San Antonio, Texas is an old city with an elaborate history and vivacious culture. Though first inhabited by natives, this land was later colonized by Spanish explorers and missionaries. A city of many chapters, San Antonio lives a life intertwined with Spanish roots, Mexican heritage, and American freedom.
Historical sites and architectural features seamlessly coexist in today’s modern world. Beautiful with an old-world aesthetic, this city transports you through the past and allows you to appreciate the present.
San Antonio Tourism
San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas and home to the state’s only United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. It draws travelers from all over the world. More than 30 million people visit San Antonio each year.
From history to food and culture to adventure, there are many ways to tour San Antonio. However, it can be difficult to stay within budget with so much to see and do! Check out our list below for affordable fun!
There are a number of ways to enjoy San Antonio on a budget. Whether you are seeking no-cost options or low-cost options, you are bound to find something you like in this historic city.
Wander through city streets and pathways below to experience the sights and sounds of San Antonio. It’s easy to take in this beautiful city without even having to pay an admission fee!
San Antonio Missions: UNESCO World Heritage Site
The five mission complexes along the San Antonio River were originally created by Spanish Catholics in the 18th century. These sites were established to colonize, educate, and evangelize the natives. The missions became integral to community and fellowship. One of the missions, Mission Concepción, is actually the oldest unrestored church in the United States!
Four of the missions are located south of downtown San Antonio. These four are part of the National Historical Park (a branch of the National Park System) and include:
- Mission San José (founded February 23, 1720)
- Mission Concepción (founded March 4, 1731)
- Mission San Juan (founded March 5, 1731)
- Mission Espada (founded March 5, 1731)
While free to explore, it is important to note that hours will vary since these churches are active parishes.
300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205
Hours: May 28-Sept 6 (9AM-7PM), Sept 7-May 27 (9AM-5:30PM)
Suggested Duration: 1-2 Hours
Mission Valero, more widely known as The Alamo (founded May 1, 1718), is one of the five San Antonio Missions. Located in downtown San Antonio, this site is most recognized for the infamous Battle of the Alamo. The Alamo features historic buildings, artifacts, and exhibits. Discover the history of Spanish missions and the Battle of the Alamo with a free self-guided tour.
San Antonio River Walk
849 E. Commerce Street, San Antonio, TX 78205
Hours: Daily 24/7
Suggested Duration: 2 Hours-Full Day
You’ll need your walking shoes for this one! San Antonio’s River Walk is one of the best free attractions in the city. Fifteen miles of riverside paths await you one level below city streets. With easy access points from stairs and elevators throughout, the River Walk offers opportunity for both quick ventures and all-day exploration. Restaurants, shops, museums, and other attractions line this popular pedestrian walkway. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the outdoors while experiencing the city!
Japanese Tea Garden
Japanese Tea Garden
3853 N. Saint Mary’s Street, San Antonio, TX 78212
Hours: Daily 7AM-5PM
Suggested Duration: 1-2 Hours
Eleven acres of year-round gardens and walkways provide a calm escape from the tourist-centric River Walk. The Japanese Tea Garden is a lush landscape of floral blooms, shaded paths, and stone bridges. Ponds filled with Koi and a 60-foot waterfall offer a beautiful and scenic retreat.
Historic Market Square
Historic Market Square
514 W. Commerce Street, San Antonio, TX 78207
Hours: Mon-Sat 10AM-6PM, Sun 10AM-5PM
Suggested Duration: 2-3 Hours
Touted as one of the largest Mexican markets in the US, the Historic Market Square is a three-block outdoor plaza of shops, food, and fun! Peruse more than 100 locally owned shops. Take in the vibrant art and lively music. Free to enter and window shop, this celebration of Mexican culture is worth a gander.
Keep the free train rolling with these other options!
- La Villita Historic Arts Village: An art community that is one of San Antonio’s oldest neighborhoods
- San Fernando Cathedral: One of the oldest active cathedrals in the US. Learn about the history of San Antonio through a free light show projected onto the facade of the cathedral each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
- King William Historic District: Self-guided walking tour of historic homes showcasing different architectural styles, including Greek Revival, Victorian, and Italianate
- Phil Hardberger Park: Features 7.5 miles of walking trails, playgrounds, and other recreation. The innovative Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge connects the two sides of the park. It is the largest wildlife crossing in the US.
Up to $10 per Person
Mix a little nature with some history and you’ll find a few adventures along the way! With a bit of money in your pocket, you can learn something new about something old or even create your very own food tour.
Mitchell Lake Audubon Center – ($5 General Admission)
10750 Pleasanton Road, San Antonio, TX 78221
Hours: Feb 15-June 10 (Tues-Sun 8AM-3PM), June 10-Sept 12 (Thurs-Sun 7AM-1PM), Sept 16-Feb 14 (Fri-Sun 8AM-3PM)
Suggested Duration: 2-3 Hours
Located on the south end of San Antonio, the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center is a natural refuge of wildlife and conservation. This wetland habitat spans 1200 acres, 600 of which are Mitchell Lake. The center provides environmental education on birds and their habitats. Stroll through hiking trails and native gardens while spotting birds and other wildlife.
Texas Transportation Museum – ($10 General Admission)
11731 Wetmore Road, San Antonio, TX 78247
Hours: Sat-Sun 9AM-4PM
Suggested Duration: 2-3 Hours
The Texas Transportation Museum boasts a charming window into history. Complete with interactive exhibits, this museum offers a great afternoon for all ages! Model railroads, antique automobiles, and passenger cars create a fun and immersive experience. Ride the full-sized caboose diesel or flat car trains as many times as you want – unlimited rides are included in your admission ticket!
Keep in Mind:
- San Antonio Craft Breweries: Most breweries offer pours for less than $10.
- DIY Taco Tour: Create your own tour! Most mini tacos cost $1.50-$4.00 each. Visit some local street vendors and restaurants to create your own taco trail.
- Mi Tierra Café & Bakery: Grab a little sweet treat at this Historic Market Square favorite! An authentic Mexican gem, this bakery offers all kinds of pastries to try.
Experiences from $11-$25 per Person
If you have a few more dollars to spend, then feel free to check out these experiences below. Though their price points stretch a touch beyond free, you might find these options well worth the memories.
GO RIO San Antonio River Narrated Cruise ($13.50 General Admission)
A narrated cruise experience is two-fold: it gives you a sense of direction AND a history lesson along the way. If you’re short on time, then this boat tour is a great way to see the River Walk and learn about San Antonio’s heritage and culture!
The Witte Museum – ($14 General Admission)
Engaging and well-organized, the Witte Museum is an excellent resource of Texas heritage and natural history. Science and art come together to create an educational display of history and culture that appeals to all ages. This 10 acre campus features a number of artifacts and galleries, including cave drawings, dinosaur bones, and wildlife dioramas.
Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling – ($15 Tour Experience)
Dubbed as a Brewstillery, Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling specializes in handcrafted microbrews and craft whiskies. A $15 tour buys you two tours in one! This guided tour offers an entertaining learning experience in craft brewing and distilling and includes 3 generous product samples.
- San Antonio Botanical Garden: $16-$18 General Admission. Family-friendly and relaxing, this 38-acre garden offers a beautiful and educational look at living plant life.
- Hopscotch: $24 General Admission. Jump into this playful space of vibrant illumination and illusion. A unique art space composed of interactive collections, this incredible venue offers a fun break from the standard tourist hotspots.
- The Modernist: Add a little spontaneity to your night cap. The Modernist is a prime spot for when you want a change from the usual cocktail bars. Situated in a 1920s home, this unexpected bar presents midcentury vibes in a cool, intimate setting. There is no menu – just let the bartender know your price range and what you like. They even stir up fancy spirit-free drinks for non-alcoholic enjoyment!
Our Budget-Friendly Visit
Brian and I spent a few hours seeing the San Antonio sights. On a weekday afternoon, we largely found the city quiet and deserted. Tourist spots remained busier than other areas, but it was less crowded than usual.
Early Bird Dinner Date
We’re huge fans of early dinners. How early, you ask? Truthfully, our dinners are SO early sometimes that they can be considered late lunches in most circles. We LOVE them, though.
One huge plus is that we very rarely encounter crowds. With this in mind, we happily walked into our first San Antonio stop!
Tlahco Mexican Kitchen
Holy smokes, this restaurant blew us away. I admit – it took me a little while to actually find a restaurant I felt was worth the money and experience. While Tlhaco has excellent reviews for the food, the negative reviews were indicative of poor service and long waits. Luckily, we had a fantastic experience all around. This authentic Mexican restaurant served us up some seriously good flavors and great food.
Our appetites were wholly satisfied with:
- Chips and salsa with Chorizo and bean dip
- Enchiladas Mexicanas de Pollo
- 5-Al Pastor Street Tacos with Borracho Beans
- 5-Pollo Asado Street Tacos with Borracho Beans
It was a flavor explosion! Filling and delicious, we were so happy and relieved with our dinner choice. It’s too bad that there isn’t a location closer to the resort! Brian and I had a great meal and wish we could have eaten there more! Tlahco serves breakfast, lunch, AND dinner. If you’re in the area, we highly recommend stopping by.
Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio
While researching San Antonio, I discovered a tribute to Holocaust survivors local to the San Antonio area. The tribute is part of the Holocaust Museum of San Antonio located within the Jewish Community Center. Small and intimate, this 3-room museum provides a somber and powerful account of one of the world’s worst atrocities.
We spent nearly two hours immersed in history. The museum is an expansive source of information and inspiration. Personal accounts and artifacts highlighted incredible grit and endurance. We would recommend visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum. It is a very touching and well-presented dedication to victims and survivors alike.
Though free to enter, a suggested donation is asked to help maintain the museum.
Honestly, we skipped most of The Pearl. This community is a run-of-the-mill live/work/play district anchored by the former Pearl Brewery founded in 1883. I can understand the appeal of this kind of space. Brian and I, however, are not much for shopping or crowds. We only parked in the area for a quick walkthrough and access to the River Walk.
Twenty-two acres of shops, restaurants, and businesses, the Pearl is also home to residences and a posh hotel. We strolled past Hotel Emma and made our way into Pearl Park, a sort of courtyard area near the Food Hall. It was buzzing with people and the atmosphere seemed cheery and light, but it just wasn’t our kind of thing.
Pro Tip: Convenient parking is available for a fee. I don’t like paying for parking. There is so much free street parking. We parked one street over from the main entrance! If you prefer free parking, then look for it, be courteous, and pay attention to any tow-away zones. You’ll be fine.
River Walk Exercise
Brian and I ventured onto the River Walk next. It was just about quittin’ time for the locals, so we encountered a ton of folks on their post-work jogs. Lively and filled with lots to see, the River Walk was a nice way to take in the city as we walked off our dinner. Our intention was to take the pathway to The Alamo, but we realized we were running out of daylight! One staircase later, we found ourselves on the surface streets as we cut through intersections and a park to make better time. We caught The Alamo just as it was closing. With a few minutes to spare, we browsed what we could and hit the road.
Roadmap Brewing Co.
We decided to make a pit-stop on our way back to the River Walk. Seeing as though we were on the road so much, what better brewery to try than Roadmap Brewing? It was so fitting.
Brian and I popped in for one brew each.
I sipped on Professor Plum’s Alibi, a fruited kettle sour, while Brian opted for a hazy IPA, These Boots Were Made For Mashin’.
After this little refresher, Brian and I continued on to River Walk and then back to our car. It was an easy enough trip. History and exercise, along with amazing food and a good brew, was a solid way to spend a weekday.
Brian and I were pretty intentional with our San Antonio trip. We didn’t want to spend any extra money on overpriced food or drink, so we kept our focus on more low-key local venues. No regrets!