Known for showmanship and unique history, Texan cities can seem larger than life and possibly out of your traveling budget. However, San Antonio offers a rich blend of Mexican and Tex-Mex cultures with plenty of attractions and activities for the whole family. Whether you’re studying the ruins of the infamous Alamo or listening to mariachi music along the bustling River Walk, there are numerous free things to do in San Antonio.
1) River Walk
The River Walk, or Paso del Río, boasts a host of lively stores and restaurants lining the San Antonio River in the heart of downtown. Visitors can stroll along the stone path and survey local artwork and vendors to the tune of mariachi players. Furthermore, this gorgeous 2.5-mile long city park connects to several attractions such as lovely Marriage Island, the Arneson River Theater, and the city’s historic missions.
2) The Alamo
A trip to San Antonio wouldn’t be complete without remembering the Alamo. Fortunately, this excursion is free to the public! The Alamo Mission once stood as a converted fortress that fell in 1836 during the Texas Revolution at the Battle of the Alamo. While many of the original structures were destroyed, visitors can view preserved remnants such as the old chapel as well as an impressive collection of weapons and artifacts.
3) Brackenridge Park
Displaying the beauty of the Texas Hill Country, Brackenridge Park is a public park north of downtown with multiple attractions located in the 343-acre area. This 19th century San Antonio staple houses the Japanese Tea Garden, the San Antonio Zoo, several museums, and more. Guests can also enjoy using its many trails, pavilions, playgrounds, and baseball fields.
4) The Japanese Tea Garden
This stunning peaceful garden is open and free to the public every day. The Japanese Tea Garden once operated as a rock quarry but was transformed into a fairytale scene in 1919. Complete with stone walkways, a Japanese pagoda, a waterfall, lily pond, and exotic plants, this San Antonio treasure is not to be missed. Also, guests can dine at the Jingu House Cafe for a variety of teas, salads, sandwiches, and Asian cuisine.
5) San Pedro Creek Culture Park
Although the park is expanding, the first phase of San Pedro Creek Culture Park is complete and features interactive art installations to celebrate the creek’s culture and history. Skip along the path to find respite from the sun in the San Pedro Creek and sit on the steps of the 12 Generational Benches of the Plaza de Fundación. Additionally, visitors can take in the stunning mural titled “Rain from the Heavens” along with multiple other impressive art installations.
6) San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Encompassing over 300 years of layered history, the historical park hosts four distinct Spanish missions: Mission San Jose, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. Each mission still contains active Catholic parishes and hold regular services. The Missions stand as a representation of South Texan Tejano culture and provide learning experiences for the whole family.
7) Market Square
Market Square or El Mercado is the largest Mexican marketplace in the United States with over a 100 local restaurants, shops, and vendor stalls. The space is free to walk around and enjoy authentic Mexican and Tejano cultures. Catch one of the Farmer’s Market Food Court live performances or admire the traditional pottery, clothing, artwork, and cuisine. If you do decide to sample, we suggest Mi Tierra’s pastries.
8) Yanaguana Garden
With multiple unique art installations, playgrounds, a splash pad, and over 500 events per year, Yanaguana Garden presents a perfect spot to let loose with your family. Guests can take advantage of free access to games such as chess, checkers, cornhole, and ping pong tables or simply relax on one of the tiled benches. Afterward, indulge in one of the many converted restaurants nearby.
Artpace San Antonio is a contemporary art gallery and nonprofit residency program for domestic and international artists open to the public seven days a week. Visitors can do self-guided or guided tours in English and Spanish in this downtown space. Distinctive performances, film screenings, workshops, and summer classes are also available.
10) King William Historic District
Named in honor of King Wilhelm I of Prussia (Germany), this 19th-century picturesque neighborhood once belonged to German immigrants who settled in the Texas Hill Country. Tour the lavish Guenther House for breakfast or brunch surrounded by preserved Victorian decor, the San Antonio Art League and Museum, or the Blue Star Arts Complex.
11) San Antonio Art League and Museum
Located in the charming King William Historic District, the SAALM serves as a converted art museum and gallery. Focusing on Texas artists, this 19th-century carriage house possesses over 600 works in varying mediums in its permanent collection. Roaming exhibitions feature local and regional Texas artists. Although you can donate to the museum, admission is free.
12) The Main Plaza
Once the commercial hub and spiritual center of San Antonio, the Main Plaza or Plaza De Las Islas still stands as a historic marker with 30 significant historical pavers throughout the plaza. Try to find them all! Take in the monumental architecture of the San Fernando Cathedral and view the 24-minute “The Saga” dazzling light show projected onto the Cathedral during the evening.
13) The Quadrangle and Fort Sam Houston Museum
Constructed in 1876, the Quadrangle at Fort Sam Houston stood as the original limestone fort structure that hosted housing supplies before the US Army used it as an arsenal. Apache leader Geronimo was once imprisoned here and it is rumored that the deer and other wildlife roaming on the property were brought for the Apaches. Furthermore, visitors can walk around the Fort Sam Houston Museum on base to view the history of the fort dating back to 1845. The fort is still an active military base and animals such as deer and peacocks roam freely. Even though both sites are free, visitors must present a valid driver’s license.
14) Headwaters Sanctuary
Tucked away within the grounds of the University of the Incarnate Word, this 53-acre nature sanctuary is cared for by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. The sanctuary works to restore native wildlife and provide refuge in an urban landscape with educational programs for children and adults. Visitors can also see the source of the San Antonio River, the Blue Hole (also known as the San Antonio Spring or “Yanaguana”).
15) Phil Hardberger Park
One of the many natural landscapes in the city, Phil Hardberger Park has so many options for families wanting outdoor fun. This 330-acre park is home to a nature center, 7.5 miles of trails for hiking, walking, and biking, play areas, and outdoor classrooms. The park connects to the Howard Peak Greenway and is divided by Wurzbach Parkway. A land bridge is under construction is set to unite the park in 2020, so look up where to park beforehand.
16) Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio
The Holocaust Memorial Museum aims to memorialize victims of the Holocaust by educating guests on the significant historical impact and generational trauma. Guests can take self-guided or guided tours of the four exhibits or participate in workshops and seminars. Although the museum is free to tour, donations are encouraged.
17) Witte Museum
The Witte Museum celebrates Texan history, culture, and wildlife. The permanent collection features historic photographs, artifacts, art, prehistoric cave drawings, dinosaur remains, and more. Additionally, there are revolving exhibits as well as several interactive spaces for students such as the H-E-B Science Treehouse and H-E-B Body Adventure. Note that visitors can tour the museum for free on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m.
18) The DoSeum
The DoSeum seeks to spark kids’ interest in STEM subjects, literacy, and the arts through its interactive exhibits and programs. Bring your kids to play, explore, and expands their minds on every first Tuesday of each month from 6:30-8:30. Be sure to get tickets at 4 pm at the entrance.
19) The Briscoe Western Art Museum
Western fanatics will enjoy the museum’s collection of art, film memorabilia, and historical artifacts representative of the American West. Through paintings and sculptures as well as artifacts from Native Americans and Western settlers, visitors can gain more insight into the lives of earlier generations of Americans. Guests can tour for free on Tuesdays from 4 pm to 9 pm and military families receive free admission at any time.
20) McNay Art Museum
The McNay Art Museum boasts an incredible collection of American and international art from different periods. The permanent collection features over 22,000 works of paintings, sculptures, glasswork, and more from all over the world. There are also numerous revolving exhibits. The museum is free on Thursdays from 4 pm to 9 pm and on the first Sunday of the month from 12 pm to 5 pm. In general, admission is free for guests 19 years or younger or active military service members.
21) San Antonio Museum of Art
The San Antonio Museum of Art’s permanent collection displays domestic and international artwork dating from the Bronze Age to contemporary times. There are also revolving exhibits and events for visitors of all ages. Visitors can tour the museum for free on Tuesdays from 4 pm to 9 pm and on Sundays from 10 am to 12 pm. Children 12 and under can tour for free in general.
22) Pearl Brewery
Don’t be fooled by the name! The Pearl operated as a brewery from 1883 to 2001 and was then made over into a multipurpose space. Located north of downtown, the Pearl showcases shops, restaurants, the Paseos River Amphitheater, and Hotel Emma. In addition, the third campus of the Culinary Institute of America, as well as many notable institutions such as the San Antonio Business Journal, are located within the area. Be sure to check out the Farmer’s Market on weekends.
23) Free Crafting at Lakeshore Learning
Lakeshore Learning provides free crafting classes for kids ages three and up at the Lakeshore Learning San Antonio location ever. Kids and their parents are welcome every Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm to make crafts and socialize. No reservations are necessary.
24) The Institute of Texan Cultures
The museum serves as a multicultural education center to celebrate the many cultures that have sought a home in Texas. Exhibits, educational programs, and cultural events seek to educate and inspire local residents and tourists alike. Every second Sunday of the month except for June, families are welcome to participate in fun educational activities for free. Each Sunday event has a different theme and incorporates crafts, games, performances, guests, and more.
The San Antonio Street Art Initiative’s mission is to encourage local artists to make street art to beautify the city. The initiative also spreads awareness about the cultural significance of street art overall. There are countless vibrant murals that reflect local culture. Check out permanent art spots like under the highway at St. Mary’s Street and Quincy or the Essex Modern City Murals on Essex Street.
Explore the Free Gems of San Antonio
San Antonio offers a variety of activities for outdoor lovers, history buffs, art enthusiasts, and more. Which of these free things to do in San Antonio will you try on your next trip?