San Antonio has attractions and activities to suit visitors of all ages and interests. History, culture and five theme parks only minutes from town are just some of its glories. This is big Texas, but despite being the second largest city in the state, the center seems manageable and compact. The jewel in its crown is River Walk, a world of its own just below street level that connects many sites and attractions. Any visit to this town is not complete without time just spent just rambling River Walk and people watching from this unique vantage point. And, of course, a visit to the Alamo.
San Antonio is lovely anytime, but if you can plan your visit for August, the city welcomes families with its annual Kidcation Week (Aug. 6 – 13, 2017). You’ll find special offers on hotels, restaurants, and attractions, as well as events designed just for kids and their families.
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Here is our guide to the best things to do in San Antonio with kids, plus dining and lodging suggestions.
1) River Walk - The River Walk is San Antonio’s must-see sanctuary, and with a recent expansion, it is the largest urban ecosystem restoration in the nation. Boasting 15 miles of paved paths, any portion of the River Walk is stroller-friendly. The downtown portion of the River Walk, a loop a little over a mile long, contains lively crowds (and there are crowds), restaurants and shops. There is always a Mariachi band serenading around each bend and a colorful boat floating in the river, adding mucho festive flair. The River Walk is just one story below street level, but many hotels have direct access to the walkway. A stroll here is great entertainment and many of the dozens of eateries are family-friendly, so consider dining here at least once. Note that the river walk does not have rails separating the walking path from the water, so it can be a little dicey with young children prone to bolting away at a moment's notice.
2) River Cruise - Take a 35-minute narrated boat ride that meanders down the river, allowing you an excellent vantage point to see San Antonio’s sights. Even when it’s hot, the breeze off the water should keep things fairly cool. Rio San Antonio Cruises depart frequently throughout the day and evening, with deep discounts for children under six. Purchase your tickets at one of the several kiosks located on River Walk.
3) The Alamo - Most people have heard the saying “Remember the Alamo,” but what exactly is its significance? Founded in 1718 as the first mission in San Antonio, it originally served as a way station between east Texas and Mexico. In the 19th century, it became a symbol of liberty and independence during the Texas Revolution. For 13 days in 1836, some 200 Texas defenders held the Alamo from a siege of troops from Mexico. Today, the Alamo is a shrine to the heroic men (like Davy Crockett), who died defending it. The most surprising thing about the Alamo is its size; considering how famous it is, it is pretty small. If your family is really interested in understanding the Alamo’s historic gravity, go and see the informative IMAX movie that plays on an hourly rotation at the nearby Rivercenter Mall. Admission to the Alamo is free.
4) The Witte Museum - A real gem for families and conveniently located just north of downtown, the Witte’s focus is on science, natural history, and Texas heritage. There are lots of cool artifacts, including a colorful collection of frilly Texas ball gowns. Live animals, ranging from tarantulas to tortoises, can be found in the EcoLab. The H-E-B Body Adventure exhibit offers visitors four floors of fun, hands-on activities on themes relating to health and wellness to inspire a balanced lifestyle. Plan to spend an entire morning or afternoon here.
5) The DoSeum - San Antonio’s Children’s Museum - Located near the San Antonio Zoo, the city's children's museum is the place to go to get out of the heat and enjoy hands-on fun. The facility opened in 2015 and is situated on a 5.5-acre park where you'll find exhibits like the spy academy, musical staircase, an interactive puppet arcade, and an ADA-accessible treehouse. This gem also features more than 39,000-square-feet of outdoor play space, which is one of the largest areas of its kind in the nation. This is a must-see for kids from birth to age 10.
6) Institute of Texan Cultures - Visitors to this museum will learn the stories of immigrants who settled in Texas. Exhibits and programs examine the heritage, ethnicity, history, social issues and popular culture that are woven into the unique tapestry of this state. There are permanent and well as rotating exhibits that explore a variety of themes, from folk life to modern art. Not for the pre-school crowd, but older kids and teens should learn quite a bit while having fun. It is located very near the River Walk and Alamo, right next to the Tower of the Americas.
7) San Antonio Botanical Garden - Explore this beautiful 38-acre botanical garden in the heart of San Antonio, and is undergoing an expansion set to be completed in summer 2017. The eight-acre expansion includes more opportunities for guests to connect with nature, including a culinary garden and outdoor kitchen and the family adventure garden, the latter of which is a 2.5-acre play and learning space for families. There is also a lovely café on premise.
8) The Pearl - If you thought hipsters were only in Brooklyn, head over to The Pearl. Though not quite in downtown, you can access it from River Walk. It’s a gathering place where everyone is welcome to eat, shop and play along the banks of the San Antonio River. Shopping options trend towards stores that are independently owned, like The Twig Book Shop, with its wonderful children’s section. Foodie families will enjoy the giant Saturday Farmers’ Market, selling only local produce sourced from within a 150-mile radius.
9) San Antonio Zoo - Just outside of downtown, this is a lovely small zoo. Our favorite exhibit was the Lory Landing, where you can purchase a little cup of nectar and tempt the lorikeets to get close to you as they sip. These colorful Australian birds are very playful, so don’t be surprised if one lands on your head. The zoo and Witte Museum are in Brackenridge Park, which also has a miniature train to ride, a Japanese Garden, and many trails.
10) HemisFair Park - The site of the 1968 World's Fair is now a park with waterfalls, fountains and a playground. Many visitors head to HemisFair Park to visit the Tower of the Americas - a 750-foot tower similar to Seattle's Space Needle that offers grand 360 views.
11) Kiddie Park - Kiddie Park has been a San Antonio staple since it opened its gates in 1925. The park features an original 1918 carousel and various nostalgic rides. The park is said to be the oldest of its kind in the nation and little kids should be in heaven. Live pony rides and carnival games add to the old-fashioned fun.
San Antonio Hill Country Attractions
Each of the following theme parks is a short drive from downtown San Antonio and set in the beauty of the San Antonio Hill Country:
12) SeaWorld - The mega-aquarium and theme park is the largest marine life adventure park in the world. Observe dolphins, whales, penguins, tropical fish and other sea life. There are dozens of non-aquatic rides here as well, including the Great White, the Southwest’s first inverted roller coaster. In 2017, SeaWorld announced it will permanently end its Killer Whale exhibits following controversy, and its last orca calf was born in April 2017. Other new changes in 2017 include concerts just for kids and Ocean Discovery: Dolphins and Beluga Whales - a new show highlighting these beautiful animals.
13) Six Flags Fiesta Texas - If you are looking for thrilling amusement rides, Six Flags is your Mecca. New for 2017 is the Thunder Rapids Water Coaster, which is America's first rocket blast water coaster, and a summer fireworks show. Six Flags has many roller coasters for the daredevils in your bunch, and for the smaller and meeker, there are many gentle rides too.
14) Schlitterbahn Water Park Resort - Families from all over Texas and beyond come to Schlitterbahn for the 4 miles of water attractions embedded into the natural beauty of the Hill Country and the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, including tube chutes, uphill water coasters, children's water playgrounds, beaches, hot tubs, spring-fed pools and the world's first surf ride, are all here. This is the place to cool off in the Texas heat, and the best water park in Texas (in our humble opinion), so expect lines on weekends.
15) Natural Bridge Caverns - Explore limestone caverns, challenge yourself on the treetop canopy course, fly over four zip lines, find your way out of a maze and stick around for the nightly bat flight (May through October). If typical cave tours bore you, you can also try the adventure tour at Natural Bridge Caverns where a guide will lead you through an undeveloped section of the cave system with no guard rails or concrete pathways.
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Kid Friendly San Antonio Restaurants
Mi Tierra - Mi Tierra is a family-run eatery located in bustling Market Square or El Mercado. It is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year and is perpetually festooned with Christmas lights. Great Tex-Mex food, live music, in-house bakery and a jovial atmosphere help to explain the long lines of hungry tourists and locals. Breakfast is served all day and night. You cannot go wrong ordering any of the enchiladas. There’s a reasonably priced menu para niños that offers kid-favorites like chicken tenders and burgers along with more flavorful fare like tacos.
Schilo’s Delicatessen - Schilo's is a German deli, so if you have an itch for matzo ball soup, it won’t be scratched here. Housed in a converted mercantile exchange building dating back to the 1800’s, this place screams old world, with low prices that seem stuck in the old world. Their specialties are split pea soup, homemade root beer, and a gigantic Rueben sandwich. Fun, cheap and delicious located in downtown only a block from River Walk.
Casa Rio - Tasty Mexican food served along the River Walk is what you can expect at Casa Rio. Fajitas, carne asada, tamales and more are dished up in hearty portions, so consider sharing.
Cured - When its time to sit down and eat at The Pearl, Cured is a popular and delicious dining hot spot. Set in a meticulously restored 1904 building, the vibe is 100 percent trendy as well as family-friendly. Crowds come for the handcrafted cured foods, from charcuterie to pickles, unbeatable burgers and lush sandwiches. The decadent desserts, like warm bread pudding made with homemade donuts served with a scoop of house-made ice cream, are irresistible.
Two Bros. BBQ Market - It wouldn't be a trip to Texas without some slow cooked barbecue. At Two Bros. BBQ Market kids will be kept busy on the outdoor playground while parents linger at shaded picnic tables enjoying award-winning classic Texas pit BBQ brisket, ribs and more.
Family Friendly Hotels in San Antonio
Mokara Hotel & Spa - Located on the banks of River Walk, the Mokara Hotel & Spa is a luxurious property that feels like an oasis from the moment you walk through the door. The vibe is sophisticated but they welcome children with open arms. The staff treats kids (and their parents) like royalty. Check into your spacious room brimming with creature comforts. The kids may never want to get out of the giant Jacuzzi tub. The rooftop pool offers a view of the city and a refreshing way to cool off from the Texas heat.
Embassy Suites River Walk - Sparkling clean rooms, a River Walk location, free buffet breakfast and a nightly drinks reception add up to an excellent value for families at Embassy Suites Riverwalk. All rooms are actually suites equipped with a fridge and microwave. There is an outdoor pool to splash around in after a busy day of sightseeing.
For more information on planning your trip, go to VisitSanAntonio.com.
Originally published May 25, 2014