Last Updated on April 1, 2023
If the Alamo and River Walk are all that come to mind when thinking about what to see in San Antonio, you have a lot of catching up to do. In 2017, the city was named a Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO, one of only two in America (Tucson, AZ). The San Antonio Missions–there are four in addition to the Alamo–are a National Park unit and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.
Oh, and the River Walk and Alamo are updated as well.
San Antonio’s River Walk now extends a full 15 miles, including an 8-mile stretch south of downtown known as Mission Reach connecting the missions and city center. This section has been transformed into a fascinating riparian woodland through the prioritization of native plants and aquatic habitat. Confluence Park highlights the Mission Reach River Walk as an example the rest of the nation should follow for pairing urban living and recreation with ecology.
This tops my “what to see in San Antonio” outdoors section following a visit in 2023.
The entirety of the River Walk is paved and most of it is flat, making it accessible and perfect for recreation.
A new collections center opened at the Alamo in March of 2023 putting on display historically significant objects from the Texas Revolution for the first time.
San Antonio surprises with a mix of old, new and new interpretations on the traditional. Highlights are culinary, cultural and conveniently located near downtown. One full day introducing yourself to the best of what the city has to offer will convince you that one day isn’t nearly enough.
San Antonio Best Breakfast
You’ll be rewarded for starting your day early by arriving at the Alamo for its 9:00 AM daily opening before visitors numbering into the hundreds queue up to enter the historic church building. Treat yourself with San Antonio’s best breakfast.
La Panadería (‘bakery’ in Spanish) elevates bread from food to culture. Experience “Bread Cultura” as interpreted by brothers José and David Cáceres at their bakery-cafe opened in 2014. With three locations including one downtown, the restaurant was an instant hit and has been named one of the “Best Artisanal Bakers in North America” by USA Today.
The Cáceres’ background in baking began on the streets of Mexico City selling their mother’s fresh baked bread. La Panadería’s handmade bread and pan dulce (sweet bread) come from ancient grains and natural wheat along with a proprietary 20-year-old levain starting each batch of dough. La Panadería’s unique approach to breadmaking includes a 48-hour, long-culture fermentation process resulting in baked goods locals and tourists alike line up for. It’s worth the wait.
Treat yourself to a vanilla or chocolate concha–the Mexican national coffee bun. Fluffy brioche dough covered with a thin layer of frosting is one of many sweet and savory treats beckoning from the pastry case.
Breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast, ranchero eggs Benedictine with a perfectly balanced smokey/peppery house made salsa chipotle and French toast highlight the breakfast items served daily at the downtown location open until 3:00 PM.
If your ideal breakfast includes cocktails and pics for the ‘Gram, Box St. All Day–also downtown–is just what you’re looking for. What began as a food truck evolved into San Antonio’s chic, all-day (9:00 AM–2:30 daily) brunchery.
That’ll put you behind in getting to the Alamo, but after the strawberry cheesecake French toast, Thicc Boi pancake–an airy pancake/cornbread mashup–brussels sprouts hash or chilaquiles with a Don’t Tell Danny–Aperol, strawberry, prosecco and Topo Chico–(or two) who cares? The Alamo’s been there for 300 years, it’s not going anywhere.
Reservations at Box St. All Day can be made on-line and are a good idea.
Both La Panadería and Box St. are located less than half a mile from the No. 1 what to see in San Antonio tourist attraction in Texas: the Alamo.
Visit to the Alamo
Begun as a Spanish mission in the early 1700s–Mission San Antonio de Valero–the Alamo is where Davy Crockett, James Bowie, William Travis and no more than 200 Americans were surrounded and then overrun by at least 1,800 Mexican soldiers under the command of Santa Anna following a 13-day siege in 1836.
The Mexican forces, suffering heavy casualties and taking no prisoners, allowed a handful of those inside the Alamo to leave carrying a threat to commander-in-chief of the Texas forces, Sam Houston, that similar destinies could be expected for other insurrectionists in the region.
In late April of that same year, months after the Alamo defeat, Houston’s forces thrashed Santa Anna’s troops, shouting “Remember the Alamo” as they attacked. Mexican troops withdrew from San Antonio and the Alamo in May.
Texas became a U.S. state in 1845.
Today, 1.6 million people visit the Alamo annually and those who have since March 3, 2023, have been able to enjoy the Ralston Family Collections Center. The first building constructed on the historic grounds since the 1950s, the Collections Center opening represented a significant milestone in the Alamo Plan, a year’s-long, multifaceted visitor-enhancement initiative also designed to improve care for the Alamo Collection.
The Ralston Family Collections Center showcases period and Alamo-specific items from the Phil Collins Collection. Yes, that Phil Collins.
The music icon became interested in the adventures of Davy Crockett as a child, and as an adult, formed one of the preeminent collections of material related to the Texas Revolution. In 2014, he gifted his items to the people of Texas. Now those wondering what to see in San Antonio can see its most famous attraction through the eyes of the rock legend.
Collins narrates a diorama presentation of the Mexican siege and capture of the Alamo inside the Collections Center which is open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Adult admission to the Collections Center is $14; admission to the Alamo Church is free, but timed entry tickets reserved in advance are required for entry. A variety of guided tours are also available.
What to See in San Antonio in One Day
If you’re an art lover wondering what to see in San Antonio, I have two recommendations.
Visitor’s Guide San Antonio
The San Antonio Museum of Art has been housed on the site of the old Lone Star Brewery one mile from the Alamo since 1981. The museum is particularly strong in Greek and Roman antiquities, and its Latin American art wing spans the ancient Americas to present day including an outstanding collection of pre-Columbian artworks and Arte Popular–Mexican folk art.
Adult admission to SAMA is $20; the museum is open from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM Tuesdays and Fridays, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, and closed Mondays.
The McNay Museum, six miles out of downtown, opened its doors to the public in 1954 as the first Modern art museum in Texas. Collection highlights include an early Picasso portrait, a fine example of Monet’s Water Lilies, a haunting Edward Hopper, a vigorous Joan Mitchell, the smallest Pollock you’ve ever seen as well as Cézanne, Renoir, van Gogh, Gauguin, Modigliani, Soutine, Rivera, O’Keefe, Alice Neel, Norman Lewis–an astonishing assemblage!
McNay’s theatre arts collection is almost equally as fascinating.
The magnificent Spanish colonial mansion, grounds and outdoor sculpture garden are worth the trip themselves.
Adult admission is $20, Thursdays from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM are free. The McNay is open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM Wednesdays and Fridays, 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM on Thursdays, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and noon to 5:00 PM on Sundays; it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Lunch: Italian San Antonio Restaurants
Whether visiting SAMA or the McNay, be sure to lunch at Tre Trattoria directly behind SAMA right along the River Walk. Reservations are strongly encouraged and once you sample the signature deviled eggs, cast iron flatbread pizzas and house made pastas–in that setting–you’ll understand why.
San Antonio San Pedro Park
Texas isn’t typically associated with “walkable,” but in San Antonio’s case, the River Walk and a compact downtown make it perfect for the visitor who wants to get around on foot.
Mission Adventure Tours offers three downtown walking tours each combining art, culture and history. Public tours begin at 9:00 AM to avoid the most vicious of the city’s midday heat and sun, but private tours can be arranged for evenings with 48-hours notice.
Its “History Through Art” tour takes in nearly 20 public art installations across eight historic sites including the Spanish Governor’s Palace, San Fernando Cathedral and the Alameda Theater. Guests learn how the San Pedro Creek, paralleling the larger San Antonio River, of River Walk fame, long separated Hispanic residents from the Anglos.
Presently under construction with new features being completed weekly, the San Pedro Creek Culture Park will be the locals’ compliment to the tourists’ River Walk. Dazzling decorative tile and murals sharing San Antonio history are complimented by native plant and tree landscaping making the San Pedro Creek riverwalk far more ecologically interesting and supportive than its predecessor.
Soon enough, when you think of what to see in San Antonio, you won’t think of one great River Walk, you will think of two.
La Gloria Restaurant in San Antonio
Celebrating Mexican street food–tacos al pastor from Mexico City, tlayudas from Oaxaca, coctéles de mariscos from Veracruz–you can’t go wrong at La Gloria. Just adventurous enough to intrigue foodies, but not so adventurous as to intimidate picky eaters, La Gloria is as casual or fancy as you want to make it, perfect for couples or families.
Located in the exciting mixed-use Pearl development along the River Walk one mile north of SAMA, a full day could be spent in the boutiques, bars and restaurants here. The two-mile walk back downtown along the north-of-downtown Museum Reach River Walk section the entire way provides a perfect opportunity to experience San Antonio’s great public works project.
5 Star Restaurant in San Antonio
Established for intrepid eaters highlighting the unique flavors of central Mexico–San Luis Potosi, Jalisco, Veracruz, Mexico City and others–Executive Chef Juan Carlos Bazan’s Cuishe restaurant takes its name from a wild agave plant. Wild, indeed, with menu items including beef tongue marinated in citrus sauce, “caviar of Mexico”–sautéed ant larvae served in garlic butter sauce, fried “bugs,” cricket-rimmed cocktails and lightly fried corn tortillas with butter sautéed calf brains.
“We serve experience more than food,” Bazan, who studied central Mexican cuisine with nuns there, told Forbes.com.
Fish, seafood and steaks are also available including a 40-ounce Wagyu bone-in tomahawk. The Chile en Nogada roasted poblano pepper stuffed with ground beef and topped by “Nogada” sauce including walnut, goat cheese, sherry and white wine with pomegranates is a revelation! Sweet, creamy and crunch, the entrée presents a chorus of flavors familiar and mysterious.
Cuishe additionally features a careful selection of mezcals, tequilas and wine varieties from the central Mexico.
San Antonio River Walk Hotel
The Canopy by Hilton San Antonio Riverwalk makes for the perfect place from which to base your San Antonio activities. Smack dab in the middle of downtown along the River Walk, ask for a room facing the marvelous Aztec Theatre if you want a great photo-op; if you’re a light sleeper, request a room on other side of building.