Nestled deep in the heart of Texas, Downtown San Antonio is a testament to the Lone Star State’s rich tapestry of history, culture, and vibrant modernity. This urban oasis, known as much for the gentle serenade of the San Antonio River as for its iconic landmarks, offers both locals and visitors an array of unforgettable experiences.
From the hallowed grounds of the Alamo to the bustling walkways of the River Walk, San Antonio’s downtown district is a treasure trove of adventures waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, an art lover, or simply searching for an unforgettable urban experience, Downtown San Antonio has something to offer.
This article’ll delve into the best things to do in downtown San Antonio.
Things to Book Before You Leave Home
Few things are more frustrating on vacation than missing out on that amazing hotel or tour because it is sold out. Here are our top things to book before your vacation.
🤠 Most Popular Tours in San Antonio:
1. River Walk Cruise -my top pick
2. Buckhorn Saloon and Museums – you’ll never forget this quirky attraction!
3. San Antonio Food tour -don’t eat breakfast before
🛏️Where to Stay in San Antonio :
1. Westin River Walk -River Walk view pool, where I stayed, amazing location,
2. Hotel Havana – boutique style on the River Walk
3. Hotel Menger – San Antonio’s most historic hotel on Alamo Plaza
24 Great Things to Do in Downtown San Antonio
Table of Contents
- 24 Great Things to Do in Downtown San Antonio
- 1. Visit The Alamo
- 2. Watch the San Fernando Cathedral light up
- 3. See San Antonio from above at the Tower of the Americas
- 4. Experience The River Walk
- 5. Travel back in time at La Villita
- 6. Go Shopping at Historic Market Square
- 7. Go West at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
- 8. Grab the San Antonio Hop on Hop off bus
- 9. Have your Mind Bent at Ripley’s Believe It or Not
- 10. Don’t Miss the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum
- 11. Enjoy a Night at the Majestic Theatre
- 12. Capture the moment at the Texas Selfie Museum
- 13. Experience the Thrill of a Downtown Helicopter tour
- 14. Immerse Yourself at Hopscotch
- 15. Visit the San Antonio Museum of Art
- 16. Take a Street Art Tour
- 17. Travel to the bottom of the Ocean at San Antonio Sea Life Aquarium
- 18. Find your Way out of an Escape Room
- 19. Enjoy BBQ San Antonio Style
- 20. Experience the Ultimate Tex Mex
- 21. Take a San Antonio Food Tour
- 22. Have a Cocktail at Hotel Menger
- 24. Get Scared on a Ghost Tour
- How to Get to San Antonio
- Where to Stay in San Antonio
- The Westin River Walk
- Hotel Havana
- The Menger Hotel
- Downtown San Antonio Attractions in Conclusion
1. Visit The Alamo
No trip to San Antonio is complete without a visit to the Alamo, one of the city’s and the United States’ most iconic landmarks. This historic site was the site of the famous Battle of the Alamo in 1836 and is now a museum that showcases artifacts and exhibits related to Texas’s fight for independence.
Start your visit to The Alamo at the atmospheric church and then walk along Long Barrack, see the 16-pounder cannon and read the Wall of History. Don’t miss the Ralston Family Collections Center and the amazing and priceless artifacts donated by passionate collector Phil Collins. Yes, that famous Phil Collins. He even narrates the diorama.
2. Watch the San Fernando Cathedral light up
Located in the heart of downtown, the San Fernando Cathedral is a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture. On Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings the Cathedral is lit up three times after dark (9 pm, 930pm and 10 pm) by The Saga.
The Saga is a projection that covers 7,000 square feet of light, color and visual narration on the cathedral’s facade. The 24-minute free show covers the history of San Antonio and the state of Texas. Don’t miss it.
3. See San Antonio from above at the Tower of the Americas
The Tower of the Americas is a 750-foot-tall observation tower located in Hemisfair Park. The views over San Antonio are spectacular. The tower’s revolving restaurant, Chart House, is an excellent spot for a romantic dinner or special occasion. The Tower of the Americas has a full schedule of special events from movie nights to BBQs to market days at the tower’s base.
I absolutely fell in love with the San Antonio Riverwalk. There is a huge range of activities and things to do along the 15-mile trail. Walking is one of the most enjoyable things to do along the River Walk. I walked from Pearl to the King William District when I visited San Antonio. North of downtown, the River Walk has been beautifully landscaped with art, water features, areas to sit and much more.
The River Walk really comes to life around the downtown area. Energy levels are high and music can be heard most hours of the day. Don’t miss Marriage Island and the pretty Selena Bridge, two of the key landmarks of the River Walk. In my opinion, the River Walk is most magical at night when it is light by hundreds of small colored lights.
Another great way to enjoy the River Walk is, of course, from the river. Take a specialty river cruise with narration or use one of the hop on hop off shuttles.
Experiencing the River Walk is one of the many fun things to do in San Antonio for adults.
5. Travel back in time at La Villita
La Villita is an Artisan Village on the southern bank of the San Antonio River. It is listed on the US Government’s National Register of Historic Places. A range of architectural styles can be seen across its one square black and 25 shops and galleries featuring locally made products and four restaurants. Make sure you check out La Villita’s busy events calendar before you visit.
6. Go Shopping at Historic Market Square
This three-block outdoor plaza is full of shops and restaurants and is the largest Mexican market in the United States. If you are looking to buy souvenirs, Market Square is the place to go. It contains over 100 locally owned businesses and often features live entertainment and dancing.
7. Go West at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
This quirky museum is focused on the American West. The art celebrates the stories of cowboys and Native Americans and the beauty of the Western landscape. The Briscoe Western Art Museum has both permanent galleries and interesting exhibitions. Don’t miss my favorite part of the museum, the McNutt Sculpture Garden.
I love a hop on hop off bus! They are such a great way to get a feel for a city and the San Antonio Hop On Hop Off Bus is no exception. It covers all of the city’s major sights in its 19 stops. Buy tickets for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days.
9. Have your Mind Bent at Ripley’s Believe It or Not
With over 1200 artifacts and interactive games in its 19 galleries, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in San Antonio is a great fun place for adults to visit in San Antonio. Once you’ve visited the major exhibitions, you may enjoy going to one of all three of the other Ripley attractions in San Antonio: Ripley’s Illusion Lab, Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks and Ripley’s Moving Theater.
The Buckhorn Saloon was one of my favorite places to visit in San Antonio. The Buckhorn is several experiences in one: an old-west themed working Saloon, a Texas Ranger Museum, a collection of exotic animals (taxidermy) and a Carnival of Curiosities. I can’t imagine how anyone came up with the idea of combining all of these things in one location but they did and it is great, quirky fun. Don’t miss this eccentric San Antonio attraction!
11. Enjoy a Night at the Majestic Theatre
The Majestic is San Antonio’s oldest theatre. Built in 1929, The Majestic is the place to go to see some of the hottest acts and musicals in San Antonio.
With over 25 installations and professional lighting, the Texas Selfie Museum is the place to capture some flattering memories of your trip to San Antonio. Visitors can bring professional cameras or just their phones. There are loads of options with different backgrounds and props galore.
For a really memorable experience in San Antonio, hop on a 10-minute helicopter trip that will whisk you around San Antonio’s downtown and provide plenty of great photo opportunities. The Alamo and La Villita in particular look spectacular from the air.
Hopscotch brings together artists from across the United States (and many from Texas) to create immersive art experiences collaboratively. The San Antonio branch has 15 immersive experiences, a bar that serves Texas-based beverages inspired by the experiences and a range of one-off events and food experiences.
15. Visit the San Antonio Museum of Art
Located just north of downtown on the River Walk, the San Antonio Museum of Art is known for having the most comprehensive collection of Greek, Roman and Egyptian Art in the southern United States. The museum also has a wing dedicated to Asian art, and best of all there is an excellent selection of art from Texas in the contemporary galleries.
The San Antonio Museum of Art also hosts regular exhibitions plus they have a lovely Italian restaurant, Tre Trattoria, with a terrace over the San Antonio River.
San Antonio is home to over 200 street art murals. Find out why street art is so popular in San Antonio and see at least 20 murals on a Street Art E-Bike tour.
Get up close and personal with crabs, sea stars and urchins, take a behind-the-scenes tour, attend a sting ray feeding or have a shipwreck experience. All this and more is happening at the San Antonio Sea Life Aquarium.
If you’re looking for a challenge, try your luck at one of San Antonio’s many escape rooms. These interactive games require you to solve puzzles and clues in order to escape from a locked room. It’s a great way to test your problem-solving skills and have some fun at the same time.
19. Enjoy BBQ San Antonio Style
BBQ and brisket are on offer at many restaurants in San Antonio. Here are some of the best known BBQ joints in town:
- 2M Smokehouse – don’t miss their home made sausages and sliced brisket.
- Big Bib BBQ – rib tips, sweet baby back ribs, fried catfish and sweet potato casserole
- Old Smokehouse – have been making mesquite BBQ offerings for 40 years and offer meat by the pound with side dishes. Known for their smoked lamb ribs
20. Experience the Ultimate Tex Mex
Unsurprisingly, there are loads of Mexican and tex-mex restaurants in San Antonio and the quality is generally high. Here are a few that stand
- Garcia’s Mexican – known for their tex-mex comfort good. Enjoy a brisket taco with eggs for breakfast or lunch. Check out the smoked pork taco.
- Acenar – contemporary Mexican over several levels with a great reputation and a Riverwalk location. Don’t miss the short-rib tacos.
- Lala’s Gorditas – the standard for the puffy taco.
One of the best ways to get underneath the skin of the San Antonio food scene is to take a guided food tour. The tours are generally combined with a bit of history and walking.
22. Have a Cocktail at Hotel Menger
The historic Hotel Menger is located on Alamo Plaza in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Built in 1887 as an exact replica of London’s House of Lords Pub, this is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Texas cowboys to become Rough Riders.
Did you know that San Antonio is the most haunted city in Texas? For hundreds of years, locals have told ghost stories. For a unique and spooky experience, consider taking a ghost tour of San Antonio.
These tours take you through some of the city’s most haunted locations, including the Menger Hotel and the Alamo. You’ll learn about the history and legends behind these sites while getting a thrill from the eerie atmosphere.
How to Get to San Antonio
San Antonio is 120 kilometers southwest of Austin and 310 kilometers west of Houston. San Antonio has an international airport and direct flights to many of the major cities in the United States.
Where to Stay in San Antonio
I stayed at The Westin in downtown San Antonio and you can’t beat its fantastic location at the heart of the River Walk. The rooms are huge – make sure to ask for one with a view of the River Walk. Whilst the interior design isn’t ultra modern, it is very comfortable. you can’t beat those Westin beds.
The highlight of my stay was the outdoor heated pool with views of the River Walk and a bar.
For a more boutique hotel experience on the Riverwalk, check out Hotel Havana. This historic boutique hotel was built in 1914. Today, its rooms are clean and modern with pops of color and historic features like dark wooden floors and ceiling fans.
The Menger is the ol➡️ dest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi. It has a great location on Alamo Plaza, a stone’s throw from the River Walk. As I mentioned earlier, Theodore Roosevelt gathered his rough riders in the bar at The Menger, which is still popular today.
The hotel has the largest heated pool in San Antonio as well as a beautiful Spanish courtyard garden.
Downtown San Antonio Attractions in Conclusion
Each corner of this Texan gem tells a story, from the echoing tales of bravery at the Alamo to the rhythmic footsteps and laughter along the River Walk. Whether you’ve spent a day, a week, or longer exploring, Downtown San Antonio leaves an indelible imprint on the heart, beckoning travelers to return and dive even deeper into its multifaceted wonders.
IPW and Visit San Antonio covered the cost of my accommodation and most meals and activities mentioned in this article – thanks guys. I paid for my flights. As always, my opinions are my own. This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click through on some of the links in this article and end up making a purchase, I will receive a small commission.