Eight Unique Attractions You'll Only Find In Texas' Littlest Big City
San Antonio has its own culture, different from the other major Texas cities. We’ve compiled a list of eight experiences you just won't find anywhere else.
1. The River Walk (of course)
The city’s most popular attraction, the San Antonio River flows right through the middle of Downtown. This central location makes the river experience one that locals and tourists alike flock to. Many of San Antonio’s most influential restaurants are nestled into beautiful historic building dotting the banks. If you’d rather avoid walking the length in search of your next stop, try taking one of the boat tours. The tours give insight into the city’s rich history, as well as highlighting some of the most popular and unique locations on the river, including the next one on this list.
2. La Villita
La Villita is one of the real jewels of San Antonio and an insight into its rich cultural history. Established in 1939, the historic arts village remains one of the most popular attractions on the river, as well as in the city itself. La Villita includes nearly 30 shops and galleries and perhaps most uniquely, the Arneson River Theater at La Villita. The 800-seat amphitheater features natural grass seating directly across the river from the stage and is home to the world-famous Fiesta Noche del Rio and Ballet Folklorico.
3. El Mercado
This three-block outdoor plaza is lined with 32 unique shops and some of the most authentic Tex-Mex cuisine you’ll find. According to Frommer's, El Mercado is one of America’s top 10 outdoor markets. If you’re not in the mood for shopping, grab a margarita and enjoy the live music and dancing. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the chance to enjoy one of the many Hispanic festivals that take place throughout the year.
4. The Alamo and Historic Mission Park
Everyone remembers The Alamo. It sits at the heart of the city and is a cornerstone of Texan culture. You can learn about the battle for Texas independence and the sacrifice of some of Texas’ most beloved heroes. But The Alamo is just one of many beautiful, historic missions, including San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, which contains four of the five San Antonio frontier missions—San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion and Espada. With urban development infringing on the boundaries of the park, it may be now or never for history lovers to indulge in these sites relatively untouched.
5. Fiesta (NIOSA)
This San Antonio treat is a what, not a where. The biggest party of the year in south Texas is Fiesta. Taking place annually in mid- to late April, Fiesta celebrates the city's cultural heritage, bringing flocks of citizens to the streets for parades and massive gatherings. The Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA) street party, rivaling New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, portions Hemisfair into cultural and national zones, with food and drink representative of each. From the German funnel cakes to the traditional Spanish empanadas, NIOSA and Fiesta offer something for everyone.
6. The St. Mary's Strip and Pearl Brewery
If neon lights, cheap drinks and loud music with plenty of choices to enjoy is your thing, then the St. Mary’s strip is for you. The strip has some of the oldest and most popular nightspots in the city. If the hip young college crowd isn’t your scene, or you just aren’t in the mood for loud music, just a few blocks east is the rejuvenated Pearl Brewery complex. At the Pearl you’ll find some of the trendiest and most swanky dining and drinking options in town. More of an early riser? Check out the farmers market on Saturday mornings.
7. Tower of the Americas
Constructed as the theme structure for the 1968 World’s Fair, the 750-foot tower is a perfect perch for taking in the San Antonio sites from above. The building remains the tallest in San Antonio and actually tops out taller than Seattle’s more famous Space Needle. Inside you’ll find a revolving fine dining restaurant, bar and an observation deck. The tower is in Hemisfair Park, walking distance from Downtown.
8. Natural Bridge Caverns
Once you’ve exhausted your options above, it may be time to lay low for a while. In fact, it may be time to head straight underground. Discovered in 1960 by St. Mary’s students Orion Knox Jr., Preston Knodell Jr., Al Brandt and Joe Cantu, Natural Bridge Caverns is the largest commercial cavern in the United States. The caverns were formed by rainwater traveling down through the porous limestone. The caverns are considered to be alive to this day, with the massive, waxy stalactite formations still forming. As an added bonus, one of the two largest bat colonies in Texas resides in a cave very close by, meaning if you time your visit right, you may get a double dose of uniqueness from this natural wonder.