Texas’s second-largest city is known for its festive River Walk, historic Spanish-style missions, and its delicious Tex-Mex cuisine (especially breakfast tacos). And despite being home to 1.5 million friendly Texans, this urban destination in South Texas offers plenty of parks, green spaces, and other outdoor activities to take advantage of its mild year-round weather. These are some of my favorite things to do outdoors in San Antonio.
1. Remember The Alamo
Visiting San Antonio and not stopping at the Alamo is like visiting Houston and not touring the Space Center. Don’t do it! With millions of visitors a year, this mission-turned-battlefield is one of the most visited sights in the Lone Star State due to its pivotal role in securing Texas’s independence from Mexico. Officially named Mission San Antonio de Valero, step inside the limestone-walled compound and tour the shady grounds to learn more about this historic site and the brave men who gave their lives for Texas’s independence during the Battle of the Alamo.
Pro Tip: If you’re visiting San Antonio as a road trip from Houston, be sure to check out these sights along the way.
2. Travel The Mission Trail
While the Alamo is the most famous, there are four other Spanish missions in San Antonio. Under Spain’s flag, these communities united Catholic missionaries and Native Americans against other Indigenous tribes and French explorers who wanted to control this region. Stretching from Mission Espada to the Alamo, the Mission Trail loosely follows the San Antonio River as it connects all five historic sites.
While it’s easy to visit all five San Antonio missions by car, there are several fun alternatives. For just a few dollars, secure a day pass for local bus 40 with service to all five missions. Or walk or bike the Mission Trail as you visit each site. You’ll find BCycle San Antonio bike-sharing stations throughout San Antonio, including one just a few steps from Mission Espada. Expect to pedal just under 10 miles if you ride the trail all the way to the Alamo, but you can get an extra boost while biking the Mission Trail by renting an electric bike!
Pro Tip: While a Texas non-profit organization operates the Alamo, the other four San Antonio missions are part of the San Antonio Mission National Historic Park, a National Park Service site.
3. Explore The River Walk
Just a short stroll from the Alamo, located a flight of stairs below street level, the San Antonio River Walk lines both sides of the San Antonio River with lush green spaces, elegant hotels, delightful shops, and delicious places to eat as it winds through the heart of downtown. If you think the River Walk has a Disneyesque vibe, it’s with good reason. Key designers of Disneyland helped shape the San Antonio River Walk in the early 1960s, and their influence is still felt today.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a bite to eat or a place to stay, these are the best restaurants and hotels on San Antonio’s River Walk.
4. Climb Aboard A Flat-Bottomed Boat
While you don’t have to visit every shop or eat at every restaurant along the River Walk, you will want to cruise the river to fully experience San Antonio! A 35-minute narrated GO RIO Cruise provides an excellent overview of the area’s history, architecture, and culture with a touch of humor. Board one of the colorful, flat-bottomed, ADA-accessible electric barges where every seat comes with a fantastic view.
Pro Tip: As part of your cruise, you’ll glide under the arched stone bridge outside the Omni La Mansion Del Rio, known as “Selena’s Bridge.” On this bridge, a young Jennifer Lopez filmed scenes for Selena, a movie about the life of Tejano singing sensation Selena Quintanilla.
5. Watch For Wildlife
About 10 miles north of downtown San Antonio, Phil Hardberger Park is a 300-acre wooded preserve with miles of trails open to walkers, runners, and cyclists. But one of the park’s can’t-miss spots is the Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge. Designed to help outdoor enthusiasts and South Texas wildlife coexist with the traffic speeding along the Wurzbach Parkway, the nation’s largest wildlife bridge allows people and animals to safely move between the north and south sections of the park.
Pro Tip: Whether you stroll along the River Walk, hike the Mission Trail, or watch for wildlife, you’re sure to work up an appetite exploring the Alamo City, so don’t miss the best restaurants in San Antonio.
6. Observe The Animals
For guaranteed animal sightings, head to the San Antonio Zoo. One of several attractions in San Antonio’s 343-acre Brackenridge Park, the zoo is home to animals from nearly every corner of the world. Take a safari to Africa by observing the lions and giraffes or wander through the South American rainforest in the Hixon Bird House. The San Antonio Zoo offers many memorable experiences to allow guests to get up close and personal with the critters. I never pass up an opportunity to feed a giraffe, and you can also mingle with flamingos, observe an okapi, and more. You might also enjoy one of the zoo’s “beastly” breakfasts that offer a unique dining experience with mimosas and animal encounters.
7. Stroll Through Beautiful Gardens
Surround yourself with beauty as you bask in the sunshine, breathe the fragrance of beautiful blooms, and listen to the calming water features at the San Antonio Botanical Garden and Japanese Tea Garden, also located in Brackenridge Park. Experience a tropical rainforest inside the conservatory and discover a wide range of native plants and birds along the Texas Native Trail at the botanical gardens. Or find a moment of zen at the former quarry that made it easy to build arched bridges when it was converted to the tranquil Japanese tea garden.
Pro Tip: While the San Antonio Botanical Garden charges admission, there is no fee to visit the Japanese Tea Garden.
8. Take An Interactive Scavenger Hunt
One of my favorite ways to explore a new city is via an interactive scavenger hunt, so if there’s a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt available, it’s one of the first things I do. Because you can go at nearly any time, an interactive scavenger hunt is easy to work into any itinerary and provides an excellent overview of the sights to see. Let’s Roam currently offers two interactive scavenger hunts in the Alamo City. Learn more about the art, culture, and history of San Antonio with this 1.7-mile hunt that includes stops at the Majestic Theatre, the Alamo, and Main Plaza. Or explore San Antonio’s spooky side with this ghost tour that winds past the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, the Alamo, Briscoe Museum, and Menger Hotel.
Pro Tip: If you want to explore more on foot after your scavenger hunt, check out this self-guided walking tour of Downtown San Antonio.
9. Appreciate Public Art
Texans regularly remind residents of the other 49 states that everything is bigger in Texas, and street artists in San Antonio are working hard to build the largest outdoor gallery in Texas. In the past two years, they’ve completed nearly 50 murals stretching north from the Pan Am Expressway to East Woodlawn Avenue along North St. Mary’s Street.
If you’d rather search for sculptures, head to Pittman-Sullivan Park on the east side of San Antonio, where you’ll discover a long orange hand reaching for the sky. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr’s nonviolent approach to social change, artist Douglas Kornfeld named his sculpture “Open Hand, Open Mind, Open Heart.”
Pro Tip: Discover all the amazing art San Antonio has to offer with this public artworks map.
10. Dine Al Fresco
In a South Texas town with 220 days of sunshine, you’ll discover many options for dining outdoors. Stop by the weekend market at Pearl and the bakery at Mi Tierra Cafe for fresh ingredients and baked goods to prepare a picnic to enjoy in one of the many local parks.
Or leave the cooking to someone else! While nearly every restaurant along the San Antonio River Walk offers patio seating, my number-one recommendation is Boudro’s. Treat yourself to an afternoon pick-me-up of guacamole made fresh at your table with a cone of crisp tortilla chips (made even more delicious with a prickly pear margarita), or stay for a full meal.
Pro Tip: Looking for more to do and see in San Antonio? Here are eight more ideas to help you fill your Texas travel bucket list.
From the historic Alamo to the festive River Walk and from beautiful parks and gardens to delicious dining, these are the best outdoor activities in San Antonio, Texas.