San Antonio: A quick getaway to indulge in the arts, history and food
Updated: Jan 16
San Antonio is a vibrant city with a unique blend of cultures. From the influence of the indigenous tribes native to the area to the remnants of Spanish missions that date back to the early 1700s, San Antonio is an old city with many stories and a dynamic arts scene – perfect for the history buff and aesthete.
Rapid Review: Must-dos in San Antonio, Texas
Attraction: San Antonio River Walk
Sites: The Alamo and Mission San Jose
Tours: The Sisters Grimm Ghost Tour
Night Out: The Pearl District
Family or adult trip: Both
Weekend or week: Weekend
Lyft/Uber friendly: Yes
San Antonio River Walk
Part of San Antonio’s varied history includes the San Antonio River Walk, a winding, 13-mile path along the river that begins in Brackenridge Park, goes through downtown San Antonio, and extends south to the farthest of the city’s five 18th century Spanish missions.
The bustling part of the river walk – the section that extends through downtown San Antonio – is about three miles long. It is truly one of the most unique and inspiring city planning initiatives I have ever seen. It’s a slice of Venice, Italy in the heart of Texas.
This is an absolute must-see; however, the river walk is not particularly accessible. I did see one wheelchair user deftly navigating the narrow, winding pavement crowded with people, but most of the river walk access points require stairs (and lots of them). I did notice a few elevators, but they are few and far between.
The river walk is narrow and winding with no railing between the pavement and the river, so ushering small children along the path without them toppling in might be a challenge. Even as a grown woman, I eyed the edge with trepidation (I’m not known for my grace). We actually looked up how many people fall into the river – the answer was essentially “less than you would think.”
The further you get from the city center, the more you will encounter homeless folks. According to one of our Uber drivers, San Antonio has a very large homeless population, which the driver blamed on Austin breaking up their tent cities. I’m not savvy enough to know the ins and outs of the situation, but once you leave any populated area of San Antonio, there will be unhoused folks.
San Antonio Missions: The Alamo and Mission San Jose
Whether you enjoy history or not, visiting The Alamo is a rite of passage. While entrance into the historical site is free, I recommend paying for a tour. Since I am hard of hearing, I avoid live tours as I miss more than I understand, so we opted for the pre-recorded tour. However, the audio guides were wands, which is not deaf-friendly, so we went back to our rooms to get our headphones.
While learning about the Alamo was great, we both preferred the Mission San Jose. First of all, the opening video had a more unbiased view of history and the actions of the Spanish missionaries. And the video had open captions! The mission itself was fascinating, beautiful and so very old. It’s not often we get to see structures from the 1700s in the States, and certainly not in the Midwest.
The Sisters Grimm Ghost Tour
Neither my husband nor I believe in ghosts (although I wouldn’t rule them out either), but the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tour was absolutely fascinating. We learned a ton of interesting historical tidbits – murder, mayhem, and the like – while getting a bus tour of the city at night. The website states this is for kids ages 13 and up, and I’d agree with that based on the historical information shared.
The Pearl District
The Pearl District is a revitalized outdoor space that features a beer garden surrounded by cool old buildings that have been renovated and now host upscale restaurants, hotels and breweries. The open space was packed with families frolicking and picnicking, the restaurants were teeming with teenagers all dressed up for homecoming, and the hotel bar was crammed with wedding party guests. The Pearl District is apparently “the” place to be for any sort of event, and it’s yet another win for city planning as it’s an absolute gorgeous space.
I would not recommend walking or taking a scooter to the Pearl District as the surrounding areas are a bit questionable. Spend the money and take an Uber/Lyft.
Restaurants: Ocho and Elsewhere
Ocho is in this awesome building on the outskirts of downtown – so drive, don’t walk – and we sat in the greenhouse area overlooking the river. The food was absolutely phenomenal – the best we had on our trip.
Elsewhere also had good food, but the standout was the space itself and the overall atmosphere. Picnic tables, hammocks, outdoor fans, and lights strewn through the trees make it a perfect place to lounge and drink. Definitely hip and unlike anything we have here in the Midwest!
Weekend getaway for families or couples
San Antonio far exceeded our expectations and I definitely recommend it as a weekend getaway. We spent five days there for my husband’s work conference because it overlapped with our anniversary, and that was too long. Two full days and three nights should be enough to do some sightseeing and get a taste of the city, and it’s a good trip for both families and adults-only as there’s something for everyone.