San Antonio is one of the best places in Texas to enjoy your summer vacation. Whether you're traveling as a family, a couple, or just with friends, you can enjoy its storied history, iconic art scene, extensive attractions, and amazing culinary offerings.

Founded more than 300 years ago, history comes alive in the Alamo City. Numerous museums featuring contemporary and modern art embellish downtown, and there's a thriving public art scene. The city is known as the Culinary Capital of Texas and is recognized as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy for its unique and exciting eats.

Add to those the world-famous River Walk, an exciting and vibrant nightlife, and a wide variety of family-friendly attractions, and it’s easy to spend four days in this Texas gem. Here’s how you can, and why Summer is the best time to experience it all.

The Alamo
The Alamo was built in 1718 and became a fort in the 1800s © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Day 1: Downtown

Begin your adventure at San Antonio’s most iconic landmark - The Alamo. This Spanish Colonial mission, officially known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, was built in 1718 and became a fort in the 1800s. It was here in 1838 that a few hundred revolutionaries including Davy Crockett, William Travis and James Bowie, died defending the fort – vastly outnumbered by Mexican troops.

The Alamo collection
 British singer Phil Collins has donated his large private collection of Alamo memorabilia to the museum © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Today you can experience the history of the mission and the famous battleground as you walk through the grounds. British singer Phil Collins has donated his large private collection of Alamo memorabilia to form the basis of the new Ralston Family Collections Center which is an excellent introduction to the site.

Start early, when the summer sun is lower and the crowds are smaller. You’ll need to make a reservation ahead of time for the best experience.

San Antonio River Walk
You can reach the River Walk through beautiful stone staircases found across downtown © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Stroll the River Walk

The River Walk was built in 1938 as a flood control and beautification project for downtown San Antonio’s bend in the river. With cypress trees standing tall and ducks darting between river boats, it’s an appealing attraction to all kinds of travelers, and it’s cool in every sense of the word. You can reach the River Walk (which is below street level), through beautiful stone staircases found across downtown. Elevators are also available in several locations.

Boudro's San Antonio
Boudro's is best known for its wood-grilled steaks and blackened seafood © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Colorful San Antonio River Tour barges are an iconic image of the city, a shady way to enjoy a summer afternoon, and an informative guided history tour of downtown. Plus, these barges received a sustainability boost in recent years with electric motors and accessibility enhancements. Pro tip: Snag an online ticket to avoid its snaking line.

After your introduction to the sites and history of the River Walk, grab an outdoor table at Boudro’s, best known for its wood-grilled steaks and blackened seafood. It also has outstanding tableside guacamole service – a Tex-Mex delicacy. Alternatively, book a table at Rebelle for a seafood feast – with dueling towers showcasing seasonal cold and hot seafood, you’ll delight in the bounty from the nearby Texas Gulf Coast.

Briscoe Western Art Museum
Learn about the American West at the Briscoe Western Art Museum © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Art & culture galore

Once you’ve enjoyed San Antonio’s two most popular locations, you should be ready to go a little deeper into what makes this city unique. And there’s no better way than by diving into its rich artistic and cultural offerings.

Learn even more about the American West – and find out why San Antonio is the birth of the American cowboy – at the Briscoe Western Art Museum and Buckhorn Saloon & Museum. These atmospheric gems feature contemporary Western artists, intermingled western artifacts like Pancho Villa’s saddle, Santa Ana’s sword, a replica of a Wells Fargo and Company mail stagecoach, and historic Texas Ranger artifacts.

From there, continue to other world-class museums at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Witte Museum, and the McNay Art Museum (more on those later). Are you a history buff? You’ll want to browse the Institute of Texan Cultures as it explores the lives of the different people who migrated to Texas.

Tower of the Americas
The observation deck of the Tower of the Americas is the second-tallest in the US © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

For families, a ride up the Tower of the Americas will have everyone seeing the sites from 750 feet up. Its observation deck – the second-tallest in the US – is outdoors and has views for miles. Afterwards the kids will probably find the Yanaguana Garden before their parents do – it blends water play with climbing and swinging in an artful outdoor space.

In this haven of creativity, museums can’t hold it all – so be on the lookout for public art as you wander downtown. With mosaic tile and painted wall murals, numerous public art installations and sculptures, and the iconic La Antorcha de la Amistad (The Torch of Friendship), art is everywhere downtown.

The Pearl San Antonio
 The Historic Pearl is a entertainment and dining district with some of the best food in San Antonio © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Dinner, cocktails, and a ghost story

As the sun sets, downtown San Antonio transforms into a full-on entertainment district.

Get started with dinner at the Historic Pearl for culinary delights and even more fun. Anchored by the Culinary Institute of America San Antonio campus and its restaurant, Savor, you’ll find a one-of-a-kind blend of culinary fusions, from food trucks to five-star restaurants. Try some next-level authentic French or Asian-American cuisine, Brasserie Mon Chou Chou and Best Quality Daughter, respectively, are excellent choices. On weekends, a farmers market offers fresh favorites and a cup of Local Coffee is available any time.

Best Quality Daughter restaurant
You’ll find a one-of-a-kind blend of culinary fusions, from food trucks to five-star restaurants, at the Historic Pearl © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

After dinner, there are evening activities for any interest. For a rooftop view of the city, 1Watson features a handful of charming signature cocktails. If you're in the mood for authentic tapas, head over to Toro Kitchen. If you want the dance club vibe, try 1902 or the Bonham Exchange.

For a chill on a hot summer night, book a Texas Ghost Tour which will introduce you to all the best San Antonio haunts. Grab a nightcap at a historic hotel, like the Menger – In addition to getting one of the best Bloody Mary's in town it’s possible you’ll meet the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt, which is rumored to frequent the bar.

The Blue Star
The Blue Star Arts Complex features indie shops and galleries along with live music venues and eateries © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Day 2: King William Historic District and Southtown

An easy walk or scooter ride from downtown, the King William Historic District features Victorian homes and trestle bridges along with a selection of restaurants that will blow you away with their diversity and creativity. For starters, Guenther House serves up a traditional Texas breakfast. As befits the home of the Pioneer Flour Mill, the biscuits and pancakes are the star.

Steps from the breakfast table, the Blue Star Arts Complex is home to many artists of San Antonio with a calendar of art events. Blue Star also features indie shops and galleries along with live music venues and eateries. Grab a cup of coffee to go at Halcyon, then hop over the San Antonio River to CHRISPark, a green space fusing art and the outdoors. Then visit the neighboring Ruby City, which offers a collection of contemporary art in a rotating collection.

The Villa Finale
The Villa Finale is an 1876 restored home artfully decorated with period antiques © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

From there, take the Johnson Pedestrian Bridge over the San Antonio River to King William Street, which is filled with historic homes. Make sure to tour The Villa Finale, an 1876 restored home artfully decorated with period antiques.

After a morning of leisurely strolling, lunch will be well earned. Southtown’s Pharm Table blends plant-forward entrees paired with sustainable proteins and international flavors. Little Em’s is the destination for oysters, caviar and shellfish. And for nearly 30 years, the pink neon of Rosario’s has beckoned diners to its tables, now in a new space.

The breezy patio of The Good Kind charms passers-by into its space for small bites paired with wine and cocktails. Close by, kick back and sip one of more than 300 beers at The Friendly Spot Ice House. On weekends in the summer, the Arneson River Theater comes alive with traditional song and dance at its Fiesta Noche del Rio.

San Antonio Zoo
The San Antonio Zoo is best explored in the morning when the animals are active © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Day 3: Broadway two ways

Have you ever wanted to pet a rhinoceros or feed a giraffe? If so, head to the San Antonio Zoo in Brackenridge Park - best explored in the morning when the animals are active and the weather is cooler. Ranked the second-best Zoo in the country, it is home to 9,000 animals from 750 different species and one of the country’s largest endangered-animal collections. Parents of younger children should check out the adjacent Kiddie Park, the oldest children’s amusement park in the country.

The Witte Museum
The expansive dinosaur display at the Witte Museum is an ideal indoor activity  © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Catch a ride on the miniature train from the Zoo Depot to the Witte Museum. Its expansive dinosaur display is an ideal indoor activity. With an eye towards Texas dinosaurs, visitors learn about the plant and meat eaters of the area. For the younger set, the DoSeum, right across the street from the Witte, offers wall-to-wall interactive exhibits, best suited for preschoolers and the lower grades.

Afterward, hop on the Zoo train again and head to the Japanese Tea Gardens, where footpaths connect shimmering rock-lined koi ponds with a waterfall and a pagoda, all lushly landscaped in a former quarry. It’s a welcome respite from the summer sun.

San Antonio Botanical Garden
The San Antonio Botanical Gardens is an oasis from the summer sun © Benjamin Yanto / Lonely Planet

Alternatively, take a shady walk through the San Antonio Botanical Garden to start a day of beauty created by hand and nature. Then move on to the McNay Museum, located in a Spanish Colonial home of an heiress and art teacher. Here you’ll see modern masterpieces from Manet to Matisse and from O’Keefe to Picasso.

Head for the former Lone Star Brewery to explore 5,000 years of art at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Connected to the museum complex, you can try some authentic Italian cuisine along the picturesque banks of the river at Tre Trattoria. And as the sun sets, nearby Elsewhere Garden Bar & Patio offers a family friendly respite filled with Instagram-worthy selfie shots and a full food and bar menu. Swing on the benches overlooking the river and watch the world go by.

Mission Concepcion
Mission Concepción is one of four missions that make up the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park ©  f11photo / Shutterstock

Day 4: Missions and bats

Get an early start to grab a table at Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia for a plate of huevos or chilaquiles, Tex-Mex breakfast staples. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll want to grab a bag of pan dulce (Mexican baked goods) for later. Across the pedestrian walkway, you can find Mexican dresses, maracas, and more at Market Square – a lively shopping hub with live music and one-of-a-kind souvenirs spilling out into the plaza.

For the history aficionados, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas is a must-do experience. Take a guided bike tour down the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River (bike rentals, including e-bikes, available) to the four missions: Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. Together, they are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. As the summer sun sets, make your way to San Fernando Cathedral, where a nighttime light show projected on the facade tells the story of San Antonio in brilliant color.

Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge Caverns is a wet cave with drippy stalagmites and stalactites © Lost_in_the_Midwest / Shutterstock

For a family day, head underground and enjoy nature’s air-conditioning at the best show cave in Texas. Natural Bridge Caverns is a wet cave with drippy stalagmites and stalactites. During the summer, kids and parents alike will be thrilled when upward of 15 million bats emerge from the nearby Bracken Cave. The largest bat population in the world is harmless to humans – in fact, these flying mammals are bug eaters!

San Antonio offers unique and authentic experiences wherever you look. It’s richly steeped in history, brimming with arts and cultural opportunities, wonderfully varied in culinary options, and filled with exciting entertainment for adults and children alike. With all the things to do in San Antonio, exploring the city is a perfect way to spend your summer vacation.

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