As Texas’ second largest city, San Antonio is buzzing with activities. From its festive atmosphere to its warm weather, parks, and many dining opportunities, San Antonio knows how to keep its guests coming back for more.
But, just because the city has lots to do doesn’t mean those things come cheap. If you’re writing up a US backpacking trip on a shoestring budget, knowing which things to do in San Antonio for free can be helpful.
So without further ado, here are the best free things to do in San Antonio to ensure you get the most out of your visit.
If you know where to look, you’ll find plenty of free attractions in San Antonio.
1. The Alamo
The Alamo is an important part of San Antonio’s history. The grounds played a pivotal part in the battle for Texas’ independence from Mexico.
The church or ‘shrine’ is the most important structure on the grounds. You can visit it for free with a timed ticket reserved online. With your ticket in hand, you can still see some evidence of the 1836 battle.
Inside the church are also a few exhibitions detailing the structure’s history and some memorabilia.
The Riverwalk is a public park that offers al fresco dining, activities, and fun free things to do in San antonio.
The 15-mile walk is open 24/7 to everyone in the family– including your leashed dog. There are three sections to visit on the walk.
The Downtown Reach is the most popular section and sees the most boutiques, restaurants, and bars. The Museum Reach has several free museums.
And lastly, Mission Reach has five frontier missions, including one that is UNESCO-protected.
After soaking up the sights of the river and its beautiful shops alongside it, stop by one of the many restaurants or pubs.
3. Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden is tucked away in Brackenridge Park, which is another free park to visit. Within this scenic hidden gem, there are a few things to do. The Japanese Tea Garden is one of them.
The garden is open every day from dusk until dawn. It is a 0.3-mile loop trail through the tranquil greenery, which takes about seven minutes to complete.
On your walk, you’ll have ample time for birdwatching, fish spotting in the Koi Gardens, and having a snack at the cafe
4. Art Pace
If you’re an art lover, you’ll enjoy all the culture and artistically rich areas San Antonio offers. First, a car dealership called Hudson. This art gallery has since expanded to more than just steel and wheels.
Art Pace is a non-profit organization that supports local, national, and international artists allowing them to exhibit their artworks. Expect to see all forms of art from film, music, paintings, murals, and more.
One of the best months to visit is in October, when artists participate in Chalk It Up. Here, they express themselves in full color through chalk drawings outside the venue.
5. Pearl Brewery
The Pearl Brewery closed down after 118 years of production but has now been revived. Today, it is a popular shopping center that offers live events, restaurants, bars, shops, and living areas.
The Pearl also has a weekend market where shoppers can window shop through the many stalls. Saturdays are reserved for the farmer’s market, while Sundays are for local artisans to showcase their art.
The markets also showcase live local and national artists through live performances and music. Arrive early as both markets close around 1 pm.
6. Visit a Park
San Antonio has many free parks you can stretch your legs in. Here are a few that you should not miss.
Brackenridge Park is probably the most well-known park in the city. Many families gather here for picnics under the trees, a game of fetch, or a leisurely Sunday stroll. The park opens daily from 5 am to 11 pm.
Besides the Japanese Tea Garden, the park also has the Sunken Garden Theater, which offers occasional free performances. There are also a few walking trails, birdwatching opportunities, and grills for your afternoon picnics.
Comanche Lookout Park is an awesome park to visit if you’re an avid hiker. There are about four trails ranging in length but all relatively easy, so even novices can enjoy the thrilling sounds of nature. Bring your dog along for a family outing too.
San Pedro Springs Park is often heralded as the second oldest park in the United States. If weather permits, you can swim laps at the park’s public swimming pool.
If it’s a bit chilly, you can warm up at the park’s tennis center or have kids jumping around the playground.
7. Historic Market Square
If you’re seeking the feel of a Mexican city center but without the cost of flights, visit the free San Antonio market square.
The market square has been running since the early 1700s and has kept that same lively atmosphere throughout the years. Colorful flags line your way down the market with over 100 local shops.
Live Mariachi and Tejano music serenade your shopping experience in the background.
As for shopping options, there are many items to rummage through. Expect to see pottery, handcrafted gifts, colorful clothing, and more souvenirs.
While not free, the smell of the food will definitely grab your attention. If you’re lucky, you might score a few testers.
8. La Villita Historic Arts Village
La Villita Historic Arts Village is one of the free activities in San Antonio you cannot miss.
Located south of San Antonio River and the city’s first neighborhood, this quaint arts village may be small but has lots of character and vibrance. It is downtown and serves as a hub for local artisans to showcase their handmade crafts.
The area has over 25 shops and galleries. They also host communal events a few times a year for local artists and residents to sing, dance, and be merry.
9. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
History is a very important thing in San Antonio, which is why one of the best cheap things to do in San Antonio is to visit the UNESCO-protected San Antonio Mission.
This mission is the only UNESCO-protected heritage site in the whole of Texas. The site is an enclosure of five mission complexes stretching across the San Antonio basin. These were built in the 18th century by Spaniards attempting to colonize the area.
The Spanish and Coahuiltecan cultural influence can be seen throughout the architectural design of all these still standing missions.
10. See Free Art Works
San Antonio is an oasis for many artists of many mediums. There are a few places where you can see these artists’ work for free.
Blue Star Arts Complex
This non-profit venue offers free admission to its ever-changing exhibitions. Artworks range from paintings, photographs, prints, and paintings.
Try to visit closer to the weekend as the museum is only open from Thursday to Sunday for a few hours.
San Antonio Art League and Museum
This gallery and museum were once a home in the heart of the city. Now it is a gathering place for art enthusiasts to see over 600 permanent artworks from Texians.
You can visit Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 am to 3 pm to see art in all forms, including portraits, sculptures, films, and paintings.
If you’re a San Antonian or Bexar County resident, you get free entry to this western-themed museum every first Sunday of the month.
The museum showcases rotating exhibitions and permanent galleries. All offer insights into the past and present residents of the city.
The McNay Art Museum
Generally, The McNay Art Museum has an admission fee, but you can bypass the fee if you visit at the right time. On Thursdays between 4 pm to 9 pm as well as on the first Sunday of the month, you can enter free of charge.
This museum is more contemporary than others on the list and exhibits traditional art mediums like paint, clay, and drawings alongside abstract artworks.
They also have quite an extensive collection of over 20 000 artworks that they’ve been growing since 1954.
One of the essential things for traveling to the USA is knowing what you can do for free in every state or city.
If you’re looking for things to do for free in San Antonio, the city has plenty of places to discover and celebrate its history, culture, and arts. They offer insight that could be considered better than what most paid museums and galleries can offer.
So, if you’re ever in Texas, don’t be afraid to stop by the Alamo City for a quick history lesson free of charge.
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