After leaving Austin (read about our visit to Austin here), the next stop on our Texas road trip was the picturesque Texas Hill Country and the city of San Antonio.
San Antonio is the second biggest city in Texas behind Houston and offers everything a family would want from a holiday destination with world class theme parks, luxury hotels, water parks, museums, history, great shopping and more.
What I loved about San Antonio and the Hill Country (read about our visit to Gruene here) was the diverse mix of Mexican, Spanish, French and German influences which have added their own unique charm over the years to the city and its surrounding areas.
Before our trip we asked our online travel community on where to go, what to eat and the top things to do with kids when visiting San Antonio Texas. They came up with so many great ideas and we managed to fit in quite a lot.
Here are some of our “don’t miss” suggestions for entertaining both the kids and adults when visiting the San Antonio area – there are plenty of things to do here.
Here is what we did on the next stop of our Texas road trip – San Antonio
Remember The Alamo
The Alamo is one of the most important historical sites in the United States and is a must-see attraction. It’s at this Spanish mission that was transformed into a fort in 1836 as the Texans fought against Santa Ana’s army for Texan independence from Mexico.
What was great was that from our visit to the Bullock Museum in Austin we learnt about the story of the Alamo and seeing it in person really brought the story to life especially for the kids. Don’t miss the Davy Crockett exhibit and the park like grounds of the Alamo are well worth exploring.
Tip: The Alamo is free to visit 365 days a year, but guided tours highlighting the details of the battle, the heroes and the buildings are available. Visit early in the day to beat the crowds
Also check out the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park the first World Heritage Site in Texas. Composed of four traditional Spanish colonial missions from the 18th century – Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Mission Espada and Mission Concepción.
Take a bus tour with City Sightseeing San Antonio
We found that one of the best ways to see San Antonio and get acquainted with its different neighbourhoods is taking one of the hop-on hop-off tours offered by City Sightseeing San Antonio.
You can’t miss their red double-decker buses when you arrive in downtown, and the tour guides on-board were so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the city.
If your children are like ours, they will love sitting on the open air top deck of the bus where it becomes an adventure as you see the main sights. These hop-on hop-off tours are such an easy, fun and convenient way to see the city.
We took in the sights including the Pearl, a fun new area of the city filled with historic buildings, restaurants and quirky gift shops in what was once the original Pearl Brewery district.
I really recommend visiting the historic market square (El Mercado). Here you can find the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico full of Mexican goods so it’s a great place for unique souvenirs and also great Mexican restaurants.
With mariachi musicians and colourful banners over the streets the girls thought it was like being in the Disney Coco movie and I have to agree – it’s well worth stopping here to experience this part of the city.
Another way to see San Antonio from a different perspective is to take a Go River cruise (more on that later).
Walk the Riverwalk
A short walk from the Alamo is another of San Antonio’s must see areas when visiting the city – the stunning San Antonio Riverwalk. Set below street level, with the San Antonio River meandering through the city, the river walk is lined with lush plants, cypress trees, hotels, shops and colourful restaurants on the banks of the river.
It can get very busy here but this just adds to its unique and colourful ambience. It was fun to walk along the river walk taking in the Mexican music, crossing the beautiful high arched stone bridges and finding out what was around the next corner.
The Riverwalk contains so many restaurants, from popular chain restaurants like Hard Rock Café and the Rainforest Café to local independent restaurants.
We dined at Casa Rio the oldest restaurant on the Riverwalk offering Mexican / Tex Mex. We sat outside by the river which provided a great spot just to relax, people watch and listen to the live mariachi bands whilst the girls loved watching the little ducks swim past on the river.
Go on a Rio River cruise
We took a Go Rio river cruise which is one of the best ways of experiencing and seeing all that the River Walk has to offer.
On our 30 minute narrated cruise the guide/driver was so knowledgeable and we found it really educational, and we learnt about the history of the River Walk and some of the buildings surrounding it. He even told us a story that the local birds keep the snakes out of the trees that overhang the river!
Seaworld San Antonio
Seaworld San Antonio is one of the most popular attractions to visit when in San Antonio. Each Seaworld park is different and offer their own unique experience after visiting the parks in San Diego and Orlando the girls have been asking to return and Seaworld San Antonio didn’t disappoint.
There was really something for everyone here at Seaworld, as the park offers a perfect mix of educational shows, animal encounters, rides and a fantastic Aquatica waterpark. Even though it’s slightly smaller it’s just as good as the one in Orlando.
With amazing rollercoasters and thrill rides which the kids loved, to the fantastic Sesame Street Bay of Play area for younger children.
The animal encounters are what makes Seaworld such a memorable experience. Our favourites were the penguins.
We also had the opportunity to get close to Beluga whales. We booked a behind the scenes package where we got to touch and feed the whales and it’s the only Seaworld park where you can do so.
Tip – Check the opening days/times for Seaworld as in the off-season it is only open over a long weekend.
Experience a Rodeo
As we were in the cowboy capital of the world, our hotel concierge at La Cantera recommended that we visit an authentic rodeo for a true taste of the real Texas. Just north of San Antonio is the Tejas Rodeo and it really is a hidden gem that lots of tourists might miss.
It offers a chance to experience Texas and its western heritage and attracts lots of families every Saturday night. The Tejas Rodeo is really family friendly and was the perfect way to experience a rodeo and gave the girls a chance to dress up in their new cowboy boots and hats.
An alternative option is to visit Bandera, which is known as the cowboy capital and the Mayan Dude Ranch where you can stay and experience life as a cowboy.
Visit Six Flags Fiesta Texas
This was our first ever time at a Six Flags theme park (they are found across the United States) and we loved it, the girls in particular said it was one of the best theme parks that we have visited and we have been lucky enough to visit many so that’s praise indeed. The park was less than a five minute drive from our beautiful hotel La Cantera.
Although not as slick or as polished as a Disney or Universal park, at Six Flags Fiesta Texas you can find some of the best roller coasters in America including Wonder Woman, the Iron Rattler and the world first 4-D free fly coaster – Batman The Ride which looked great fun but terrifying.
Before our visit I was a little worried that family friendly rides would be limited but Six Flags Fiesta Texas has rides for the whole family – the Road Runner coaster was a definite family favourite for us.
Step inside the Buckhorn & Texas Ranger Museum
At the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum we got a taste of frontier life in Texas. It was definitely one of the most unique museums that we have ever visited.
The original Buckhorn Saloon opened in 1881, when owner Albert Friedrich would accept horns, antlers and even jars of rattlesnake rattles in exchange for a whisky or beer and his collection grew into one of the world’s largest collections which are on display.
Here you can find a recreation of San Antonio at the turn of the century in Ranger Town. With its authentic Western-style bar there were lots of cowboy exhibits, to the tour guides dressed in pointy cowboy boots and hats who tell the tales of Texas outlaws. You can also find a replica of the 1934 Ford V8 Deluxe—the famous Bonnie & Clyde getaway car here.
Climb to the top of the Tower of the Americas
Also located in downtown San Antonio is Hemisair Park built for the 1968 World’s Fair and the Tower of the Americas which has become an iconic feature on the San Antonio skyline.
At 750ft tall it’s taller than the space needle in Seattle and it was the tallest observation tower in the United States until the Stratosphere tower opened in Las Vegas.
From the observation deck at the top you get amazing views over the city and there is also a revolving restaurant which offers dining with panoramic views.
Have fun at Alamo Plaza
Across the street from the Alamo is a tourist trap that kids will love, consisting of a range of child-friendly attractions including Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the Guinness World Records Museum.
Whilst it was not something I would have expected so close to an historic site such as the Alamo, it will be hard to stop your kids wanting to visit here – as all of the attractions are great fun.
The Mirror Maze was huge and so enjoyable, luckily the girls were experts and led us out to safety. The maze consists of three mazes in one with thousands of mirrors so each time we tried it gave a different experience and some of the optical illusions are amazing. Next up make sure you test your agility at the laser vault challenge.
If you have not been to a Guinness World Records Museum it’s worth a visit. On this self-guided tour you explore the impressive world of world records via trivia and lots of hands on interactive exhibits around every corner.
At the attempt arena we tried and failed to set our own world records with some of the challenges on offer. There is so much to do and see here to keep all the family busy but highlights not to be missed were the scream box and retro gaming area – it was so much fun.
At Tomb Rider 3D, a theme park style ride you embark on a 3D laser gun shooting adventure, which was great fun so it’s well worth doing with kids but we skipped Ripleys Haunted Adventure – this haunted house with real live actors was a little too realistic and scary for us – we only made it into the entrance so it might be worth skipping this if you have younger children.
Tip – Check out the combination tickets available if you plan on visiting more than one attraction at Alamo Plaza, you can save up to 56% off gate prices.
Also on the same street is Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and Louis Tussauds Waxworks so there is plenty here to keep families entertained.
Indulge in a little retail therapy
The San Antonio and Hill Country area offers great shopping, so good in fact that we thought it was much better than the shopping malls and outlets of Orlando.
Shop at San Marcos
As you know from previous posts we love a spot of retail and I couldn’t resist stopping off at the outlets at San Marcos en-route to San Antonio from Austin.
They say everything is bigger in Texas and this was certainly true of this outlet which was a combination of Premium Outlets and Tanger Outlets, it was huge and contained every store imaginable.
If you have been to Orlando and think their outlet malls are good then they are nothing in comparison to this – you could spend hours here if your credit card allows!
Shops at La Cantera
One of our favourite places to shop was at the shops at La Cantera a five minute drive from our hotel. It’s one of the most beautiful shopping centres we have visited in the United States and as you would expect in Texas, it was big containing all of our favourite stores and restaurants.
We also liked the shops including one of my favourite US supermarkets Target at the Rim shopping center, which was also a 5 minute drive from La Cantera Resort. At the Northstar Mall in San Antonio you can also find the world largest cowboy boot standing 35ft tall – creating the perfect Instagram shot.
What we missed
There is so much to see and do in San Antonio for families that it’s impossible to do everything and below are other suggestions from our community of other things kids might be interested in visiting.
San Antonio Zoo,
The Institute of Texas Cultures,
The San Antonio Aquarium,
Legoland Discovery Center,
Bandera Cowboy Country
Natural Bridge Caverns,
Where to stay in San Antonio
It can be overwhelming looking for a hotel when visiting San Antonio as there are so many options and areas to consider. The majority of hotels are found along the Riverwalk/downtown or at the Pearl and others are further out of the city but are closer to attractions such as Seaworld or Six Flags.
Whilst staying on the Riverwalk makes it convenient to explore downtown, we found that it could get very hectic and noisy here, so after visiting San Antonio we were so glad of our choice of hotel, the luxurious La Cantera Resort and Spa (read about our stay at La Cantera), which was a 20 minute drive from downtown.
Set amongst 550 acres of one of the highest and most beautiful areas of San Antonio, La Cantera was the perfect place to relax and escape from the city. With several pools including one with waterslides that kids will love, a choice of great restaurants, fantastic rooms and great staff it offers everything that you would want from a luxury hotel.
Other hotels that were highly recommended and worth checking out are below
We didn’t need a car in Austin, but for the rest of our trip a car was essential to see what San Antonio and the Hill Country of Texas had to offer.
We pre-booked our car with BA AVIS before we left the UK and collected it from the airport at Austin for the 90 minute drive to San Antonio.
It’s well worth signing up for the free AVIS preferred scheme as it allows you to bypass the hard sell at the car rental desks and go directly to the car park to collect your car, saving time and hassle.