San Antonio, Texas is one of the premier tourist destinations in the United States. With plenty of options for history, food, attractions, sports – SA is really the total package when it comes to vacationing and it’s easy to make a week of it here. But you can also get a ton out of your experience even if you don’t have a full week. If you can’t spare more than a day or two, you can still manage to experience quite a bit of the city’s unique cultural offerings, you’ll just need to do a bit of planning. So if you are looking for that perfect one-day itinerary, look no further. Below are my recommendations for what to see in San Antonio in one day.
Start your day off in the early morning by taking a brief stroll along the San Antonio Riverwalk. Mornings are really quite unique along the river as they are quiet, peaceful, and empty. Nothing will be open and very few people will be around. It’s really a totally different experience from the normally buzzing downtown area.
First thing in the morning you can actually enjoy the stillness and beauty of the enormous Cyprus trees, watch the morning sun glint off the calm water of the river (before the barges stir it up), and walk the pathways without dodging other tourists.
After your morning stroll, you have earned a decent breakfast. And nothing says breakfast in San Antonio like our beloved breakfast tacos. Think giant, homemade fluffy tortilla stuffed to the gills with eggs, bacon, chorizo, cheese, and beans – it will fill you up and start your day off right.
The good news is that breakfast tacos are ubiquitous here. A taco joint can be found on nearly every corner in the city, and most of them are super good. A few of my personal favorites are the Original Donut Shop, Garcia’s Mexican Food, and Tacos N Salsa, but given that you can find great tacos all over, look for what’s close and give it a go. Or, check out our recommendations for the best breakfast tacos in San Antonio.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Now that you have had some sustenance, it’s time to tour. Head south of downtown to Mission Espada, the southernmost mission in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. San Antonio is home to 5 historic missions that detail the 300+ year history of the city and its heritage. All of the missions are free and very walkable. For a complete guide to the San Antonio missions, click here.
After visiting Espada, head north to Mission San Juan, followed by Mission San Jose, and then Mission Concepción. You can access the missions by car, but if you are up for a challenge, try biking the river mission trail, a bike trail that runs along the river and connects all of the missions. This 10-mile-long trail is our favorite way to view the missions, enjoy the river, and take in the local plant and wildlife. Bicycles are available to rent from BCycle San Antonio.
Once you have finished touring the missions, it should be about lunchtime, which is THE BEST time to enjoy one of San Antonio’s duly earned claims to fame – its BBQ. Barbecue in San Antonio is more than food, it’s an art form, and a few of the local BBQ pits have elevated it to the highest echelons of artistry.
If you happen to be here Thursday-Sunday, I highly recommend visiting one of the two best BBQ restaurants in the whole city - 2M Smokehouse or Reese Bros BBQ. Both are outstanding when it comes to the barbecue greats like brisket, sausage, and ribs, but they also do a bang-up job on the sides with a few standouts including the ranchero beans at 2M and the poblano mac and cheese at Reese Bros.
If you happen to be in San Antonio Monday through Wednesday, don’t sweat it, there are still a number of solid, delicious San Antonio BBQ joints for you to enjoy. Check out Pinkerton’s in downtown San Antonio or South BBQ and Kitchen, which is conveniently located near a few of the missions.
After your fantastic BBQ lunch, it’s time to swing by San Antonio’s most well-known piece of history, the Alamo. The iconic façade of the Alamo is known the world over and is a must-see for any first-time visitor to SA. Entry to the Alamo is free but does require reservations. You can reserve your spot or sign up for a guided tour (for a fee) by visiting the Alamo’s website.
Photo Credit: Yelp Robert G.
After you visit the Alamo, head over to San Antonio’s Historic Market Square, the largest Mexican market in the United States, and a great place to pick up some souvenirs or gifts from local artisans.
With afternoon temperatures likely starting to soar, it’s best to head indoors for a few hours of air conditioning. A great place to do this? One of San Antonio’s many fantastic museums. If you’re feeling artsy, hit up the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Briscoe Western Art Museum, or the McNay Art Museum.
If you have children with you and are hunting for some kid-friendly options, you can visit the Doseum or the Witte Museum, both of which offer a number of family-friendly and interactive exhibits for the kids to play with and maybe even learn from.
With dinnertime in your sights, you now have a little “choose your own adventure” for where to eat. Head north of downtown to the Pearl Brewery Historic District to find a range of great restaurants in a pedestrian-friendly complex replete with a splash pad and turf area for families.
Or head south of downtown to San Antonio’s Southtown/King William Historic District, a restaurant goldmine, and funky part of the city that has been revitalized to offer food, entertainment, and nightlife. While here, be sure to take a bit of time to walk the neighborhoods and enjoy the beautiful, old historic homes that surround the area.
San Antonio Spurs
If you happen to be in town during the NBA basketball season, you absolutely should catch a Spurs game. We here in San Antonio LOVE our Spurs and there’s no better way to spend an evening than with 19,000 of your best friends, raucously cheering on our home team. Believe me, if you aren’t a Spurs fan or even into basketball at all, it’s hard not to have fun with an excitable crowd of fanatics.
Photo Credit: Yelp Go Rio Cruises
After a full day in SA, close it down with one last trip to the Riverwalk for the nighttime experience. You can buy a ticket for a barge cruise and learn about the city and its history as you float down the river, past bustling restaurants, and underneath centuries-old bridges. Big bonus here if you come between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the Riverwalk is lit up with 100,000 twinkling holiday lights – it is beyond magical.
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