San Antonio is a city that truly has it all. Located in the heart of Texas, San Antonio boasts a unique cultural heritage, a thriving culinary scene, and gorgeous natural scenery. As the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio is home to a diverse population with a rich history rooted in Spanish and Mexican culture.
I visited in May and found that San Antonio has something for everyone, whether you’re strolling along the famous RiverWalk, exploring the historic Alamo, or indulging in some Tex-Mex cuisine. With its warm climate, friendly locals, and plentiful opportunities for adventure, it’s no wonder this city is such a popular destination.
Let’s take a closer look at some exciting and free things to do in this charming city, a must-visit destination for both Texans and tourists.
Part of my visit was hosted. All opinions are my own.
1. San Antonio RiverWalk
The 15-mile-long San Antonio RiverWalk is a picturesque destination you can’t miss. Meandering for miles alongside the tranquil San Antonio River, it boasts a vibrant atmosphere that’s truly unique.
The RiverWalk’s beauty lies not only in its natural surroundings but also in its endless opportunities for fun and adventure. Whether you’re looking to indulge in savory Tex-Mex food, go shopping, or enjoy live music, there’s something for everyone here. The best part is that it’s below street level, so you don’t have to worry about traffic and can enjoy a leisurely stroll.
Pro Tip: Wear sunscreen and a hat if venturing out to the RiverWalk during the daytime.
2. The Alamo
The Alamo is one of the most famous landmarks in San Antonio and a symbol of Texan independence. It is a timeless symbol of bravery and sacrifice that has become an unforgettable part of American history. They say Texas wouldn’t be Texas without the Alamo and it’s easy to see why.
The Alamo is an iconic mission that brings to life the story of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, a pivotal moment in the Texas Revolution. Even those who have never set foot on its hallowed ground have heard the names of its heroes: Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William Barret Travis. But the Alamo is more than just a monument to fallen heroes; it’s a testament to the spirit of perseverance and independence that defines the Lone Star State. When you visit the Alamo, you’ll discover a proud legacy that inspires Texans to this day.
You can take a free tour of this historic mission and learn more about its significance to the state’s history.
3. San Antonio Missions
Four other missions in San Antonio include Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada. Visitors can explore the grounds, admire the stunning architecture, and learn about the daily lives of those who call these missions home.
Whether you’re a history buff or simply seeking a memorable experience, the San Antonio Missions are must-see destinations. The missions are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are free.
4. Matinee At The Planetarium
The Scobee Education Center at San Antonio College offers free weekday matinees for visitors to the Challenger Learning Center and planetarium. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about the cosmos and enjoy a unique and fascinating experience.
As you sit inside the darkened dome, the twinkling stars come to life on the curved ceiling, transporting you lightyears away from Earth. Whether you’re a student, teacher, or space enthusiast, the planetarium at Scobee Education Center is a must-visit destination for anyone wanting to expand their knowledge of the cosmos.
Pro Tip: This is a great place to visit in the afternoon to avoid the heat.
5. Japanese Tea Garden
A tranquil oasis in the city, the Japanese Tea Garden is one of San Antonio’s most popular attractions. You can explore the garden’s beautiful winding paths, gorgeous waterfalls, and koi ponds for free.
The Tea Garden offers a glimpse into Japanese culture and architecture, with traditional stone lanterns and beautiful foliage. The centerpiece of the garden is the Japanese pagoda, a stunning two-story structure that overlooks the koi ponds and waterfall. Visitors can relax and take in the peaceful surroundings.
6. Art District
The San Antonio Art District is one of the best free things to do in San Antonio. You can wander around the city’s various galleries, which feature everything from contemporary art to ancient artifacts.
The Art District is a hub of creativity and ingenuity, showcasing the work of artists from all over the country. From captivating paintings to thought-provoking sculptures, this bustling neighborhood is a haven for art lovers. Every corner of the Art District is brimming with inspiration and visitors will find themselves immersed in a world of color and beauty.
7. HemisFair Park
HemisFair Park is a true gem in the heart of San Antonio. This 15-acre park is steeped in history, having served as the 1968 World’s Fair site. It is popular with locals and tourists thanks to its beautiful green spaces, playgrounds, and walking trails.
Locals flock to the park to enjoy picnics, parties, and events. Couples come to stroll hand-in-hand, taking in the park’s serene beauty. HemisFair Park has stunning views of the city’s skyline and numerous attractions; it’s no wonder why it remains one of San Antonio’s most beloved urban oases.
Pro Tip: This area is often busy and a bit noisy in the afternoons, with children enjoying the splash pad.
8. Friedrich Wilderness Park
The Friedrich Wilderness Park offers miles of hiking trails through stunning unspoiled landscapes. The park features over 10 miles of trails, ranging from easy to difficult, catering to all levels of hikers. Take in the breathtaking views, spot local wildlife, and connect with nature on a hike at Friedrich Wilderness Park. You’ll appreciate the fresh air, exercise, and awe-inspiring scenery — all for free.
9. Free Concerts
Throughout the year, San Antonio hosts various free concerts and performances. You can find listings of upcoming events online and treat yourself to some great music without spending a dime.
10. El Mercado
When it comes to experiencing the vibrant culture of San Antonio, a visit to the historic Market Square is a must. Known locally as “El Mercado,” this lively marketplace is a hub of activity with over 100 shops and stalls selling everything from handmade crafts to delicious street food.
Soak up the colorful sights and sounds as you walk the cobblestone streets. Don’t forget to stop by the iconic “Farmer’s Market Plaza,” which has been a staple of the market square for over 80 years. Whether you’re looking for a unique souvenir or want to soak up the local culture, visiting El Mercado is an unforgettable experience.
11. La Villita
La Villita is perfect for families looking for unique gift shops and art galleries. Visitors can also enjoy Tex-Mex cuisine or a refreshing drink at one of the many nearby cafés.
During my visit, there was a party held here. We tried all kinds of Mexican and Tex-Mex treats.
12. Cathedral Of San Fernando
For those seeking a taste of history and grandeur, the Cathedral of San Fernando is a must-see. As one of Texas’s oldest cathedrals, the building’s impressive architecture and intricate design will leave visitors in awe.
Located in the heart of San Antonio, the Cathedral of San Fernando has played an important role in the city’s history and culture. Its towering spires and intricate stained-glass windows make it a true sight to behold. Step inside and be transported into a world of tranquility and grandeur. The soaring ceilings and ornate altars create an aura of majesty.
The night I visited, The Saga light show, projected onto the cathedral, was showing. Created by world-renowned French artist Xavier de Richemont, it covers the history of San Antonio through an artistic lens. The 24-minute video art installation is free to view on weekend nights through 2024.
13. The Pearl District
Immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of San Antonio’s Pearl District by visiting the Pearl Farmers Market. This beloved market is more than just a place to buy locally-grown produce — it’s a community hub where residents and visitors alike can gather, socialize, and savor the flavors of Texas.
As you stroll through the picturesque stalls of the Pearl Farmers Market, you’ll be surrounded by the sights and sounds of neighborhood life — live music, tastings, cooking demos, and much more. Whether searching for gourmet cheeses, artisanal bread, or handcrafted gifts, this market offers something for every taste and interest.
San Antonio has many exciting and free things to do for families that love history, good food, and the great outdoors. From exploring the Alamo to strolling around La Villita Historic Art Village, there’s something for everyone.