San Antonio is a beautiful city filled with fun activities, rich history, and great places to visit as a family. I was so excited to visit this Texas city as part of Trekaroo’s Race to the Alamo team. We spent 3 busy days traveling the city, participating in competitions, visiting special sites and eating amazing food. As we traveled and raced, we frequently commented to each other, “this would be a great place to take our kids!” Here are the top ten places that we would recommend families visit on a trip to San Antonio based on our Race to the Alamo experience.
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Families with children ages 6 and up will enjoy taking the 45 minute cruise along the San Antonio river under the towering hotels and unique bridges. As Southern California girls, we felt like we were on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland as our tour guide, “Bobcat” told us about the towering hotels and unique features of the river all with a great sense of humor. We didn’t see any snorting hippos or the backside of water, but we did enjoy the majestic cypress trees, the murals on the bridges, and the Arneson River Theater where a scene from “Miss Congeniality” was filmed. On our special charter, we traveled down the “Museum Reach” which is an extended arm of the River Walk to the north. We knew our kids would love traveling through the locks on this part of the river, which lifts the cruise and taxi boats up 9 feet. The Rio Taxi travels this part of the river frequently and would be a great and economic way for families with children of all ages to visit and experience the locks.
Despite the 100+ temperatures that we faced while in San Antonio, we saw many families enjoying the beautiful grounds of SeaWorld San Antonio. The One Ocean Shamu show was in a large covered auditorium that brought relief from the sun, but not the heat. So if you visit on a summer day, sit where you can get wet and enjoy the cooling water! One of the many “behind the scenes” animal encounters that SeaWorld offers is the Dolphin Encounter that Sharlene and I would recommend. It is a backstage tour where families can touch, feed and interact with dolphins creating some nice memories and great picture opportunities. It is available to children 4 and older and the shorter 25-30 minute tour is more family friendly.
3. La Gloria
Mexican food is in an abundance in San Antonio and our personal favorite was found at La Gloria. Here, fresh ingredients are combined to celebrate the delicious street foods of inner Mexico. We loved the sizzling queso fundido, fresh ceviche, and delicious molcajetes. The ambiance is friendly, loud, and perfect for families. Outdoor seating on the gravel patio would be ideal on a cooler day. Don’t forget to try the bottled Coca Cola made from real sugar in Mexico. It beats our corn syrup variety every day. If only there was a La Gloria in Southern California… that’s where I’d be going for lunch with my family today!
This zoo is one of the top in the nation as you can see over 3,500 different animals. If you have followed our adventures on the Trekaroo blog, you will know that most of our time was spent in Lory Landing trying to get as many birds to perch on us so that we could win the challenge. It was a beautiful zoo and we enjoyed seeing many animals as we ran past, trying to get first place for the day. Sharlene has been to this zoo at a more leisurely pace and assures me that it is one of the best. A unique feature of this zoo is the hewn walls of many of the exhibits from the old rock quarry that once occupied this spot. Parents will want to bring cups with lids to have filled at the snack shop as they don’t offer straws or lids for drinks without extra charge.
The Alamo is only one of many missions found throughout the San Antonio area. Missions were set 3 miles apart so that the bells could be heard from one mission to the next. We visited the San Jose Mission and found the open spaces of old Texas that brought the history of the area alive. Kids will enjoy shooting pretend guns through the holes of the bastion, running through the spacious grounds, and seeing the lit up narrative of the map of Mission San Jose. We would recommend visiting on a less hot day or going in the morning so that the heat doesn’t discourage families from taking the time to really enjoy the history found at this mission.
6. La Villita Historic Arts Village
I loved hearing our tour guide, Josie, say “La Ve-yeeta” in her natural Spanish tongue as we visited this historic little village. It was once one of the first settlements in San Antonio and much history can be found here as families browse the shops now filled with arts and crafts. We spent our time at Bonsai Arbor where we learned how to take a scrubby juniper and turn it into a work of art.
Many tourists and visitors to San Antonio quickly identify the River Walk with the city. It is a beautiful area to walk, shop, and eat, and I just couldn’t leave it off this list. I enjoyed several afternoon strolls on the River Walk because the trees were majestic and shady, the people were interesting and the food was good. However, I must encourage families to not visit on the weekend evenings and definitely not with a stroller. The sidewalks quickly fill up with lots of people and some areas do not have guardrails. I could easily see families being very stressed about things or little people falling into the water, although the river is pretty shallow at 3-4 feet. Several maps can be found with wheelchair accessible ramps and bridges that will help families with strollers navigate and plan their stroll along the River Walk.
This historic market is one of the largest Mexican markets outside of Mexico. We absolutely loved the fun and festive atmosphere filled with live music, great shopping and delicious food. We stopped to watch a duet playing the marimba and we danced along the street. Mi Tierra is a fun place to eat, filled with pinatas and Christmas decorations hanging from the ceiling, walls, pillars, and anything that could be decorated. The “back room” has a large, 3-panel mural with famous Hispanics that are fun to identify. A stop at the panaderia is a must for sweet breads and treats.
We rode the elevator up to the top of of this 750 tower with an indoor and outdoor observation platform. As we ran around in a panic, looking for the third and last clue, and as all our competitors were already heading down the elevator, I still noticed all the many families enjoying their time at the top of the tower. The outdoor observation deck has large windows, telescopes for viewing, and it’s completely closed in, making it safe for little kids. The inside deck has tables, chairs, and a snack bar. I’m sure there were placards with interesting pieces of history and information but we were too much in a rush to find our clue to stop to take in the view. I’d love to come back here with my kids sometime. I know they would love it!
10. The Alamo
No list of San Antonio is complete without the Alamo on it. Especially a list created by someone who actually “Raced to the Alamo”! This iconic and historic mission, marks the battle that took place during the fight for independence from the Mexican General Santa Ana in the early 1800s. Families will enjoy touring the inside of the courtyard to see the historic buildings, artifacts, and grounds that are filled with ancient oak trees. I’d recommend reading a story about the Alamo from your local library before visiting so that your kids will understand the significance of this sacred landmark. I watched “ALAMO – The Price of Freedom” in the IMAX of the Rivercenter Mall, and although it was well made and helped me understand the story of the Alamo, I cannot recommend it for children under 13 due to it’s graphic violence of killings and dead bodies on a very large screen. When you plan your visit to the Alamo, prepare to stand in line in the sun as you wait to enter. Visiting in the morning or at night during the summer would be a much better experience for those with small children who won’t handle the heat well. The peak heat times in San Antonio are between 4 and 6pm so prepare accordingly.
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Disclosure: All travel, lodging, meals, activities, and an iPad were provided by the San Antonio Visitors Bureau so that Michelle and Sharlene could compete in the Race to the Alamo. No monetary compensation is being provided and Visit San Antonio did not ask that any specific opinions about their destination be mentioned. All opinions about San Antonio and the Race to the Alamo are those of Michelle and I and reflect our honest opinion of both the destination and the experience.