Ah, Texas. One of the most iconic United States, synonymous with rodeo, cowboys and excellent food. It has some of the most fascinating cities in the whole country, and San Antonio is certainly one of them. As a matter of fact, San Antonio has been on the rise for the last few decades as one of the fastest-growing US cities. In other words, loads are people are coming here to stay. But even if you’re planning to spend just one day in San Antonio, you will have plenty of things to do and see, especially when it comes to the city’s incredibly rich and intricate history. Read on and learn what awaits you in this truly mesmerizing and magical place.
Plan your trip to San Antonio
1. What’s the best time to visit San Antonio?
2. A few facts about San Antonio
3. One Day in San Antonio Itinerary – Top things to do in San Antonio, Texas
3.1. Start your day at the River Walk
3.2. Visit the Alamo
3.3. Climb the Tower of the Americas
3.4. Eat some good old Texas food for lunch
3.5. See at least one of the missions
3.6. Dive into SeaWorld
3.7. Taste the nightlife
4. Where to stay in San Antonio?
5. Day trips from San Antonio
6. Extra tips for visiting San Antonio
Texas is hot and San Antonio is no exception. No, seriously, if you’re here in summer, especially in July or August be careful because temperatures can often rise significantly above 35°C (95°F). So, if you can’t stand the heat, avoid the period from June to the end of September. Since May can get pretty wet, April seems like the best time to visit San Antonio – it’s far from the unbearable heat, but still very pleasantly warm. Also, the city is a great place to spend a winter if you want to get away from the cold.
As for the festivals and events, one of the things to see in San Antonio is the River Walk (more on that location later) during Christmas time, and should you happen to be in town in April prepare for a treat – Fiesta San Antonio is a festival whose tradition goes all the way back to the late 19th century. This is also the largest festival in the city and another reason why April is the best time to visit the city, but the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo in February also makes a strong case for itself.
As you can probably gather from the name, San Antonio was founded by the Spanish. In fact, the city was named after Saint Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese priest, and founded in 1718, which means that it recently celebrated its 300th anniversary! San Antonio is proud to be the very first place in what is today Texas where civilians could freely live and work the land.
In the period between 1990 and 2010, this was one of the two fastest growing cities in the country, so today it has about 1,5 million people (seventh in the US), with the wider metropolitan area housing about one million more. One of the most famous attractions around here is the infamous Alamo (again, more on that later), one of the most iconic symbols of the last stand in history. Finally, the Spurs, this city’s beloved NBA team, are quite famous in the sporting world, having won five NBA championships.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the best sights and things to do and see during your one day in San Antonio.
San Antonio’s River Walk is probably the most famous part of the city and a great way to start exploring. You can sit down for a coffee and simply relax while doing some people watching, grab a nice breakfast, explore the bustling area full of different vendors or even take a boat tour down the San Antonio River. However you decide to spend your day here, it’ll be among the top things to do and see in the city.
Spending a day in San Antonio and not visiting the Alamo would be almost a crime. There is an incredible amount of history in this place, and the famous Battle of Alamo is just one part of the fascinating life this former mission has had. It is an incredible source of pride for not just Texans but all Americans, and you get a very special sense of awe when you get here because of that. Since the admission is free (you can pay for a guide), this is without any doubt one of the most important places to visit in San Antonio.
Just south of the Alamo is another one of the top things to do in San Antonio, albeit a bit more modern. The Tower of Americas is 750 feet tall and therefore provides a spectacular view of the city and the area around it. Its observation deck will teach you a lot about the history of this area and let you enjoy the scenery (you can get skip-a-line ticket here), and there are even 4D shows children will surely enjoy. Another big attraction here is the revolving restaurant, which will make sure you have a memorable meal.
If the place at the Tower is not exactly what you want for lunch in San Antonio, there are plenty of other places to choose from. The Range is very close to the Alamo and offers some excellent steaks for a complete Texas experience, as well as some great seafood dishes. Dough Pizzeria will make you some delectable pies, pasta and all that good stuff which makes us love Italian cuisine so much, while Cappy’s Restaurant, north of the area you’ve been visiting all morning is a good choice for some home cookin’. It’s worth noting that Jim’s Restaurants are great 24-hour restaurants in San Antonio, so if you need a snack in the middle of the night go here.
Apart from the Alamo, there are four other notable missions in San Antonio, which form a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a whole. The four are: San Juan, San Jose, Espada and Concepcion, with Mission Concepcion being the closest to the city centre. They are not exactly close to each other, so seeing all of them may take up too much time of your one day in San Antonio, but checking out at least one of these Spanish colonial beauties that have been standing here for more than 300 years is a must. They are fantastic places to visit. If you do decide to visit them all, we definitely recommend this tour.
After seeing the mission(s), it’s time to do something really fun. San Antonio’s SeaWorld offers great shows and exciting rides, along with plenty of educational materials and rescued animals.
This is one of the best things to do in San Antonio with kids because of the fact that they can get really close to some very interesting animals (dolphins in particular), and there are plenty of stands with snacks and souvenirs. A great place if you’re visiting the city with the whole family. Skip-the-line tickets are available here.
If you still have the energy, San Antonio has plenty to offer at night, too. For example, did you know that the city has several haunted bars (you can still get a drink there, though)? You can book a tour of them all if you want some unique bar hopping experience, but if you’re more of a party goer, Howl at the Moon is one of the best places in town to get started on a crazy night out before heading to let’s say The Thirsty Horse to dance to some country music and really feel the vibe of Texas. Do keep in mind that most places close at 2 AM.
Hilton Palacio del Rio
200 South Alamo Street, San Antonio
If you want to feel the pulse of the city, there is only one place where you can stay – Hilton Palacio del Rio. This wonderful hotel is located right on the River Walk, so you only have to step outside to soak up all the energy there. Each room has its own balcony which allows you to watch the people passing by below, and the 4 on-site restaurants and an outdoor pool make sure you can relax and enjoy however you want.
Embassy Suites San Antonio Brooks City Base Hotel
7610 South New Braunfels , San Antonio
On the other hand, if you want to get away from the bustle of the city centre, Embassy Suites San Antonio Brooks City Base Hotel is the place to go. This magnificent place has modern and well furnished suites, fantastic pools and serves incredible food. The terrace here is beautiful and even has a fireplace, so it can be quite romantic in the evening, after a long day of sightseeing. A great place for couples who want some time for themselves.
Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott San Antonio Downtown
422 Bonham , San Antonio, TX 78205
If you’re looking for excellent value for your money, that doesn’t mean you can’t stay in the city centre. Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott is an excellent hotel at the very heart of the city and with an outdoor pool. The rooms are great and come with flat screen TVs, coffee making machines and everything you need to prepare a nice bath. Continental breakfast is served every morning, plus you will be staying right next to the Alamo. Exciting, right?
Pear Tree Inn San Antonio Airport
143 North East Loop 410, San Antonio, TX 78216-4730
Don’t let the word “airport” in Pear Tree Inn San Antonio Airport scare you – this is a wonderful little hotel and the planes won’t bother you at all! Bright and colorful interior will surely make a great first impression, whereas the shuttle service will make sure you get here from the airport as quickly as possible. The rooms are comfortable and equipped much better than you’d expect, while the Texas-shaped waffles served here will put a smile on your face first thing in the morning.
There is some truly breathtaking beauty in Texas, especially in its scenery, so if you have the time include day trips from San Antonio into things to do while here. There is plenty to see, as the following few suggestions will demonstrate.
Reasonably close for a day trip from San Antonio, you will find Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, i.e. the LBJ Ranch, where the 36th President of the United States lived and died. Not only is the place wonderful in and of itself, but you will also drive through Texas Hill Country, an exceptionally scenic and picturesque area. Check out Texas White House and drive through this place however it suits you best.
If you desire to see more great American cities, why not spend one day in Houston? Tour NASA’s Space Centre, visit the fantastic aquarium or the Museum of Natural Science and go underground for a unique shopping experience. There are also plenty of interesting free things to do, which is why the three hours by car you need to spend in order to reach this great city will be very much worth it.
Fredericksburg is a small town close to the aforementioned LBJ Ranch, so you can easily combine the two. However, the town alone has plenty to offer too and is a great place to spend a day unwinding. It is known for its wineries and there are plenty of great places to eat here, too. All in all, this is a great place for foodies, but those of you who are looking for a quiet day in the sun will also love Fredericksburg’s vibe.
Austin is another very interesting city to visit, but it’s much closer than Houston (it’s about an hour and a half away), which is why this is one of the more popular day trips from San Antonio. You can enjoy plenty of various activities at Town Lake, grab some truly spectacular bites to eat and maybe even participate in one of the more, hm, unusual festivities (they celebrate Eeyore’s birthday here, for example).
- A good idea to get around is to use Uber or regular taxis. Parking is a pain in the behind around here, and the things to see in San Antonio are usually not that far from each other, so you won’t spend a lot.
- San Antonio is a beer city, so if you love drinking it you will find plenty of places to visit here offering some quality stuff.
- It is possible that you will see a fairly high number of people with guns. Don’t worry – this is Texas, after all! San Antonio is actually quite a safe city.
- That being said, there are some places you may want to avoid in San Antonio, like the area around AT&T Centre and Southside
- Stay hydrated! Especially if you’re here in the summer. As mentioned earlier in this article, it can get very hot indeed here. Keep a bottle of water close by and don’t leave kids in cars.
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).