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When to go
Visitors flock to San Antonio throughout the year. But the busiest times are during the long Texas summer, even though it’s uncomfortably hot and sticky and occasionally rainy, especially in May and June. May through early September is peak tourist season, with families on school vacation, so expect long lines to get into landmarks and amusement parks. The next busiest times are in March, when families and students flock to San Antonio for Spring Break, and April, when expat San Antonians and visitors come for the city’s annual Fiesta, an 11-day citywide party that includes a whirlwind weekend of parades, music, food and more than 150 cultural events.
For those not attached to school schedules, a good time to visit is from late September to mid-April, for moderate temperatures and fantastic weather for dining al fresco. The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a great time to explore the River Walk and enjoy the holiday lights and hanging piñatas everywhere. Just know that you're rolling the dice with the weather early in the year, because January and February can be warm and gorgeous or cold and miserable — or both in the same week.
Ways to save: Hotel rates dip slightly in December and January, so you’re more likely to score sweet deals then.
Where to stay
For a delightful dose of historic ambience, consider such gems as the St. Anthony, a National Historic Landmark; Sheraton Gunter, where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson recorded many of his famous songs; the Victorian Fairmount Hotel; the hip Hotel Havana; or the Menger Hotel, where Teddy Roosevelt is said to have recruited his Rough Riders. The 146-room Hotel Emma is an 1894 landmark that anchors the Pearl Brewery development.
Charming B&Bs near downtown offer a bit more intimacy, such as the Brackenridge House, Inn on the Riverwalk and Jackson House. The big name-brand hotels, such as the Grand Hyatt, Westin Riverwalk, Marriott Riverwalk or Marriott Rivercenter, are always solid choices. For more luxury, consider two on the River Walk: the boutique Hotel Valencia and the Mokara. In nearby Hill Country, luxury options include La Cantera, Éilan and two golf resorts with waterparks (great for the grandkids) — the JW Marriott and the Hyatt Regency Hill Country.
Ways to save: Home rental agencies like HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb may save you money over a hotel stay. You can find good rental deals near downtown, in the historic and charming areas of King William and Monte Vista. Or book the wallet-friendly Drury Inn, Homewood Suites or Towne Place Suites.
How to get there
Ways to save: Many of the city’s hotels offer a complimentary shuttle, so check when you book your room. The airport has a hotel kiosk with a courtesy phone. The city’s bus service, VIA, goes to downtown for $1.30. It offers door-to-door paratransit service with advance reservation. An ADA-compliant SuperShuttle costs $15 from the airport to downtown. Ride services, such as Uber or Lyft, offer cost-effective transportation — but watch out for surge pricing at busy times.
Activities to arrange before you go
Even though San Antonio is a last-minute kind of town, reservations for the city’s hottest restaurants are usually a must. Skip at least one line and buy tickets in advance for a narrated cruise on the River Walk with Go Rio River Cruises. If you have the grandkids along or just enjoy amusement parks, get your tickets for SeaWorld San Antonio (mostly accessible) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas (fully accessible) in advance to avoid the ticketing lines. If you want a guided tour of the Alamo, buy your tickets at least 24 hours ahead.
Ways to save: Buy a package of tickets from Go San Antonio Card to save up to 40 percent on admission to museums and theme parks, including a hop-on, hop-off city tour. Print out coupons from the San Antonio Tourism Council and save at some of the city’s most popular attractions.
What to pack
San Antonio is a very casual city, accustomed to hosting guests from all over the world. Shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops rule, especially if you're downtown at the popular attractions. That’s fine, but if you’re going to a sit-down restaurant, go business casual, with comfortable walking shoes, khakis or nice shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. At night, dress smartly, and you’ll look like an executive or a savvy local.
The weather can be unpredictable. Make sure to pack an umbrella. Not only does it protect you from a sudden rainstorm, it’s great to provide shade on those 100-plus-degree days.
Overall, San Antonio is a safe destination, with property crimes falling 9 percent over the past six years. The city saw a spike in violence in 2016, but those crimes dropped by 6 percent in 2017 and didn't involve visitors. Even though it may feel like a small town, it is a big city, requiring commonsenseprecautions. Avoid walking alone at night, stay in more populated areas and always keep your purse or wallet secure. Also, be cautious around the edge of the River Walk, which doesn't have railings.