When we took a long weekend break to fly to San Antonio with our 5 year old son, the popular weekend getaway in Texas, we knew that we still wanted some grown-up fun.
I mean let’s get real. Travelling with kids is not exactly fun. It’s chaotic and unpredictable; filled with unexpected tantrums. Sure, you can make the trip about seeing animals in the zoo or heading to a theme park but is that what you really want to do after you take out time from work and fly to a different place. I mean a tiger in San Diego, is a tiger in New York and it’s still a tiger in London :)
So here are our 5 things to do in San Antonio as family :) - based on real experience!
Start your day at the Historic Market Square and get a feel of the local culture. What used to be the city’s market square and farmers market in the early 1900s is now home to charming collection of restaurants, boutiques and Mexican handicrafts. It’s the perfect place to spend an hour or so checking out the colorful Mexican pottery, clothes and food. If you are looking to buy souvenirs for family or friends back home, then this is the place.
The Kid factor : It’s bright and colorful open market. On weekends you can often find live bands playing music. Also, handy churros and fruit bowl stands :) for those hangry tantrums!
Friendly advice: The market square is filled with stores full of delicate ceramic ware, so you want to keep an eye on kids!
From the Historic Market Square, head to the Plaza de Las Islas either by walking or taking the bus. Known as the Main Plaza today, this was the heart of the city in early 18th century. It was the site of peace treaties and historic battles. Today this place is the home to the ornate San Fernando Cathedral and Bexar County Courthouse.
As you cross the street from the plaza, you will find well-marked step leading down to the famous River Walk. While the San Antonio River has well maintained walking paths all over the city, this stretch is popular with tourists and locals alike.
The winding walkway is covered with trees and lined with cute restaurants. In the evenings, the riverbank is lit up with bright lights and looks very charming. Most restaurants offer outdoor seating, so grab a beer and enjoy the view!
The Kid factor: The river walk is full of stairs, adorable bridges and my son just loved running up and down the place. You can also opt for a river cruise - we didn’t but it looked like a lot of fun!
Friendly advice: I know its stating the obvious, but keep your kids away from the water as there isn’t any fencing on the pathway. Also, if you plan to grab a bite, check out how long the lines are. Some of these places get very crowded on the weekends and with long waits that can put kids on edge.
Take a short detour to The Alamo, a Texan icon. One of the most visited places in San Antonio and very important landmark for the Texan Revolution.
In Feb of 1836, around 100 Texans were garrisoned in Alamo and found themselves under attack by 1500 Mexican troops. The Texans troop received some reinforcements and held out for 13 days but on March 6, the Mexican army invaded Alamo and killed the Texans. ‘Remember the Alamo’ became the rallying cry during the Battle of San Jacinto where Texans then defeated the Mexicans in mere 18 minutes and ended the Texan Revolution.
Ever since it occurred, The Battle of the Alamo has captured the hearts and mind of the American people, making its way into popular literature and movies.
The Alamo today houses a museum that details its history along with other important aspects of the Texan revolution.
The Kid factor : Older children might appreciate the history, but my 5-year-old was not interested. We got lucky as we were on a day when an enactment of battle tactics was going on which he enjoyed watching!
Friendly Advice: Plan to visit the Alamo by the afternoon as crowds thin out and you get more time to review the exhibits and a good view at the main buildings.
From Alamo, head straight back on the river walk and make your way towards The Tower of Americas. To be honest, this observation tower is a bit of a tourist trap and San Antonio doesn’t exactly have a skyline to boast off. However, kids seem to really like this.
The Kid factor : The parks around the Tower of Americas is a great place for parents to take a break as kids can unwind and play. The Tower of Americas itself offers movie screenings for children and the glass elevator ride to the top is favorite. All the kids during our elevator ride jostled to get a view as we made our way to the top!
Friendly Advice: The Tower of Americas ticket is valid for the day, so if you go up during the day and have some time to spare in the evening, I recommend coming back after sunset, so you get a view of the city at night
The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is a must do if you enjoy history and architecture. These missions were established by Franciscan friars who walked all the way from Central Mexico to the new, unexplored lands up north in Texas to spread the word of God.
The Missions are a few miles apart from each other and can be easily covered in 3-4 hours. The trail starts with Mission Concepcion, which has a lovely church, bell tower, a well and old grounds with some part of in it ruins. The most magnificent of them is San Jose with an ornate church building and large living quarters that are spread out over vast grounds.
Mission San Juan and Espada are smaller yet charming. All the missions share certain features and give us some insight to the times when these were not only considered places of worship but self-contained communities.
The Kid factor: These missions don’t get as much of the tourist traffic as the Alamo and thus less crowded. This leaves room for leisurely walking around and freedom to explore.
Friendly Advice: All have functioning churches, so we took turns to look around as my son doesn’t yet understand the sanctity of such places. Also, I recommend starting the trail early in the morning before the weather gets too hot.
* We covered this amongst other things over 2 days which makes San Antonio a perfect weekend getaway
* The best way to get around San Antonio is by car. In downtown, we had some challenges with parking but once we parked we were able to walk around easily and catch all the highlights.
* If you want to squeeze in more things then I recommend a quick visit to the Spanish Governor’s Palace to see how an 18th century Governor ran his household OR take a leisurely stroll through the quirky, artsy La Villita or Little Village. Erstwhile residence of European families it is now filled with boutique stores and overlooks the Arnerson River Theater