There is so much talk about eating seasonally. Why not take that same approach to…
You know a city is special when its citizens make it their mission to both preserve its long, storied history and its stunning, natural surroundings. There are so many unique things to do in San Antonio, Texas it’s almost hard to narrow it down to just five!
While San Antonio’s story has changed over the centuries, one thing that has remained a constant is its incredible river. When Spanish explorers first met with the Native Americans who had settled there in 1691, the land was known as Yanaguana, or “Land of the Spirit Waters.” From then on the city was built up around these same waters. The river is not only a focal point of any San Antonio experience, it’s a constant source of inspiration to the blended community that calls the city home.
San Antonio is a city where cultures collide and blend, creating a wholly distinct atmosphere in all aspects. Whether it’s the restaurants you dine at, the art you observe, or the nature you enjoy, I promise it won’t take much to fall in love! Whether you visit for a weekend getaway, a week-long trip, or for life, don’t miss these recommendations.
5 Unique Things to Do in San Antonio
1. Enjoy the River Walk by Water
Located in San Antonio’s Downtown neighborhood, the River Walk often tops the list of Texas’s best attractions. This romantic area stretches fifteen miles on each side of the river and sits below street level. It’s full of charming storefronts, delicious restaurants, and quaint cafes.
Trust me, it’s very easy to stroll along and enjoy, and I’m not alone in this thinking – millions of visitors make their way here every year!
Now, if you want a truly unique way to enjoy the River Walk, why not by water? Specifically kayaking! While you can ride a river barge, Mission Kayak, part of Mission Adventure Tours, is the newest way to get around.
It all started with Sarah Neal, an ex-Air Force veteran whose early retirement came thanks to a debilitating car accident. Later she picked up kayaking to help deal with a heart illness, finding it therapeutic both physically and mentally. Given her newfound passion and the fact that her hometown was known for its river, it only made sense to try and bring kayaking to its most popular area! The only problem? The activity had been banned from the Downtown portion of the River Walk for over three decades!
Fate struck during the last two years as COVID drastically reduced the number of tourists to San Antonio. In order to bring locals back to the area, Mission Kayak was allowed to temporarily offer tours. When the first rounds of reservations sold out in a mere five hours, that temporary status soon became permanent.
Now you can reserve an unguided or guided tour for two hours and enjoy Texas’s #1 attraction in a whole new way!
2. Visit San Antonio Mission Reach
If you continue beyond the Downtown section of the River Walk, you’ll eventually come to what is known as the San Antonio Mission Reach. While ten years ago, you might have simply encountered an eight-mile-long drainage ditch, today it’s a thriving green space, formed by what’s considered the largest urban ecosystem restoration project in the country.
Instead of shops, cafes, and crowds, you’ll find a more peaceful area that connects four of the five missions that make up San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.
Texas Missions, similar to those found in other areas that were once part of New Spain, have a complicated history. After all, when these missions were built beginning in 1718, the intent was to convert as many local Native Americans, known as the Coahuiltecans, to Catholicism as possible. All of this occurred while Spain was also colonizing much of what is the present-day U.S. Southwest and parts of Mexico.
More than a church, these missions acted as communities. As a result, over the last three centuries, both Spanish and Native American traditions fused to create a culture wholly unique to South Texas. Today many of these early Coahuiletcans’ descendants still call the missions home and are proud to share their heritage with visitors.
If you have time for only one visit, make it Mission San Jose, also known as the Queen of the Missions. With over three hundred years of history, it’s the largest in Texas and even today is an active parish.
Do a tour with the mission’s descendants, like Epifanio and Gloria Hernandez. Their life stories are so intertwined with Mission San Jose that they can trace their lineage all the way back to its construction and they themselves even married here.
3. Witness as Things Get a Little Batty at Bracken Cave Preserve
If you visit San Antonio between March and September, make time to drive the 20 miles out to Bracken Cave Preserve before twilight.
During the day, all you’ll really see is a sinkhole with a crescent-shaped entrance. Don’t be deceived though. Within that cave is the world’s largest bat maternity colony. Over 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats call this cave home!
Whatever you do, do not go inside. The ammonium will absolutely kill you. Instead, wait at a distance for the sun to set to see something truly spectacular.
Once these nocturnal creatures know it’s time to go out, you’ll witness an incredible show as they begin to swarm around in a chaotic yet well-orchestrated dance. It truly is one of the most unique things to do in San Antonio!
The only way to visit is to make an advanced reservation with Bat Conservation International. The team here works tirelessly to protect not only the bats found at Bracken Cave but all over the world. They also aim to educate people on how ensuring bats’ ecosystems leads to a better planet all around.
4. Learn About the Medicinal Power of Food at Pharm Table
Even if you’ve never been to San Antonio, you may have heard of Elizabeth Johnson’s name. Dubbed the “Food as Medicine Guru” by the James Beard Foundation, Johnson has appeared in countless newspapers, television programs, and websites to share her holistic philosophy when it comes to what we put in our bodies.
Using Ayurvedic and Blue Zones cultural diets, she’s created a name for herself cooking dishes that are both delicious and act as medicine for the body. Her plant-forward cuisine is gluten-free, processed sugar-free, and dairy-free.
When you visit San Antonio, you must sit down for a meal at her restaurant, Pharm Table. It’s here that Johnson can really put her holistic approach to the test as she goes beyond just the dish itself but to the community from which she buys her ingredients.
You see when Johnson says she wants to help heal people, that goes beyond feeding them. It extends to the economy that surrounds her. When you sit down and order at Pharm Table, she wants you to know you’re truly eating something that’s helping not just yourself, not just her restaurant, but also local businesses as well.
I promise you will not be disappointed with your meal here! The collard greens alone, which will taste like no collard green I’ve had before, are worth the trip.
5. Enjoy the Art at Space C7 and Catch a Live Show under The Echo Bridge
Considering the care with which San Antonians have shown with preserving their roots, fostering old and new cuisines, and caring for their nature, it only makes sense they extend this same attitude towards the arts. Located in the South Side neighborhood, the Living & Maker Spaces is a sustainably repurposed warehouse that offers 65 affordable units for artists.
Be sure to check out Space C7, which is curated by Jeff Wheeler, and acts as both a contemporary art and music venue. If you can plan your trip around it, I definitely recommend attending one of the live shows under Echo Bridge down the hill from the property. One day Wheeler discovered he had the perfect music venue here and began to put together an event that would include both an art and music show for locals and visitors alike! Guests can buy drinks, check out the local art, and then sit across the river from whichever musician is performing at that event.
The best way to know when a show is coming up is to follow them on Instagram for announcements and places to buy tickets. When I went I was able to see Grammy-nominated Santiago Jimenez Jr., known for his contributions to conjunto music, a style his own father had helped pioneer.
And that’s all my tips for unique things to do in San Antonio, Texas from what to see and what to do! As you can see this is truly a place where history, nature, and food all collide to create a unique culture that locals foster with a passion. It’s this passion that has made us love each of our trips to this special city.