This is one of the most commonly asked questions for visitors who are planning a trip to San Antonio. Given that we traverse the city on the regular to scope out the best restaurants, hotels, and activities, we have a pretty well-established handle on the transportation options that are available. If you are planning a future visit to SA, read on so that you have the information you need to make your visit to the Alamo city a hassle-free one.
So do you need a car in San Antonio? The short answer: yes, yes, you do. But given that not every trip to SA will require crisscrossing the city, the long answer is a bit more nuanced.
But first, a few things you should know about San Antonio…
San Antonio is big! And lots of people don’t realize just how big. The city itself is really spread out, with the entire metropolitan area covering approximately 7,000 square miles. To get from one side of the city to the other, in light to moderate traffic, takes at least 45 minutes. If you are venturing further afield to New Braunfels or Boerne, or the Texas Hill Country, plan on an hour to an hour and a half drive time, minimum.
Activities and attractions are spread out as well. While San Antonio boasts a number of exciting, entertaining, and educational experiences, they aren’t all grouped together. A typical tourist visit to San Antonio may involve a trip to the Riverwalk, a tour of the San Antonio Historical Missions, and a day or two spent at the theme parks, none of which are remotely close to one another (we’re talking 20 miles or more apart, in some instances).
And mass transit is severely lacking. San Antonio is the 7th biggest city in the United States by population but lags far behind in quality mass transit. There are no light or commuter rail options and no subway system. We do have a metropolitan bus service called Via that services the downtown area as well as some of the more outlying areas of the city, including the Medical Center, Stone Oak, and the military bases, but outside of downtown, routes are limited and can be infrequent, making travel times double or triple what they could be if driving. Alternative transportation options are available, including ride-shares, taxis, scooters, and BCycle bike rental, but given the distances required to cover the city, the costs can add up and quickly become prohibitive.
Okay, but do I need a car?
Probably, but it completely depends on why you are coming, how long you will be staying, and what you will be doing.
Do I need a car at the Riverwalk if I am staying downtown?
No, you don’t need a car if you are headed to the Riverwalk or will just be staying downtown for your vacation or convention. Downtown conventions and stays are great because hotels, food, and entertainment are all packed into a handful of very walkable blocks, saving you the hassle of renting a car and finding/paying for parking. A few Uber or Lyft rides should be able to cover any of your extra transport needs (getting from the San Antonio International Airport to downtown and back again, as well as 1-3 short trips to points of interest).
Do I need a car for a short trip of 1-3 days?
You may need a car for a short trip to San Antonio. This will completely depend on where you are staying and what you plan to do. If you plan to stay downtown, enjoy the Riverwalk, and simply relax, you can make do without (see above for convention trips). The same goes for those staying at an airport hotel with hotel shuttles. However, if you are staying near the Rim or Sea World, or if you are just planning to get out of the downtown area to explore the city, you will want to assess the costs of driving (rental fees, parking, gas) versus ride-shares or taxis to determine what the most cost-effective, as well as convenient, option, may be. Keep in mind, surge pricing is a common occurrence in San Antonio and can quickly make those ride-share costs skyrocket.
Do I need a car for a long trip of four days or more to San Antonio?
Yes, you will likely want or need a car for a long trip to San Antonio. With time on your hands, it makes sense to explore and take in as much of South Texas as you can, including a day trip to the Hill Country or one of the historic German towns just outside the city like Boerne, New Braunfels, or Gruene. A car is an absolute must for this as there are no transit options available.
Do I need a car in order to live in San Antonio permanently?
If you are permanently relocating to San Antonio, you will absolutely need a car. Or you will need infinite patience to deal with the bus lines, infinite money to pay for Uber rides, and infinite heat tolerance to be able to walk for distances in the punishing summers. Best to just have a car.
Where can I rent a car in San Antonio?
There are rental locations all over the city, but the main rental hub is located at the airport. After baggage claim, just head outside and cross the street to the parking garage, where you will take the elevator up to the rental desks. While this is certainly the most convenient place to rent a car, you will typically pay a premium to rent at the airport. We suggest pricing out a few off-airport locations to determine if you can get a better deal. Sometimes the cost of the rental plus the ride-shares to get to and from the off-property location is still less than renting directly from the airport.
Are there any alternative car rental options in San Antonio?
Yes, there is an alternative to traditional car rental in San Antonio. Turo is an online service that functions much like AirBnB, except with personal vehicles. Locals will advertise their personal vehicles online, and visitors can pay to rent them directly from the owner of the car. There are a variety of car types as well as drop-off/pickup locations, and prices are frequently less than what a traditional car rental will cost. Just be sure to read EVERYTHING, as owners don’t all offer the same thing.
If I really want to maximize my time and experience in San Antonio, should I have a car?
Yes. To take advantage of everything that San Antonio and the surrounding areas have to offer, a car is really the most effective way to get around. With a car, you’ll save tons of time and be in control of your schedule, giving you the power to see and do what you want, when you want.
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