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 alfresco. 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.
Where to stay
For a delightful dose of historic ambience, consider such finer gems as the St. Anthony, a National Historic Landmark; the Sheraton Gunter, where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson recorded many of his famous songs; the Menger Hotel, where Teddy Roosevelt is said to have recruited his Rough Riders in its bar; or the Hotel Emma, an 1894 landmark that anchors the Pearl development.
While high-end is nice, budget-conscious travelers looking for a fab location at affordable rates can easily find them downtown. The Hotel Gibbs stands catercorner to the Alamo, the Emily Morgan (a DoubleTree by Hilton) towers next door, and nearby with a nice pool is Tru By Hilton. There are many other budget-friendly hotels not far from the famed mission’s walls.
Quaint B&Bs, most in the King William District, stand along a quiet stretch of the River Walk not far from downtown and offer a bit more intimacy. These include the Brackenridge House, the Oge House, O’Casey’s Boutique Inn and Jackson House.
Big-name brand hotels, such as Embassy Suites by Hilton River Walk, the Grand Hyatt, Marriott Riverwalk and Marriott Rivercenter, are solid choices, too.
Ways to save: Home rental agencies like HomeAway, Vrbo and Airbnb may save you money. Find good rental deals near downtown, in the historic King William District and Monte Vista. Or book the wallet-friendly Drury Inn, Homewood Suites, Hotel Indigo River Walk or Towne Place Suites.
How to get there
Fly into San Antonio International Airport (SAT) or, if you can find a better deal, to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (about 65 miles from San Antonio). Amtrak also serves the city at Sunset Station, not far from downtown. Taxis and ride-booking companies such as Uber or Lyft serve both.
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, takes travelers downtown for $1.30 (with discounted rates of only 60 cents for seniors). There is also door-to-door paratransit service with advance reservation. An ADA-compliant airport shuttle costs $15 from the airport to downtown. Ride-booking services, such as Uber or Lyft, offer cost-effective transportation, but watch for surge pricing during 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 and attractions 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. SeaWorld San Antonio is also home to Aquatica, a large water park. For a guided tour of the Alamo, buy your tickets at least 24 hours ahead. Also buy tickets in advance online for Sea Life San Antonio aquarium and LEGOLAND Discovery Center, both downtown.
Ways to save: Buy an explorer pass from Go City San Antonio, and visit the website of the San Antonio Visitor Alliance for coupons offering up to 40 percent discounts on admission to numerous museums, theme parks, water parks and other attractions. Printable coupons for downtown and River Walk–area attractions, including some River Walk restaurants, are also available online from the San Antonio River Walk Association.
What to pack
San Antonio is a very casual city, accustomed to hosting guests from all over the world. Shorts, T-shirts and sandals rule on sunny days, especially downtown at popular attractions. But for dining at sit-down restaurants or for an evening out, go business casual, with comfortable walking shoes, khakis, nice shorts, summer dresses or short-sleeved shirts. Dress smartly at night, and you’ll look like an executive or a savvy local.
The weather can be unpredictable. Make sure to pack an umbrella for a sudden rain shower and to provide shade on 100-plus-degree summer days
Overall, San Antonio is a safe destination with a lower crime rate than similarly sized metro areas. Property crimes have fallen more than 4 percent over the past several years, and most violent crimes didn’t involve visitors. Yet even though San Antonio feels like a friendly small town, it’s a big city requiring commonsense precautions. 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.
If you’re going to focus your visit on the top attractions, don’t bother with the hassle of driving. Stay downtown and you can walk almost everywhere or catch a quick ride. One caveat if you plan to drive: Downtown is changing fast, with construction closing and opening different streets every day. Even the best apps don’t keep up with the constantly changing road closures, so be prepared for detours.
Buses: VIA, a program of the local bus service, serves all the main attractions. It’s an easy-to-use and inexpensive way to explore the city at your own pace. An all-day pass costs $2.75. Buy tickets on the bus or with the goMobile app. VIA offers ADA-compliant buses and paratransit services. VIA buses offer discounts for adults 62 and older from its customer service centers.
Taxis/ride booking: Cabs are readily available throughout the city. The biggest players — Yellow Cab, San Antonio Taxis and Payless Taxi — allow riders to book through apps and online. Yellow Cab charges the same fares for wheelchair-accessible taxis as for its standard cabs. Cars from services like Uber or Lyft are seemingly everywhere. Be careful of surge pricing at crowded Fiesta and Day of the Dead events. Fares vary according to demand, distance and type of car requested.
Bike sharing/rentals: San Antonio Bike Share offers more than 500 bicycles downtown and along the Museum and Mission Reach portions of the River Walk through BCycle San Antonio. Buy a pass, check out a bike at a self-serve station, and you’re good to go. To be sure, San Antonio is much more of an automobile city, but the most visitor-oriented portions of the city are bike-friendly, especially the city’s river trails and downtown.
You can rent your own bike, too. At Pearl (formerly Pearl Brewery), Bike World offers easy access to the Museum Reach, adjacent neighborhoods and downtown. A little south of downtown, Blue Star Bicycling Co. offers bikes just steps from the river bike trail and the Mission Reach. End your ride with a cold one at the adjacent brewpub, the Blue Star Brewing Co.
River barges: The barges of Go Rio River Cruises, a wonderfully civilized way to get around, are available as Rio Taxis (river taxis) from downtown to the Museum Reach. Buy your shuttle ticket on the boat or at any of the Go Rio ticket booths along the downtown stretch of the River Walk.
Accessibility: San Antonio is much more accessible than you might think. The sidewalks and curb cuts throughout downtown are mostly in good condition. The city has made great strides in improving its accessibility, especially along the River Walk. Seven access ramps descend from street level, and some 10 elevators throughout downtown lead to the River Walk. Two of the best elevators are near the Hyatt Regency and the Swig Martini Bar. Wheelchair users can now cross the river via an accessible bridge. Printable maps help guide River Walk visitors to elevators and ramps.
SeaWorld offers an accessibility guide to help guests with disabilities. Six Flags Fiesta Texas offers an Attraction Access Pass for disabled guests with a doctor’s note. San Antonio is also home to Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first amusement park designed primarily for special-needs guests, but those of all abilities can enjoy it.