Not only is the Alamo City charged up with new restaurants and museums, revamped hotels and updated cultural institutions, it’s also laid-back and simple to navigate. Traffic is friendly, parking is typically free—even at popular spots like the zoo—and BCycle bike stations encourage visitors to explore the River Walk’s now 15 miles of trails for walking and biking. All of this and more make San Antonio a crowd-pleasing getaway, with a welcoming Southern spirit and plenty of Mexican flair.
San Antonio’s 343-acre Brackenridge Park, 10 minutes from downtown, is an oasis with large playgrounds and meadows shaded by oak trees. It has also become a go-to spot for birders on the lookout for red-shouldered hawks and golden-fronted woodpeckers, though you’ll find the park’s wildest animals at the San Antonio Zoo (3903 N. St. Mary’s St.; 210-734-7184; adults, $14.25; children, $11.25), on the grounds’ northwest corner. On view: white-cheeked gibbons (a type of small ape) from Southeast Asia, a trio of 400-pound tortoises from the Seychelles, a female Central American jaguar and more than 800 other species. Kids can make like a prairie dog and climb through tunnels at the Tiny Tot Nature Spot, line up to feed giraffes from a tall viewing platform ($5) or even ride a zebra or lion—on a carousel, of course. Knowledgeable zookeepers stationed throughout the zoo are eager to educate kids on the behaviors and habitats of animals and how to help protect them in the wild.
Just outside the park entrance, the Quarry Crossing Train Station (3903 N. St. Mary’s St.; 210-734-7184; admission, $3.50) operates a shiny 1950s diesel train that departs every 20 minutes for a trip through Brackenridge. Hop aboard to choo-choo past picnic lawns, baseball fields and the Japanese Tea Gardens.
The city’s scenic River Walk—a network of paths along the banks of the San Antonio River as it flows through downtown—was expanded to loop around the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Visitor Center at Mission San José, 6701 San Jose Dr.; 210-932-1001; admission, free), a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built by Spanish Franciscan missionaries in the 1700s, these four compounds housed indigenous Coahuiltecan people. Horseshoe-shaped archways and red-and-white-striped exteriors on the still-working churches are evidence of Moorish architectural influences that traveled from North Africa to Spain to Mexico and what is now the U.S. Before you start your tour, you can download the Junior Ranger activity books, which are packed with historical trivia and scavenger hunts.
Let’s face it: As much as parents want to include educational excursions on family vacations, most kids quickly tire of museums. San Antonio has you covered with a bunch of fun—and manageably sized—institutions that emphasize interactive and hands-on learning. The Witte Museum (3801 Broadway St.; 210-357-1900; adults, $12; children, $9), which focuses on the Lone Star State’s natural history, just celebrated its 90th birthday with an overhaul. Dinosaur lovers will get a kick out of the cast-iron T. rex and Acrocanthosaurus skeletons (the latter roamed the Texas landscape 110 million years ago) as well as the bones of massive ocean swimmers, such as a Toxochelys turtle. Budding archaeologists can also uncover faux bones and sit for a selfie in a sauropod footprint. The Witte’s second floor is dedicated to Texas’s Pecos civilization, which lived in the Chihuahuan Desert near what is now El Paso for more than 9,000 years. Along with browsing exhibits on how these natives worked and hunted, children can try their hands at Pecos-style rock art in a playroom.
It opened in 2015, but San Antonio’s DoSeum (2800 Broadway St.; 210-212-4453; admission, $12) is already a kiddie favorite—and is redefining what it means to be a museum. Kids can touch, tinker and even splash around in 104,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibit space. Case in point: Children can channel Sherlock Holmes in the Spy Academy, where they’ll earn a badge after completing coding challenges, dressing up to go undercover and building a hideout. In Little Town, kids under 5 can play grown-up by grabbing a cart and shopping for fruit, manning a real Bobcat loader and throwing on scrubs to play veterinarian with stuffed animals. Remember to bring your kids’ bathing suits so they can play in the Children’s Stream, surrounded by native plants and shaded by a large tree house.
Good Eats and Souvenirs
Just because you’re traveling with little ones doesn’t mean you have to give up on great food. Here, restaurants of all kinds offer kids’ menus and table entertainment. You can sit outdoors at Shuck Shack (520 E. Grayson St.; 210-236-7422; lunch for two, $50*) and feast on lobster rolls and burgers while the kiddos take over a playhouse equipped with slides and a sandbox. The restaurant is located on East Grayson Street, where charming bungalows are slowly being converted into restaurants and bars. Close by in the Pearl, a district filled with chef-owned restaurants and independent boutiques, La Gloria (100 E. Grayson St.; 210-267-9040; dinner for two, $20) serves Mexican-street-food favorites, such as pork tacos al pastor, and also has a jungle gym.
Down the street, a more polished crowd orders Gulf-sourced redfish or thick Texas steak at Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery (136 E. Grayson St., Suite 120; 210-455-5701; dinner for two, $80), set in a former industrial space with exposed-brick walls and concrete columns. While Mom and Dad sip on house-brewed beers like the Texas Uncommon Ale, 10-and-unders stay captivated by the kids’ menu, which comes with a roll of pretzel dough. Once you twist the dough into knots, the kitchen throws them in the oven and serves them warm with mustard.
Adventurous eaters shouldn’t miss a trip to Botika (303 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 111; 210-670-7684; dinner for two, $50), where chef Geronimo Lopez cooks up Peruvian-Asian fusion cuisine. Families can share dishes such as short-rib noodles with edamame and mung beans. The chicken fried rice, on only the kids’ menu, is also a hit.
Discover children’s clothing brands, such as Paper Wings from Australia and USA-made Joah Love, as well as tiny purses and chic necklaces that double as teething toys at Roo & Me (302 Pearl Pkwy.; 210-276-0212), in the Pearl District. Reading enthusiasts should hightail it to The Twig (306 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 106; 210-826-6411), an independent bookstore that has been a San Antonio staple since 1972. Along with its curated collection of new and classic novels, you’ll find an extensive kids’ section along with swoon-worthy journals and stationery. Check the calendar for story-time sessions.
Don’t leave the Alamo City without stopping by a few shops that show off San Antonio’s close retail relationship with Mexico. You’ll find everything from colorful piñatas to hand-painted guitars at the family-owned Fiesta on Main (2025 N. Main Ave.; 210-738-1188). For beautifully embroidered baby clothes, as well as hand-stitched shirts and dresses, visit Nativa Fine Mexican Clothing (5124 Broadway St.; 210-829-5555). And after a fitting at Penner’s (311 W. Commerce St.; 210-226-2487), the boys in your family will look sharp in their guayaberas, or Mexican tuxedo shirts, whether they’re out on the town in the Alamo City or back at home.
RCI® affiliated resorts in and near San Antonio include:
Families will love the spacious units and quiet outdoor lounge area with a fountain. 6160 Eckhert Rd., San Antonio
Member Review: “Loved relaxing by the pool.”
Get the Southwest experience with cowboy-themed rooms 50 miles from San Antonio. 1775 River Ranch Dr., Bandera
Member Review: “The staff is so nice and helpful”
Kids love the water park at this resort overlooking Canyon Lake 50 miles from San Antonio. 17545 FM 306, Canyon Lake
Member Review: “The Presidential accommodations are great, along with the views!”
About 30 miles from San Antonio, this resort is just far enough removed to be a peaceful retreat. 13105 River Rd., New Braunfels
Member Review: “I loved the on-site restaurant.”
Outdoor enthusiasts can bring their tackle box to fish at the spring-water-fed river that borders the property. 401 W. Lincoln, New Braunfels
Member Review: “Close to San Antonio, Gruene and Austin!”
For complete member reviews (as member review has been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in San Antonio include:
The Emily Morgan Hotel
If the Alamo is on your itinerary, you can’t get much closer than the 177-room Emily Morgan, which sits on the site of an 1836 battlefield. 705 E. Houston St.; 210-225-5100; emilymorganhotel.com; doubles from $219 a night
Austin-based hotelier Liz Lambert opened this historic 27-room property. Minimalist rooms have wistful Cuban touches, such as chandeliers and plantation shutters. 1015 Navarro St.; 210-222-2008; havanasanantonio.com; doubles from $108 a night
High ceilings and exposed-brick walls create a loft-style feel at this 265-suite hotel. The property is within walking distance of a dog park, and pets receive a welcome trip. 306 W. Market St.; 210-229-9222; thehotelcontessa.com; doubles from $279 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Fall 2017