People in an orange barge cruising the river on a weekend in San Antonio Texas

3-Day Weekend in San Antonio: History, Fun, and All the Tex-Mex

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San Antonio is one of the most vibrant cities in Texas. Like Austin, it’s packed with fun things to do and lots of delicious food, but it has a vibe all its own. The city was settled by Spaniards, influenced by German immigrants, made richer by its ties to Mexico, and it has plenty of Texas pride thrown in. The result is a unique blend that offers lots for visitors to uncover on a weekend in San Antonio.

Downtown San Antonio is highly walkable, which makes getting around easy. Many of the city’s main attractions lie along the 15-mile-long River Walk, making visiting lots of places simple. It’s an ideal location for hitting all the highlights and more in a short weekend getaway.

Weekend in San Antonio

Here are our top suggestions for your San Antoni. o itinerary

Day 1: The Alamo and Downtown

The first day of this San Antonio trip is about hitting the highlights of what the city is most known for—its history and fun atmosphere. Plus, you can see it all from a bird’s-eye view.

Alamo

White stone building with wooden door beside a grassy square
The Alamo

Nothing is more synonymous with the city than its crowning jewel, the Alamo. That’s why it makes sense to have it at the top of the list for your weekend in San Antonio.

The Alamo, formerly known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, was built in 1718. The first Spanish mission founded along the San Antonio River, it is most well-known as the site of a battle during the Texas Revolution.

During the battle, a group of about 200 Texian soldiers fought against the Mexican army and General Santa Anna, who controlled the territory. Notable figures like William B. Travis, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie met their end during the March 1836 fight.

Today, visitors can walk through the church, visit the barracks, and explore the grounds. An excellent short movie provides the context for the battle and the people who fought and lost their lives here. Plans for a more in-depth outdoor museum are in the works. 

La Villita

Right on the river, La Villita is a lovely collection of artisan shops and restaurants in the heart of the city. Over 25 boutiques and galleries offer unique and local items from quirky t-shirts to handmade masterpieces. It’s a dream for shoppers and lovers of interesting spaces.

The buildings of La Villita are an attraction in themselves. It was San Antonio’s first neighborhood—a settlement of Spanish soldiers stationed at the Alamo. The complex has seen many incarnations over the years, and its architecture reflects that, with adobe structures, early Victorian construction, and 19th-century Texas Vernacular buildings. Its history has landed it on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Market Square

Colorful flags hung across a pedestrian walkway at Historic Market Square
Colorful flags across part of Historic Market Square

About a mile from La Villita, Historic Market Square presents even more opportunities for shopping and entertainment. The square—which has been a market for over 100 years—is bustling at all hours of the day.

The market covers three city blocks and offers more than 100 shops. It’s one of the largest Mexican markets outside of Mexico. You’ll find traditional Mexican curios, colorful Talavera pottery, handmade jewelry and leather goods alongside lots of Texas- and San Antonio-themed souvenirs. On the weekends, Mariachi bands and Folklorico dancers entertain visitors.

Mi Tierra Cafe Y Panaderia is the place for a meal or a perfect margarita. The 24-hour Tex-Mex restaurant has been a mainstay at Historic Market Square for nearly 80 years and is a must when you visit San Antonio. The bright and festive restaurant feels like a constant party, and the food is fabulous.

Tower of the Americas

Tall tower building with viewing platform at the top
Tower of the Americas soars 750 feet

One of the top things to do in San Antonio is to head to the Tower of the Americas to see the city from above. The tower soars 750 feet in the air, giving visitors a dramatic view over downtown.

There are a couple of ways to get the view. You can have a meal at the revolving Chart House Restaurant or visit the Observation Deck. We opted for the great happy hour deals at Bar 601 at the Chart House, which gets you the same view at a lower price tag.

River Walk

Finish up the night with a stroll along the River Walk, one of the top attractions in San Antonio. The urban waterway runs for 15 miles, providing a beautiful way to see the city in a pedestrian zone below street level.

A branch of the river runs alongside the Convention Center right by the Tower of the Americas. You can start there or head to the center of the action near the Hyatt Regency Hotel and the Shops at Rivercenter.

There are several places to have dessert and lots of restaurants to choose from if happy hour wasn’t enough. Check out Justin’s Ice Cream for a sweet treat or visit Casa Rio—the original River Walk restaurant—for something more substantial. Along the way, you can window shop, enjoy lots of live music along the promenade, and soak in the atmosphere.

Day 2: Gardens, The Pearl, and More

Day 2 of this San Antonio itinerary starts with getting back to nature and seeing some of the city’s open space while indulging in some (more) great food and drinks along the way.

Japanese Tea Garden

Stone walkway cuts through Japanese garden with a stone pagoda
The Japanese Garden is full of plants and water features

Just a couple of miles from downtown, the Japanese Tea Garden is a beautiful spot year-round. The lush garden has koi ponds and a cascading 60-foot waterfall, and it’s brimming with plants and trees.

A stroll around the garden (it’s free to visit) is a nice break from the activity in the city center, and there’s even a café serving up tea, sandwiches, and other light bites.

Botanical Garden

Red sculpture among plants at the San Antonio Botanic Garden
Sculpture among the plants and flowers at the Botanic Garden

The San Antonio Botanical Garden offers an even more in-depth experience among Texas native plants, exotic and endangered species, and greenhouses. Its 38 acres of gardens include a conservatory, roses, and areas specifically geared for children. Everything is punctuated by sculptures and rotating seasonal decorations and displays.

One uncommon feature here is the culinary garden and its accompanying outdoor teaching kitchen–a perfect place to teach visitors how to cook what’s growing in the beds in front of them. Regular programming teaches visitors about fruits and vegetables that can withstand the hot South Texas weather, and cooking demonstrations show the beauty of garden-to-table meals.

Pearl

Red Pearl Brewery sign next to a large brownstone building
The Pearl complex

It doesn’t get much better than an afternoon at Pearl. With a wide selection of food and drinks, shops, ample room to lounge, and even a 5-star hotel, this area is one of our favorite places to go on a weekend trip to San Antonio.

In the heart of the Pearl district is the former Pearl Brewery that operated from 1883 to 2001 and was once the largest brewery in Texas. You can still get the beer (now made by Pabst) but the shell of the old brewery is now a dramatic backdrop for the cool complex.

There is a riverside amphitheater and a campus of The Culinary Institute of America along with more than 30 restaurants and shops. The food hall alone offers enough options to send you into a day-long food coma. The year-round farmers market and regular live music and events mean there’s always activity and a fun energy here.

Barge cruise

A barge cruise along the river is a must on a San Antonio weekend trip. Climb aboard one of the brightly colored boats to see the River Walk and appreciate the city’s architecture and scenery from the water.  

You can take a river shuttle to move between attractions or settle in for a narrated cruise. We opted for the latter, and our guide told the story of the founding of San Antonio and the building of the River Walk to give context for what we were seeing. For something truly unique, check out the 2-hour dinner cruises.

Esquire

Fried chicken and pickles on a plate with a glass of champagne
Fried chicken and champagne is a specialty downstairs at Esquire

Esquire Tavern is the spot for dinner. Opened in 1933, it’s one of the oldest places in town and has all kinds of local lore, including a few ghost stories.

The upstairs tavern offers pub grub like burgers, fish and chips, and grilled pimento cheese. You can enjoy the meals alongside a frothy beverage at the longest wooden bar in Texas. Downstairs has a speakeasy feel complete with taxidermy-lined walls right on the river. Their fried chicken and champagne combination became our new obsession.

San Fernando Cathedral

Exterior of a stone cathedral with two towers
San Fernando Cathedral has stood in this spot for nearly 300 years

San Fernando Cathedral was founded in 1731 by early settlers from the Canary Islands. The oldest cathedral in the United States, its simple interior includes a golden altar, richly colored stained glass, and a tomb purported to hold the remains of the heroes of the Alamo.

The building’s exterior is striking day or night, but 4 nights a week it is even more intriguing. In 3 shows each night, a video art installation known as The Saga plays across the outside, depicting events from San Antonio, Texas, and US history. The brilliant show draws people from around the region and the country, and it’s one of the top things to see when visiting San Antonio.

Day 3: King William District and Mission San Jose

The last of your 3 days in San Antonio includes a look at some of the city’s mansions, a visit to a 300-year-old mission, and more.

King William Historic District

3-story mansion with bushes in the yard in the King William Historic Distrcit
Steves Homestead and its perfectly manicured yard

The King William District is full of some of the city’s most stately homes. Dating from the late 1800s, these mansions were built primarily by German immigrants who settled in central Texas (some of their other creations include the Painted Churches and the nearby city of Fredericksburg).

Though many of the homes fell into disrepair over the years, they were restored beginning in 1967 and the King William neighborhood is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Two of the most notable homes open to the public are Villa Finale and the Steves Homestead. Villa Finale, a 1876 Italianate home, is full of over 12,000 antiques, books, and artworks collected by Walter Mathis, the home’s last owner who painstakingly restored it. The vast collection is fascinating to see and leads the home to feel like a museum curated by someone with a minor—but upscale—hoarding problem.

Room filled with books and paintings with yellow curtains and a sofa
The book-filled library of Villa Finale

Nearby, Steves Homestead is a three-story mansion built in 1876 for Edward Steves, a local lumber magnate. The ashlar limestone home is full of family and period pieces. Visitors can see the first floor and bedrooms on the second floor as part of a self-guided tour.

Rosario’s and the Friendly Ice Spot

Just a couple of blocks from the King William Historic District are two options for lunch or a drink, depending on what kind of vibe you’re looking for.

Colorful chairs and tables at a beer garden
The welcoming setting at The Friendly Spot

Roasario’s is consistently hailed as one of the best Mexican restaurants in San Antonio, which says a lot in a city full of excellent Mexican food. For nearly 100 years, they’ve served enchiladas, tacos, and other Tex-Mex specialties. The “handshaken” margaritas are as good as you would hope.

Just down the street is The Friendly Spot, a colorful outdoor lounge with 76 taps and lots of bar-friendly eats like burgers, sandwiches, and wings. It’s a great place to enjoy a beer and rest your feet for a little while.

Mission San Jose

Like the Alamo, Mission San Jose is one of five missions that were built around San Antonio in the 1700s. Together, they make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site–one of only a handful in the US. Although the Alamo is the most well-known, Mission San Jose is the “Queen of the Missions.”

Stone church with arches along the courtyard
The beautiful Mission San Jose

When Mission San Jose was built 300 years ago, it was an entire community with the church at its heart. As such, you can still visit the rooms for the Coahuiltecan Indians that were part of the mission’s walls.

The park office features exhibits and a video about the mission, but it’s in wandering the grounds that the site comes alive. You can see the vast complex, including the restored granary and the church, which is still an active parish centuries later.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can hike or bike to some of the other missions, too.

Blue Star Arts Complex

Brick building with a sign for Blue Star Brewing Company
Blue Star Brewing Company

The Blue Star Arts Complex features an art gallery and a variety of shops, so there are plenty of opportunities for browsing.

When you’re ready for dinner, check out the sushi and Asian specialties at Sukiban Sushi or head to Halcyon for fried chicken and burgers alongside vegetarian options. Our favorite is Blue Star Brewing Company for its live music and specialty craft beer.

Getting Around San Antonio

Electric bicycles in a bike stand
One of the city bike shares

Getting around San Antonio is easy. In downtown, walking is generally the best option. When we opted to drive, we found parking to be plentiful. If you’re driving downtown on a Tuesday, it’s good to know that city-operated parking garages, parking lots, and meters are free from 5pm to 2am.

For covering longer distances without driving or if you just don’t feel like walking, bike shares are a great option. BCycle has over 65 bike share stations around town with traditional and electric bicycles. It costs $3 for a 30 minute trip, or $12 day pass allows for 60-minute trips.

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