Summer vacations are precious time to spend with your family, so you want to make sure to choose a destination that will offer something for everyone. Perhaps the most important factor in deciding on a family vacation destination is how kid friendly it is—and San Antonio offers something to please every member of your family.
From attractions specifically designed for children, such as the San Antonio Children’s Museum, to more traditional tourist sites like the Alamo, there are a multitude of venues perfect for your family. They even have Kidcation Week (www.visitsanantonio.com/kidcation) in August, an entire week of special events and deals for families and children.
Don’t confuse kid-friendly with boring for grown-ups, though! Mom and dad will be able to have a relaxing and refreshing trip, too. The only difficulty in planning a vacation to San Antonio comes in deciding which of the many unique places you’ll choose to visit.
San Antonio is also a fabulous place for families to visit because you can stay in the downtown area and walk to numerous attractions. There’s no need to worry about parking spots or change for the meter; just walk out of your hotel and you’re on your way.
Finding History Downtown
Since San Antonio is home to the Alamo, the most popular tourist destination in the state, you can’t vacation here without learning some Texas history. The Alamo is the site of the infamous 1836 battle where 189 men died fighting against the Mexican general Santa Anna and his troops. Though they lost, their defeat became the rallying cry for Sam Houston and his army when they defeated the Mexicans several weeks later.
Today, more than two million people come to the Alamo each year to learn about the fight for Texas independence. There are no admission costs to walk through the Alamo or the surrounding grounds, but you can choose to pay for a guided tour or an audio tour. In addition to the Alamo Shrine (which is the building we all imagine when we hear the word Alamo) where there are numerous artifacts and exhibits, there is another museum (also free to visit) that is located in the former barracks. These displays help make this event we’ve all heard about come to life for visitors with items like uniforms and weaponry. Docents are always available to answer questions and on the first Saturday of each month there are re-enactors, tours and demonstrations–all for free! The official Alamo website (www.thealamo.org) has information on many special events and ways to make the most of your visit.
Another bigger-than-life way to learn about Texas history is at the IMAX theater at the Rivercenter Mall (www.shoprivercenter.com). Each day the film Alamo: The Price of Freedom plays every hour on the hour beginning at 9:00am. The film is approximately 45 minutes long and helps clarify the events that occurred at the Alamo over those 13 long days. Even younger children will find the movie interesting, bringing all the facts and legends together to present a clear picture of this pivotal event.
The River Walk (www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com) is a staple of any San Antonio vacation. For decades, visitors have enjoyed strolling along the banks of the San Antonio River as it winds through the downtown area. The gorgeous scenery is the perfect backdrop for dinner at any one of the numerous restaurants along the river, and there are restaurants in every price range and type of cuisine you can imagine. Shops of every variety are located on the River Walk as well, so bring some souvenir money. If you’re planning to walk to most of the downtown area venues, the River Walk makes the trip a little more fun, too, with all of the sights and sounds and smells. The River Walk recently opened a 15-mile expansion, connecting it to even more museums, historic sites & other venues.
More Fun Downtown
The downtown area is full of history, but it’s also the site of a whole lot of fun! Just across the street from the Alamo are a couple of attractions that will intrigue and entertain you. The Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium (www.ripleys.com/sanantonio) is an enormous collection of oddities and odd stories from around the world. While you may have been to a Ripley’s Odditorium in another city, the San Antonio site is the largest and most interactive of all of their venues.
Ripley’s also owns Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, a wax museum featuring the likenesses of more than 200 celebrities, book characters and historical figures. Almost as fun as seeing the figures is seeing who your children can or can’t recognize! Right next to the Waxworks is the Ripley’s Moving Theatre 4D, which is a thrilling experience for the whole family. I’m not a fan of roller coasters like my nine year old is, and my four year old isn’t tall enough for any big roller coasters, so this heart-pounding 4D experience was something that we all loved!
Another set of attractions your family might enjoy is the Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Tomb Rider 3D, and the Guinness World Records Museum (www.ripleys.com/phillips). The haunted house is really best for older kids and adults, but the Guinness World Records Museum provides hands-on fun for all ages. Visitors can see how they measure up against the world’s tallest man or test their speed against that of the fastest drummer. The exhibits are interesting and some, like the record for the most clothespins attached to a face, will leave you scratching your head!
If you have children ages 10 and under in your family, the San Antonio Children’s Museum (www.sakids.org) is a must-see. Conveniently located downtown, the museum is three levels of interactive and educational fun for children. They can pretend to fly an airplane, work in a grocery store (with a real scanner at the checkout) or drive a front end loader as they learn about occupations. Giant bubbles, a kid-powered elevator, the imagination playground and other unique exhibits also add to the fun of the museum.
To get a bird’s eye view of San Antonio, head over to the Tower of the Americas at HemisFair Park (www.toweroftheamericas.com). Constructed as part of the 1968 World’s Fair, the 750-foot observation tower offers amazing views of the city in all directions. Also included in your ticket price is Skies Over Texas, a 4D theater ride.
If you’re looking for a way to learn more about the city, consider taking a narrated tour. The Rio San Antonio Cruises (www.riosanantonio.com) take passengers on a journey along the River Walk while the drivers share historical (and sometimes humorous) information about the buildings along the banks and the people who were a part of the area’s past. These trips down the river are always relaxing and enjoyable and well worth the time and money. Another tour that will take you all over the downtown area and beyond is the City Sightseeing double decker bus tour (www.citytoursinc.com). Passes for the bus tour are good for 24 hours and you can hop on and hop off at different points throughout the area.
Exploring Beyond Downtown
The downtown area definitely has enough to keep visitors busy, but you may want to venture out for some other sites, especially if you have animal lovers in your family. The San Antonio Zoo (www.sazoo-aq.org) celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and there’s never been a better time to visit. They recently opened the new Zootennial Plaza and are also the only zoo in the country with a separate children’s zoo area for kids aged 5 and under, the Kronskosky’s Tiny Tot Nature Spot. The zoo is home to more than 9,000 animals and with the Everyday Encounters program, you can learn about many of them close up.
Another place to get up close and personal with wildlife is Sea World (www.seaworldparks.com). You probably know Sea World for the ocean animals, but those fascinating animals are only a portion of what you can see at the park. In the Animal Connections Conservation Center, visitors can interact directly with a variety of animals including an armadillo, a Burmese python and a fennec fox. The staff is on hand to answer all of your questions about these unique animals, some of which have been rescued from the wild. Of course there are all of the aquatic animals, too, and shows, rides and even a new water park.
Ready to go? San Antonio is a reasonable drive—or even shorter flight—away, so visit the San Antonio Visitor Information Center at www.visitsanantonio.com to start planning your trip!