Planning a day trip in San Antonio, Texas? Here’s my guide to the best things to do and tours to take!
First up, I have to say that one day in San Antonio isn’t really enough! This is the USA’s seventh-largest city: a sprawling metropolis that’s full of fantastic attractions.
It’s also a city rich with history, heritage, and culture. This is the home of the Alamo, a sight of vital importance in Texas’ history, and a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
From the tranquil downtown River Walk and the surprising number of urban green spaces that dot the city, to fabulous theme parks for fun days out and museums that bring history to life… there’s just so much to see and do.
But if you only have time for a day trip to San Antonio, you can still pack in a lot of the city’s top attractions.
You won’t be able to do everything in a day, unfortunately! So in the post below, I’ve tried to stick to the major sights. I’ve left things like Legoland, Six Flags, and San Antonio Zoo off the list, as they really need a full day all to themselves.
Here’s my guide to everything you can’t miss on a San Antonio day trip. Happy travels…
READ MORE: Reasons to Visit San Antonio
San Antonio in a Day: The Quicklist
Don’t want to organise everything yourself? Book this San Antonio day trip from Austin and let someone else make all the plans! The 7-hour tour includes visits to three of the city’s top attractions. Click here to check prices and availability.
If you’re super short on time and only want to see the city’s major attractions, below is a quick list of the top, must-see places in San Antonio. I’ll go into more detail on them all in the next section.
- Visit the Alamo.
- Explore the River Walk and take a cruise. If you have time, don’t miss La Villita Historic Village while you’re there.
- Soak up the views from the top of the Hemisfair Tower.
- Head to one or two of the city’s many museums: the Witte Museum for natural and cultural history; the Buckhorn Saloon & Museums for cowboy culture and Texas Ranger history; or the Briscoe Western Art Museum.
12 Things to Do on a Day Trip in San Antonio
Top Tip: If you plan on visiting several of these San Antonio in one day, I recommend grabbing the San Antonio CityPASS® – which could save you up to 35%. More info at the bottom of this post.
1. Uncover Texas History at The Alamo
Probably San Antonio’s most famous attraction, and one that truly encapsulates the city’s spirit, is The Alamo.
Prepare to be transported back in time at this tiny mission church. Established as Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718, the mission was the setting for an iconic battle in the Texas Revolution, in which Texians and native Tejanos fought for independence from Mexico.
The Alamo is seen as a testament to the unwavering determination of those revolutionaries who dreamt of independence from Mexico. The infamous Battle of the Alamo – a gripping clash that unfolded from 23 February to 6 March 1836 – left an indelible mark on the landscape of the Texas Revolution.
Though the defenders ultimately fell, their bravery ignited a flame of inspiration that would ultimately lead to victory for the Texian Army and the birth of a new nation. Independence was declared in April 1836, and Texas later joined the USA in 1845.
Don’t miss the excellent museum nestled within the grounds. Here, you can delve deeper into the compelling narrative of the Alamo – especially helpful if US history isn’t your strong suit. There’s a captivating collection of artefacts and documents which bring the stories of the battle and the revolutionary fighters to life.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Small Group Tour with Alamo, Tower & River Cruise
2. Discover Restaurants and Public Art Along the River Walk
Flowing right through the city centre, the serene San Antonio River sets the pace of life for the downtown area. And that pace is wonderfully relaxed!
The river is set down a level from the city streets, so it feels quite cut off from the city centre. Tree-shaded pedestrian paths run along either side, connected here and there by small bridges, to create the tranquil San Antonio River Walk. Much of this is also lined with restaurants and bars, providing plenty of al fresco drinking and dining.
Don’t miss the River Walk Public Art Garden – a collection of outdoor artworks by local and international artists. The centrepiece is the 16-foot “Stargazer (Citlali)” sculpture by Mexican artist Pedro Reyes which towers over the river.
3. Take a Cruise on the San Antonio River
To truly appreciate San Antonio’s downtown river network, I highly recommend you take one of the Go Rio river cruises. These are 30-minute narrated cruises around the central part of the River Walk.
It’s a great way to see a lot of the city centre in a short time. Your guide will share a short overview of local history and point out some of the main attractions. They may also share some personal recommendations for places to eat and drink! It’s a great introduction, so I’d recommend starting your day trip in San Antonio with one of these fab cruises.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: River Boat Cruise and Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Pass
4. Soak up the Views from the Tower of the Americas
One of the most iconic attractions in San Antonio is the Tower of the Americas (also known as the Hemisfair Tower). At 750 ft (230 m) high including the antenna spire, it’s the tallest structure in San Antonio. It’s also the second-tallest observation tower in the USA and the third-tallest in the Western Hemisphere!
The tower was built for HemisFair ’68, the San Antonio World’s Fair in 1968. Towering over the city centre, the views from the observation deck are pretty sensational. San Antonio is a fairly flat and sprawling city – so you really can see for miles around!
Hungry? Dine whilst you enjoy the views from the Tower’s revolving Chart House Restaurant. There’s also the Tower Café located on the Observation Deck, and Bar 601 near the very top of the tower.
5. Explore San Antonio on the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour
The City Sightseeing Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour is IDEAL if you only have one day in San Antonio. Take an open-top bus tour of the city centre, with a running commentary to point out the major sights and share local history.
There’s one route in San Antonio, with 19 stops at some of the city’s top attractions. A 24-hour pass starts from $54.11pp, and you can hop on and off as often as you like. Or, you can ride the whole thing in one go to listen to the commentary in full, then work out which sights you’d like to go back to.
I’ve done City Sightseeing bus tours in cities all over the world, from Barcelona to Cartagena, and always had a fab experience!
6. Eat your Way Around the City of Creative Gastronomy
In 2017, San Antonio was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in recognition of the city’s rich gastronomic heritage and its thriving culinary industry.
The city is a true melting pot. Nearly two-thirds of San Antonians are Hispanic or Latino, and 75% of the city’s population is made up of people of colour. Cultural and culinary influences come from the region’s indigenous peoples, the Spanish colonists of the 1700s, European settlers in the 1800s, and African slaves, as well as more modern immigrants.
The result is a unique fusion of flavours, traditions, and culinary techniques. Tex-Mex, Asian, German, Czechoslovakian, Tejano… you’ll find all sorts here. And you’ll quickly learn that food is a BIG deal in San Antonio!
The city takes its UNESCO status seriously. Check out SA City of Gastronomy for culinary trails, events, festivals, and more. And be sure to take some time out of your day in San Antonio to appreciate some really good food!
RECOMMENDED TOUR: Historic Downtown Food and Culture Walking Tour – from $44
7. Shop for Local Crafts at La Villita Historic Village
One of the best places to experience the melting pot of art, culture, and food that is San Antonio is the quaint, riverside La Villita Historic Arts Village.
This is a small Artisan Village near the River Walk. It’s a tranquil, leafy neighbourhood filled with boutique shops, art studios, restaurants, and bars.
Across the boutiques and galleries, you can explore the works of over 200 local artisans. Jewellery, fashion, painting, beauty products, pottery, and more – all housed within the historic buildings of San Antonio’s “First Village”.
La Villita’s roots go back to the 18th century, when it was a simple settlement of adobe huts. In the 19th century, European immigrants moved into the neighbourhood, resulting in the rich variety of architectural styles we can still see today.
8. Indulge your Inner Cowboy at the Buckhorn Saloon & Museums
Think of Texas, and it’s hard not to think of cowboys! And San Antonio has its fair share of cowboy culture.
The city is home to the oldest running saloon in Texas– the Buckhorn Saloon – where Pancho Villa is said to have planned the Mexican Revolution. It’s a seriously atmospheric space, with walls coated in antlers and a vast cherry wood bar where you can try a local beer – or perhaps a prickly pear margarita, the local speciality.
The Buckhorn Saloon is also home to two museums. Upstairs, the Buckhorn Museum is a huge collection of taxidermy animals from around the world. Apparently, the collection started when the saloon’s founder decided to accept horns and antlers as payment for drinks.
Downstairs, the Texas Ranger Museum is another must-visit. Dedicated to over a hundred years of Ranger history, this brilliant exhibit gives a fantastic insight into life on the Frontier. There are some GREAT photo ops for cowboy enthusiasts!
9. Delve into Cowboy Culture at the Briscoe Western Art Museum
Speaking of cowboy culture – don’t miss the nearby Briscoe Western Art Museum.
I’d never really heard of Western Art before visiting this fantastic museum in downtown San Antonio – but I was an instant fan! There’s a huge collection of sculptures and paintings capturing the beautiful Western landscape or depicting life in the American West for cowboys, vaqueros, and Native Americans.
Don’t miss the McNutt Sculpture Garden, a peaceful public garden tucked behind the museum.
10. Learn More at the Witte Musem
The Witte Museum in San Antonio is a captivating institution that offers a delightful blend of science, nature, culture, and Texas heritage. Located just north of the Downtown area, it’s a must-visit attraction for anyone who wants to learn more about San Antonio, Texas, and the world in general!
It’s a state-of-the-art building surrounded by beautiful grounds, on the edge of the beautiful Brackenridge Park. Delve into the rich history of Texas at the South Texas Heritage Center, meet the ancient beasts of the Dinosaur Gallery, or discover the natural world of Texas in the Texas Wild Gallery.
There’s also a great programme of events and temporary exhibitions covering everything from local art to Antarctic Dinosaurs. So be sure to check what’s on during your San Antonio day trip!
11. Visit the Other San Antonio Missions
The Alamo (section 1) is just one of five colonial Christian missions that were built in San Antonio during the 18th century. Its bloody history may make the Alamo more famous, but the other San Antonio Missions are well worth a visit.
The missions were walled compounds containing a church and some accommodation buildings. Native Americans who converted to Christianity were given housing on the compound.
This is a somewhat complicated history, as the missions played a role in the colonisation of indigenous communities and could be seen as part of the eradication of Native American culture. For the missionaries, they were doing God’s work and saving the Native American’s souls.
However you feel about it, the missions formed an important part of the state’s history and are worth exploring to learn more. If you only have time for one, I recommend the Mission San José, which has a particularly beautiful church with an intricately carved facade.
RECOMMENDED TOUR: UNESCO World Heritage Missions Tour (from $65)
12. Escape the City at Phil Hardberger Park
If you have a little longer than just one day in San Antonio, I strongly recommend escaping the city to visit the urban wilderness at Phil Hardberger Park.
Named after the former San Antonio mayor who got it built, this 330-acre sustainable urban park is managed as a wildlife habitat. Around 75% of the park is left in its natural state, so you can feel truly wild – despite being surrounded by the city.
This gorgeous park is also home to the largest land bridge in the USA. The Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge spans a huge 6-lane freeway to connect either side of the park.
It’s 150 feet wide at the top, with a narrow path winding between huge swathes of grass and wildflowers. There’s plenty of space for animals to cross, helping keep them off the busy Wurzbach Parkway. I was amazed to find that I could barely hear the roar of the traffic below – it felt like being in the middle of the wilderness, instead of on a bridge above a busy motorway.
Don’t miss the two wildlife blinds on top of the bridge. These are also public art pieces designed by local artists Ashley Mireles and Cade Bradshaw, with intricate designs cut out of the metal sides in place of windows.
Map: Top Things to Do in San Antonio
Use the map above to plan your day trip in San Antonio. Bear in mind that a couple of the top attractions, like the Missions and Phil Hardberger Park, are a little further out from the Downtown area.
There’s a good public transport system around San Antonio, so you can hop on a bus and reach spots like the Witte Museum or Mission San Jose in about half an hour. There are also plenty of Ubers available if you’re short on time and don’t mind paying a little more.
Best Tours for Your Day Trip in San Antonio
Use the San Antonio CityPASS® to Save Money on your Day Trip
San Antonio is a CityPASS® destination – so you can pay one low price for access to all the city’s major attractions.*
CityPASS® is a brilliant multi-attraction ticket available in several major US cities – including San Antonio. Purchase the CityPASS for $57 USD per adult (about £47) and you can visit any 4 of the following city attractions – saving around 35% vs paying for each attraction individually:
- Go Rio San Antonio River Cruises
- San Antonio Botanical Garden
- San Antonio Museum of Art
- San Antonio Zoo
- The DoSeum
- The Tower of The Americas (aka Hemisfair Tower)
- Witte Museum
You get a mobile ticket so there’s no need to worry about printing things out. Your CityPASS will be valid for nine days from the first day you visit an attraction – and you don’t need to choose which four attractions you’ll visit in advance. It’s SUPER easy to use and a great way to save a bit of money while you explore San Antonio.
*(I was gifted a CityPASS during my visit – but this hasn’t influenced my opinion. I’ve purchased one myself in other cities before and have always had a great experience.)
Have you ever taken a day trip to San Antonio? Scroll down to share your experiences and tips in the comments!
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