Remember the Alamo?
Not a problem–I can help because I’m still dreaming about it.
I was lucky enough to hitch onto a press trip to San Antonio, Texas recently, as Cool Mom Picks aims to cover more fun and interesting travel options and family vacation destinations by popular request, and boy am I glad I did. With international taxes and fuel surcharges making overseas trips more prohibitive, it’s great to know that there are so many cool things to do right in our own borders.
I admit that San Antonio isn’t the first place I necessarily think of when I’m considering booking a trip. But as it turns out, whether you’re traveling with kids or taking a much-needed kid-free trip, San Antonio has a lot to offer.
Getting Around San Antonio
I’m going to cut right to the chase and tell you my very favorite thing about San Antonio: You don’t need a car for 95% of the awesome stuff.
Bonus when you’re traveling with kids: The downtown area is unbelievably safe and easily traversed, whether you’re on your feet with a stroller, taking a bus or trolley, floating on a river taxi, or enjoying a Cinderella-esque ride in a horse-drawn carriage lit with sparkling lights.
The San Antonio River ripples right through the downtown area alongside dozens of hotels, all within walking distance of
the Alamo, museums, rides, shopping, hiking trails, art installations, and restaurants. You can even take a boat tour to learn more — or lure your kids to sleep.
That means that as long as your hotel has an airport shuttle, you don’t have to fiddle with a rental car and car seats and the GPS with a snotty voice telling you to turn left into a field full of steers–which is my biggest traveling fear.
But that also means you have to go when it’s warm, because when winter winds rip between the tall buildings, it’s like being in a freezing wind tunnel. Anything after March should be fine– they kept telling us, “It never gets this cold!” But for a couple of nights… boy, it was.
San Antonio Attractions
San Antonio seriously has something for everyone and would make a great multi-generational trip. There’s history galore, from the beautiful missions to the beloved Alamo, which is right smack in the middle of downtown, across from the helpful Convention and Visitors Bureau and the kitschy museums.
Now I am talking talking serious, full-tourist, more-for-kids-than-you kitsch: think Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium of two-headed calves, Guinness World Records, and Louis Toussaud’s Wax Works, which got super creepy in the religious, historic, and fairy tale parts after the celebrity section. (It ain’t Madam Toussaud’s, but they’ve got a great Bumblebee Transformer that has convinced my children I’m cool, as you can see.)
Campy stuff aside, there is a San Antonio Children’s Museum, but I wasn’t that impressed; seemed like they were
missing a lot of parts and toys. The grocery play station should have food, right? There are also a host of downtown museums and if you grab a San Antonio city pass, they’re a lot more affordable. It can be a fun way to pass the time indoors.
The Best of the Attractions in San Antonion (imho)
If you want to let the kids run wild at the San Antonio Zoo or Botanical Gardens, there are quite a few sightseeing busses just for tourists that will get you to all of the sights for $4 a day per adult. (Update 2019: The busses start around $28 for adults now, with discounts for multiple day passes.)
The San Antonio Zoo has a great kids’ area where you can pretend to be a prairie dog or worm, and we got to see all the big animals. The reptile house had more venomous snakes than I’ve ever seen and an entire family of Komodo dragons.
The San Antonio Botanical Garden is beautiful with lots of room to run–but there is nothing specifically for kids. You’ll know whether yours are the types who appreciate nature or not.
The Witte Museum, on the other hand, is surprisingly kid-centric, especially when you get out back to the HEB Science Treehouse, Mt. Witte climbing wall, and SkyCycle.
If you like heights, the Tower of the Americas can take you up 750 feet for a beautiful view of San Antonio, and your
ticket price includes a hilarious 4-D film experience that will have
your little ones squealing about bull snot for days.
I was thrilled to get to hit Sea World (yes, there’s one in Texas) which was utterly phenomenal. It’s
the one attraction that requires a car, but if you’ve got teens who love roller coasters, kids who dig whales, or tiny tots that will freak when they get to hug the real Grover at the new Sesame Street Bay of Play, make sure to plan it into your trip.
(Update: We don’t recommend going to Sea World.)
Also keep in mind that just walking around San Antonio can be a cool cultural experience for kids, considering everyone in town is bilingual with English and Spanish. So even a trip to the drugstore can be fun and interesting for little ones.
Eating. Oh, the Eating! : San Antonio Restaurants
San Antonio restaurants definitely spoiled my stomach. Zagat has a full 713 listings for San Antonio, so believe me, this is an eating mecca.
Families will love breakfast at the historic Guenther House, where the cinnamon rolls were approximately the size of my head (but tasted much better). If mom and dad can manage to get away alone, I recommend a romantic dinner at the Little Rhein Steak House (cake seen above) which has a beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking the San Antonio
River. The night we dined there, live music was playing across the river and they offered us ponchos to ward off the chill. I’ve also read good things about Rosario’s, which is near the Alamo and listed as one of the top 50 restaurants in the US.
But again, wherever you eat, you don’t have to drive there. So bring on the margaritas! Especially at swanky Q Restaurant, which is located in the Hyatt Regency, right on the river.
The Hotels of San Antonio
Downtown San Antonio has loads of hotels at a wide range of prices. If you’re into the haunted/historic thing where they
still use brass keys, try the Alamo-adjacent Menger Hotel or the Fairmount, which has a dog concierge named Luke– yes, an actual yellow Lab — and is across the courtyard from the best Italian food I’ve ever had at Tre Trattoria. And they have all the standards, such as the Hyatt and the Marriott, where I stayed.
The Marriott Rivercenter was good to me, with bath products from the Body Shop and a choice of colors when I lost my toothbrush. It’s also connected to a mall, which can be handy if you forget your swimsuit or need a trip to the
Disney Store to placate a tiny tired traveler. And there’s a Starbucks in the lobby, too. Another plus: The Marriott is so tall that you’ll always be able to find it, even at night.
Travel Tips for San Antonio You Might Not See Everywhere
If you can avoid a layover at the Houston Airport, by all means do. It was a lot like someone’s first day at Hogwarts, with changing gates and late flights and bad food and early flights and customer service lines so
long that people missed their flights before they could find their luggage. I’d also counsel you to check the San Antonio weather first, because I don’t think it would be much fun in the cold.
You can check the San Antonio Visitors Bureau website for special event information to plan your visit at just the right time, including the San Antonio Spurs basketball season between January and April, and the amazing Luminaria art festival in April.
I also suggest if you’ve got young kids, bring a stroller that can maneuver up and down a couple of steps without collapsing, since there are occasional stairs when you’re hoofing it.
My other personal favorite tip: instead of the stroller, bring a great buckle baby carrier like the FreeHand. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
If you’re looking for a fun and, more importantly, easy travel destination for the whole family, San Antonio really can be a great way to go. Check out the San Antonio travel deals right here for some cool passes that will get you into lots of the attractions mentioned above, and vit VisitSanAntonio.com or call toll free 1-800-447-3372 for help planning a trip.
Thank you to the San Antonio Convention Bureau for including us on this press trip, and covering Delilah’s expenses. Margaritas on her next time. Opinions are entirely her own, as always.