- June 10, 2013

Road Trip: Top 5 Free Things to do in San Antonio


Thanks, Heidi, for asking me to guest post today! I’m Colleen Pence with San Antonio Mom Blogs. I write about life, parenting, and blogs by moms in the Alamo City.

Family-friendly San Antonio is so close to Austin; it’s the perfect getaway for a day trip or an extended weekend visit. But when you think of driving down IH-35 and what you’ll do when you arrive, I bet the Alamo is the first place that comes to mind, right? Next you’re thinking of the obvious: the San Antonio River Walk, SeaWorld San Antonio and Aquatica, and maybe even Six Flags Fiesta Texas. And, while those are all great places to have fun with your family in San Antonio, you’re wondering: are there any free and fun activities in the Alamo City?

Here are my top five recommendations for Free Fun in San Antonio:

1. The Quadrangle at Ft. Sam Houston

All you need is a government issued I.D. or driver’s license, and you can gain free entry into The Fort Sam Houston Quadrangle, San Antonio’s second oldest military installation (and oldest active one). Peacocks, deer, geese, and rabbits roam freely around the grounds, and they’re extremely tame and love to be fed (bring carrots for the deer but bread and crackers are not allowed. Bird food is available for sale in machines for 25 cents). Bring a blanket and a picnic lunch and let the kids run wild, meeting animals and exploring the clock tower. The Ft. Sam Houston Museum will be relocated to The Quadrangle in January 2014. Fun fact: Geronimo spent six weeks at the Quadrangle while in the custody of the U.S. Government in 1886.

2. The San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden

Located near the San Antonio Zoo and Brackenridge Park, the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden is an oasis of lush greenery, calming ponds, and breathtaking views. Built out of a rock quarry in the early 1900s, the San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden’s tumultuous history belies its current beauty and tranquility. Stroll through the gardens, down paths and up stairways over koi-filled ponds (the majority of the Garden is wheelchair accessible). The bench beneath a waterfall is the perfect spot for portraits. The Garden is open daily, with free admission, from dawn until dusk. Pets on leashes are welcome. And, if you’re in the mood for a snack, you can drop in to The Jingu House Restaurant, next to the open-air Pagoda.

3. The Mission Reach of the San Antonio River

Over the last several years, San Antonio’s focus on improving the section of the San Antonio River just south of downtown has provided the city with a beautiful eight-mile stretch that connects the historic San Antonio Missions. When improvements are complete, the entire Mission Reach will extend 15 miles.

Perfect for walking, running, biking, picnicking, bird watching, fishing, and even paddling, the Mission Reach draws people from all over Texas, and beyond, who enjoy these recreational activities, for free, along the banks of our beautiful river.

If you’d like to paddle down the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, be sure to bring your own supplies. As of the writing of this post, there are no rental outfitters located along the river (this may change one day through additional improvements). The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) provides tips for paddling safety on the Mission Reach as well as maps and information about where to launch and end your paddling trip.

4. Tour the San Antonio Shoe Factory

Look down. See those shoes on your feet? Did you ever wonder where and how they were made? San Antonio Shoes (SAS), an all-American-made shoe company, was started in 1976 in San Antonio. The company gives regular, free tours of their factory, located on the southwest side of town.

Your first stop will be SAS’s classic General Store which sells seconds of the adult shoes and handbags made in the nearby factory (usually the only thing wrong with them is a small imperfection in the leather). SAS also sells high-quality children’s shoes that they make right there inside the General Store (sometimes, in front of your eyes!). Concessions (popcorn, soda, roasted nuts) are available at early 20th Century prices (bring change and small bills as they can’t always break bigger bills). There’s also an ice cream parlor and candy shop, a gifts department, a classic car on display, and a gigantic, stuffed Brahma bull.

The free factory tours depart from the General Store (located at 101 New Laredo Hwy, San Antonio, TX 78211) at 9:15 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:05 p.m. each Monday through Thursday. A quick shuttle ride takes you from the General Store to the factory for a 45-minute walking tour. Anyone over the age of six is welcome to attend. Photos are not allowed in the factory. SAS suggests that you call ahead to reserve space as the tours tend to fill up quickly.

(Portions of this SAS section were originally published by me at SavvySource.com.)

5. Free Days/Times at San Antonio Museums

San Antonio museums all offer days/times you can visit for free. My family’s favorite San Antonio museums are The Witte Museum, The San Antonio Museum of Art, and The San Antonio Children’s Museum.

The Witte Museum, specifically, offers engaging history and science exhibits with a focus on interactive, hands-on learning opportunities. Their current special exhibit, Dinosaurs Unearthed, which runs through Sept. 2, 2013, brings theses fascinating and feathered creatures to life more than any exhibit before it (please note: on free admission days the Witte still charges a small fee to attend their special exhibits).

The Witte’s HEB Science Treehouse contains four floors of interactive and technology-driven fun that keeps kids interested, learning, and moving. The brand-new South Texas Heritage Museum, which is now part of the Witte and is located on the same grounds, is in a stunning, state-of-the-art, two-story, 20,000-square-foot building. It houses a permanent exhibit showcasing the rich and colorful history and early art of South Texas. The South Texas Heritage Center employs really cool interactive technology, including cinematic robots, touch-screen computers, and motion-triggered personas, to bring our state’s history to life.

Free admission days and times for my favorite San Antonio museum picks:

  • The Witte Museum free admission: Tuesdays from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
  • The San Antonio Children’s Museum free admission: Every third Tuesday evening of the month (and it also coincides with downtown San Antonio’s “Free Parking After 5:00 p.m. on Tuesdays” initiative).
  • San Antonio Museum of Art free admission: Tuesdays from 4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

In addition to all of the great, free things to do in San Antonio, there are a ton of almost-free activities you don’t want to miss when you arrive!┬áVisit this post on San Antonio Mom Blogs with the scoop on “almost free” activities and fun.

Have a great, free summer!

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