Have time for a short escape to San Antonio? You need the Ultimate Guide to Two Days in San Antonio to help you plan your trip!
As the seventh-largest city in the United States, San Antonio is both a popular tourist destination and a convention city. The Alamo City has earned its distinction as both by being a big city with small-town charm offering a varied list of fun things to see, do, and eat. The mild spring and winter weather makes San Antonio an ideal location for outdoor activities, although you need to be able to handle some serious heat and humidity if you visit during the summer and early fall. While a longer visit might be more desirable, you can get a lot done during a shorter visit, which is where the Ultimate Guide to Two Days in San Antonio comes in handy.
The Ultimate Guide to Two Days in San Antonio
Are you wondering, “Why would someone plan such a short trip to such an awesome place?” Obviously, you need more than two days to see everything, but there are many reasons why a traveler would plan a short stay. Extending a business trip, attending a military graduation ceremony, or exploring the city after the popular Rock and Roll Marathon each December, are common reasons. Some visitors may want to experience multiple destinations in a single trip. If you’re combining San Antonio with visits to Austin and/or the Texas Hill Country, you may only have a couple of days to spend in each spot.
What I’m Not Going to Tell You in the Ultimate Guide to Two Days in San Antonio
I’m not going to tell you to go visit the Alamo or to explore the San Antonio Riverwalk. Most people who come to visit San Antonio have those two attractions firmly in mind. I want to put things you might not know about on your radar. Options are a good thing.
I’m also not going to go too in-depth on where to stay and eat. I’ll give a few suggestions that rise to the top for me, but a discussion on where to stay and eat in San Antonio is a whole separate conversation.
Things to Do in San Antonio
Whether you’re looking to experience some culture or get active, there are lots of choices here. Early spring and late fall are the best times to visit, weather-wise. For the too-hot-to-handle months, there are lots of things on this list that you can do indoors in the air conditioning. Outdoor activities in summer are best planned early in the day. Even then, prepare to be very warm.
I’ve also given my input on timetables to help you plan—but keep in mind, while I might think a couple of hours at a museum is plenty, you might want to stay most of the day. Simply adjust the list for your own preferences.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Although the Alamo is probably at the top of your list of things to see in San Antonio, do yourself a favor and go check out the four other San Antonio missions: San José, Espada, Concepción, and San Juan. I’m not saying the Alamo isn’t worth seeing but the atmosphere outside is a little bit touristy. The museum inside is interesting to explore. If you want quieter grounds, more room to roam, and way better pictures, the other missions are where you want to be.
The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.
Timetable: To see all of the missions including the Alamo, will take the better part of a day with ample time for a great dinner.
The Witte Museum features static exhibits on natural history, Texas history, and Texas culture. There’s usually a traveling exhibit to check out. Expect an extra charge for that. Younger visitors will enjoy the H-E-B Science Tree House, which is a fun rooftop area that focuses on hands-on STEM activities. This is primarily an indoor activity, but there are some lovely grounds to explore, too.
San Antonio Zoo
You can make a day of exploring the zoo as well as adjacent Brackenridge Park and Kiddie Park. Brackenridge Park offers walking trails, picnic areas, and a train ride. Kiddie Park is an iconic San Antonio amusement park with retro rides that younger kids will especially enjoy. If you have extra time or want to take a more in-depth look at the animals, consider booking a behind-the-scenes experience.
Japanese Tea Gardens
The Japanese Tea Gardens are located right next to the zoo and Brackenridge Park and are absolutely worth a stop. This tranquil garden featuring a stone pavilion and a waterfall is free to enter.
Timetable: Exploring the zoo, to include Kiddie Park and/or Brackenridge Park, the Japanese Tea Gardens, and the Witte Museum is doable for one day, but it will be a very full day.
The DoSeum is a hands-on children’s museum with a focus on STEM. There’s lots of fun both inside and out, with a water play area that’s popular during the warmer months.
Timetable: Most kids I know would happily spend an entire day playing here. You can get your money’s worth in a two- to three-hour visit, especially if the weather is nice enough to utilize the outdoor spaces.
The McNay Art Museum
A visit to the McNay is a unique experience for art lovers. There’s a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, and mixed media housed in an elegant historic mansion that’s as fun to take in as the artwork.
Timetable: You can walk through and see all the exhibits in about two hours. If you want to study the paintings, read the plaques, and explore the outdoor areas, this will lengthen your visit.
San Antonio Botanical Garden
The San Antonio Botanical Garden is a tranquil living museum of plants and activities to help visitors learn about them. The hands-on children’s area is fantastic, and there’s a beautiful pond with shaded seating where guests can feed the turtles. Check the calendar of events in advance of your visit to see what special events or seminars might be available.
Timetable: To see and experience all the exhibits is a half-day activity at minimum.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas
If it’s a theme park you want, Six Flags Fiesta Texas is San Antonio’s largest. There’s a balanced mix of shows, thrill rides, and family-friendly rides. The on-site water park, Whitewater Bay, is open during the summer and is included in park admission.
Timetable: Experiencing Six Flags Fiesta Texas is an all-day activity. If you’re visiting in the summer, I recommend focusing on either Whitewater Bay or the main part of the park, versus trying to do everything.
SeaWorld San Antonio
There’s a lot to do at SeaWorld San Antonio, which advertises as three parks in one. The main SeaWorld park, which includes animal attractions and rides, and Discovery Point, which features a dolphin habitat and a reef exhibit with sharks and colorful fish, are included in basic admission. The adjacent water park, Aquatica, requires a separate admission ticket. Add-ons, such as dolphin and stingray encounters, can be purchased for an additional fee.
Timetable: SeaWorld is a full-day activity. There are several shows to catch and those are only offered at specific times, so waiting in line for rides and meals will have to be balanced with when your desired showtimes are. If you buy tickets to Aquatica, know that it is very difficult (and tiring) to see all of both parks in a day.
Natural Bridge Caverns/Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch
Natural Bridge Caverns and Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch are located just outside the San Antonio city limits in New Braunfels. You can take a guided tour of the underground caverns at Natural Bridge Caverns, but there’s also plenty to do on the surface, most notably the Twisted Trails Zip Rail Course, which is similar to ziplining. The Wildlife Ranch requires separate admission and is a drive-through animal park where guests can observe and feed wildlife from their vehicles.
Timetable: You’ll need a half-day to do a cavern tour at Natural Bridge Caverns and take part in all of the surface activities. The Wildlife Ranch will take between two and three hours, depending on how crowded the park is and how fast the traffic is moving.
San Antonio Spurs
If you are a basketball fan and visit during the regular NBA season, you’ll be in luck if your visit aligns with a Spurs home game. San Antonians revere their Spurs, so be mindful of that before you engage in any anti-Spurs smack talking.
San Antonio Missions Baseball
The Missions are the Double-A affiliate team of the San Diego Padres. The ballpark is small and spectators can see the players really well from many of the seats, which are usually not expensive. There are lots of fun activities and games between innings, and the team’s mascot is “Ballapeno”, a jalapeño pepper dressed up in baseball gear. Only in Texas, right?
Government Canyon State Natural Area
If you want to spend part of your visit to San Antonio hiking, Government Canyon State Natural Area is a favorite with the locals. Located on the far north side of San Antonio, Government Canyon is home to 110 million-year-old dinosaur tracks, which are located 2.5 miles into the Joe Johnston Route trail. The out and back to see the dinosaur tracks is an easy five miles.
Timetable: Plan for three to four hours to hike to the dinosaur tracks and back. The Joe Johnston Route extends beyond the tracks for another four miles before the turnaround point. The park rangers don’t recommend starting this hike past midday.
Comanche Lookout Park
This 96-acre public park offers paved and unpaved walking trails and stunning views of the city. The park is so named because the Comanches were believed to have used the high point as a lookout.
Timetable: Comanche Lookout Park is a place where you can spend a half-hour getting some exercise or a half-day exploring all the trails and taking in the view from the top.
Note: The two outdoor areas I mentioned above are just a small slice of what’s available in San Antonio in terms of parks and trails, although they are two of my favorites. Refer to the San Antonio Parks and Recreation website to see many more options for hiking, running/biking trails, playgrounds, and more.
Note: For even more ideas check out San Antonio – What You Need to Know Before You Go
Getting Around San Antonio
If you’re going to stay primarily in the downtown/Riverwalk area, you can get by without a car. Lyft and Uber are widely available. You can also check out VIA, San Antonio’s bus system.
San Antonio is more of a driver’s city than it is a public transportation city. The Via Viva routes that were amazing for visitors (taking riders from the downtown area to the missions and other popular art and culture areas in the city) have been suspended due to COVID-19.
Parking in downtown San Antonio, including at the hotels, is usually per hour or per day. There is very little, if any, free parking downtown. Getting outside of the downtown area, parking is generally widely available and free.
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Food Choices for the Ultimate Guide to Two Days in San Antonio
I’ll preface this shortlist by saying you can’t go wrong with most Tex-Mex and BBQ places. San Antonians can have strong opinions on both things, especially if you use the words best and BBQ in the same sentence. Don’t be shy about asking the locals for their favorites, but it might be a long conversation with some dissenting opinions if you ask a group of more than one person.
I’ve lived here most of my life and have never had truly bad Tex-Mex or BBQ in or around San Antonio. My experience is that the more dubious the outward appearance of a place, the better the food.
Here are my don’t miss places in San Antonio, and I give you these with the caveat that if you do miss them, you’ll probably find something you really love.
My favorite place to take visitors to San Antonio is Mi Tierra. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll leave full but visit the adjoining bakery anyway for some takeaway goodies. I also like Iron Cactus, even though this is trendier Mexican than traditional Tex-Mex. Their table-side guacamole is a winner for me.
If you’re driving and want to eat where the locals eat, grab lunch at Pollos Asados Los Norteños and try their delicious Mexican chicken and sides.
I like The Big Bibb and Harmon’s, although the latter is a ways outside of town in Cibolo and will take you about 30 minutes to drive to in light traffic. Lockhart, TX, located 70 miles north of San Antonio is notorious for delicious BBQ, should you feel like a bit of a drive.
Love a good burger? So do I. Chris Madrid’s has been my favorite place to grab a burger for years. This is a very casual place, and the menu isn’t large, so if you’re not craving something with a bun served in a plastic basket or some hearty nachos, you might not love this one as much as I do. Cheesy Jane’s also does great burgers and shakes and they have a fun little electric train that runs around the restaurant.
There are hundreds of other options and lots of other types of food, and I could use 2,000 words to talk about nothing but restaurants. If you want to eat at an all-Vegan or Indian restaurant, San Antonio has those too, although most foodie visitors are going to hone in on the Tex-Mex and BBQ options.
Places to Stay for Two Days in San Antonio
Hotels on the Riverwalk are going to be more expensive. Expect to pay more for a basic Hampton Inn type of room based on location. If most of your planned activities are near the Riverwalk or in downtown San Antonio, that location is a big deal.
There are some nice hotels near the airport and in the Stone Oak area, but the highways going back and forth see a lot of traffic in the mornings and during rush hour. You’ll also have to find and pay for parking, so do the math.
My picks are the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk and Hotel Emma at The Pearl. Hotel Emma, housed in a converted Brewery, has luxury, history, and lots of things nearby you can walk to.
Hotel Valencia is luxurious (although not quite as luxurious or expensive as Hotel Emma) and has direct access to the Riverwalk.
Articles Related to Exploring San Antonio
You May Need More than Two Days in San Antonio
If you have a chance for a short visit, check out some of the activities I’ve suggested and plan a trip. If you come to town for an event or convention and don’t carve out some time to explore, you’re going to “shoulda-coulda-woulda” all the way home. Get out and experience some of what makes this city so great.
And, if you’re making your list of things to do on your return trip to San Antonio while you’re in your Uber on the way to the airport, you’re definitely not the first or last person to do that.
So, whether it’s planning a two-day getaway or your family vacation, let Wander with Wonder help you plan your next adventure in and around Texas. Be sure to also check out more destinations that are part of our Ultimate Guide to Two Days series.