire Museum
The San Antonio Fire Museum is an historical museum located near the city's Alamo Spanish mission at the preserved Central Fire Headquarters building, which was constructed in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration. The museum began as an endeavor by five firefighters coming together in 1997 to preserve historic city fire vehicles and opened its public display facility in 2013. Since then, the museum has added an annex to display all of its collections, which include a restored 1892 Ahrens Steamer, a 1952 International fire truck, and a variety of preserved 19th-century fire department artifacts. Children can climb aboard restored fire trucks and dress in pint-sized firefighter gear. Short documentary videos at the museum also showcase the history of the city's fire service and modern firefighter training techniques. Visitors can explore the museum for free on the first Tuesday of every month between noon and 4:00pm.
801 E Houston, San Antonio, TX 78205, Phone: 210-390-7236
24.The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio
© The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio
The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio honors World War II victims of the Holocaust and strives to educate the San Antonio public on the dangers of antisemitism and prejudice and their connections to current social and political issues. The museum is operated by the Jewish Federation of San Antonio and was opened to the public in 2000, though its origins date back to the organization's 1975 in-classroom Holocaust educational programs. Today, the free-admission museum offers public exhibits related to the rise of the Nazi party and the concentration camps it operated throughout Europe throughout World War II, along with an outdoor contemplative memorial garden. Though the museum is free to walk-in visitors Sundays through Fridays, a nominal suggested donation is strongly encouraged to support future museum operations.
12500 NW Military Hwy, San Antonio, TX 78231, Phone: 210-302-6807
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25 Best Free Things to Do in San Antonio Year Round
- The Alamo, Photo: Courtesy of starryvoyage - Fotolia.com
- River Walk, Photo: Courtesy of duydophotography - Fotolia.com
- San Antonio: The Saga, Photo: Courtesy of Jo Ann Snover - Fotolia.com
- The McNay Art Museum, Photo: The McNay Art Museum
- The San Antonio Museum of Art, Photo: The San Antonio Museum of Art
- The Witte Museum, Photo: The Witte Museum
- The DoSeum, Photo: The DoSeum
- Brackenridge Park, Photo: Courtesy of Rinat - Fotolia.com
- Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Photo: Courtesy of Faina Gurevich - Fotolia.com
- Hemisfair Park, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Photo: Courtesy of Alizada Studios - Fotolia.com
- The San Antonio Public Library, Photo: The San Antonio Public Library
- Travis Park, Photo: Courtesy of Miguel - Fotolia.com
- The Japanese Tea Garden, Photo: Courtesy of OlgaDm - Fotolia.com
- King William Historic District, Photo: Courtesy of Joshua Rainey - Fotolia.com
- Landa Library and Park, Photo: Courtesy of madrolly - Fotolia.com
- Main Plaza, Photo: Courtesy of DmitriK - Fotolia.com
- Market Square - El Mercado, Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hinkle - Fotolia.com
- Phil Hardberger Park, Photo: Courtesy of vectorfusionart - Fotolia.com
- Public Art San Antonio, Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Boswell - Fotolia.com
- San Antonio Downtown Bike Rides, Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hinkle - Fotolia.com
- San Antonio Downtowns Runs/Walks, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- The San Antonio Fire Museum, Photo: The San Antonio Fire Museum
- The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio, Photo: The Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hinkle - Fotolia.com