It’s that time of year again … time to plan a summer vacation. If you don’t have the time or money for a long vacation, why not take a staycation?
What’s a staycation?
It’s a vacation where you stay home, staying in your home town & exploring it.
If you live in San Antonio, Texas, I have some fun, free activities for your staycation. If you live somewhere else, scroll to the bottom of this post for your own staycation.
My kids have lots of favorite places to visit in San Antonio, but their top ones
I still remember spending a weekend in San Antonio and taking the kids to the Alamo. We were suppose to be camping about an hour from town, but it had been raining for several days. So, we packed up the tent and found a hotel in San Antonio. OK…so we didn’t have a staycation, but we did enjoy the most popular sights in San Antonio – the Alamo and the River Walk … whether or not you live in town or you’re looking for cheap, family-friendly activities in San Antonio.
On that rainy weekend when we were suppose to be camping, we visited the Alamo. It was Texas Independence Day on March 2nd, so they had re-enactors around the Alamo dressed as Texans and Mexicans. We experienced both sides of the Alamo and learned some history along the way. If you go to the Alamo, be sure to check out the interactive map before you walk around. It gives background info that will help your kids enjoy & learn as they walk through the buildings & gardens.
I also recommend Susannah of the Alamo as a read aloud before you go to the Alamo.
The other popular sight in San Antonio is the River Walk, also known as Paseo del Rio. Travel + Leisure ranks San Antonio’s River Walk as number one in America. Be sure to walk along the River Walk, taking in the sights and sounds. If you want to learn more about the area, take a boat ride (there is a slight fee for this ride). The guide will tell you more about San Antonio and the River Walk. If you want to splurge, make reservations to eat dinner on a river boat.
One of the oldest restaurants along the Riverwalk is the Casa Rio Mexican restaurant. I remember eating there, as a child several times. You’ll find lots of other restaurants along the way, as well as the River Center Mall. If you buy something in the mall, be sure to have the store validate your parking ticket so you can get free parking in the mall parking garage.
If you vacationing in San Antonio, you must visit the El Mercado. It’s free to walk around and get a sense of the hispanic culture from which San Antonio is founded. Remember that markets expect bargaining.
Be sure you eat at Mi Tierra Cafe. You’ll get authentic mexican food and enjoy the hispanic atmosphere.
(Some museums are listed under history or science)
From what I can tell, this museum has received a makeover and is now called The DoSeum. You can attend the Grand Opening on June 6-7.
As parents, you’ll love the museum’s mission of growing young minds & connecting families. What better way to enjoy a day with your kids. When my oldest, Ashley, was shooting at the state 4H shoot, I often took her younger siblings to this Children’s Museum. They loved it. First, it was air- conditioned and secondly, it has lots of hands-on experiments, creative arts activities, and early reading/science activities.
If you want to save some money, go to the museum on ‘Free Kids’ Night, which is every third Tuesday of the month from 6pm-8pm. NOTE: Starting in June, FREE KIDS’ NIGHT will move to the third Tuesday of the month to coincide with the city’s free parking after 5:00pm initiative! Free Kids’ Night in June will be offered both Tuesday, June 19th and Thursday, June 21st but will resume in July and continue on the third Tuesday of each month.
Be ready to see 4 locomotive steam engines with a true to life historic depot, preserved carriages, model railroads and automobiles on 3 different scales. Extremely kid-friendly and educational.
If you want to take your kids to an art museum, I highly recommend these two.
Marion McNay (American painter & art teacher)donated a Spanish colonial revival-style mansion to house this wonderful collection of 19th and 20th century European and American art. When you’re there, you’ll see impressive pieces by artists such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe, Diego Rivera and Mary Cassatt.
You, also, won’t want to miss the interior courtyard with a Japanese garden and fishpond. Your kids will be fascinated by the fishpond.
Special Programs for Kids & Families
Family Art Play:
Last Sunday of the month, 1:00 pm & 3:00 pm, free with museum admission. Family Art Play is a program for families that involves looking carefully at works of art and investigating a studio or performance component afterwards. McNay members reserve space by calling 210.805.1768 by noon Friday before the program. Nonmembers pick up remaining passes the day of the program. All family programs are free with museum admission.
Family Art Stroll:
Enjoy a program specifically for infants, toddlers and their caregivers. Tour the museum and participate in a related playtime. Meet at 10 am for children under 12 months; 11 am for toddlers. Call 210.805.1765 for more information.
When you visit, you’ll find one of the largest collections of ancient art from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Near East in a public museum. It is amazing! If you are walking along the River Walk, stop by to take in the gorgeous art work. This museum appeals to all ages, from young children to adults.
Fun Activities in San Antonio with History
Originally, the Alamo was a mission (church) in Texas. However, it is more well-known as a battleground between Texans & Mexicans. See above for more information about one of San Antonio’s most popular attractions.
Grab some popcorn and experience “Alamo…The Price of Freedom,” which is always showing at the San Antonio IMAX. This IMAX is a six-story screen and digital sound bringing the dramatic battle to life. When our kids were upper elementary & junior high ages, we watched this IMAX…thoroughly enjoying the sights & sounds.
The other IMAX films are constantly rotating so be sure to check listings here before you go. You might find wildlife films where horses run across the prairie and you’ll feel as if you’re right there with them. That’s why our family enjoys IMAX movies.
Did you know there are 4 missions still standing in San Antonio? Each week you can visit one mission and learn more about life in the 1700 & 1800’s.
After 10,000 years, the people of South Texas found their cultures, their very lives under attack. In the early 1700s Apache raided from the north, deadly diseases traveled from Mexico, and drought lingered. Survival lay in the missions. By entering a mission, they foreswore their traditional life to become Spanish, accepting a new religion and pledging fealty to a distant and unseen king.
Admission is free at each of these missions:
I hope we visit Buckhorn this summer on our family weekend getaway. Every August, we take our kids (& their families) away for a weekend. It’s a time for us to relax & getaway. Steve loves the old west, so I think it’s time we’ll visit Buckhorn. For over 131 years, people have gathered for good food, conversation & interesting wildlife.
The Buckhorn Saloon has an extensive wildlife and horn collection, three floors of furniture crafted from horns and antlers, and a collection of “Rattlesnake Art.” Your kids will love the the wildlife and horn collection, as well as the Texas History Wax Museum. If you’re looking for a fun way to discover more about Texas history, this is it. You’ll can see live performances by gunslingers, cowboy singers, and trick ropers.
In addition to the Buckhorn Museum, you can also visit the Texas Rangers Museum. If your kids are into revolvers, knives or sawed off shotguns, they will love this museum. They can try out the “shooting range” which has a bench for parents to wait as their children shoot over & over & over. There’s actually a re-creation of San Antonio at the turn of the twentieth century, called Ranger Town.
If your kids want to return to the museum, you can enjoy a free entrance the next day, as long as you bring your receipt.
This is a great family activity if you have teenagers who like scary movies!
Science & Adventure
Although I thought the San Antonio Zoo was a bit expensive, it was a fun place to visit with your kids. (I grew up going to the Houston Zoo which was free at the time). The Zoo is the 3rd largest zoo and ranked as one of the Top 10 Zoos for Kids. You’ll discover over 8,500 animals, including exotic ones you’d never expect to see in Texas.
A few tips about your visit: Remember to use sunscreen. Be sure to check the Zoo website for coupons before your trip. You might also find coupons on your phone. If you want to visit the area around the Zoo, take a train ride right outside the Zoo. You should be able to find coupons for the train ride, as well.
Perfect place for a picnic!
When the kids were young (8 and under), we had a picnic at Brackenridge Park. At the age of 3, Hunter spent lots of time watching the squirrels and trying to feed them. He loved watching squirrels. Come to think of it, he did the same thing 5 years later in Washington DC.
You can take the train ride around Brackenridge Park for a fun way to see everything. Then, you can choose where to spend your time … at the Japanese Tea Garden, San Antonio Zoo, Witte Museum or Sunken Garden Theatre.
I’ve heard of the Witte Museum since I was a kid, but didn’t visit until I took my own kids. Believe it or not, this museum has a 4-story tree house, mummies and dinosaur bones. Your kids will love it! You’ll also find an enormous amount of science activities. Don’t miss the Sky-cycle ride that takes you 15’ in the air. Be sure to ask about the current exhibit to determine if you want to add this to your regular ticket.
Admission is free on Tuesdays from 3 pm until 8 pm. Free Tuesdays are generously supported by Bolner’s Fiesta Products, Inc., BBVA Compass Bank, Macy’s, and NFA Wealth Management.
Sea World was the first attraction we took our kids to in San Antonio many, many years ago. It is awesome and still is one of Ashley’s favorite trips to San Antonio! Kids and adults will enjoy all the animals and shows. If you start getting hot in the Texas sun, head to the penguin exhibit. You’ll definitely cool down.
Another place you don’t want to miss is the pool where your kids can pet dolphins & stingrays. My kids were all under 8 years old and they loved petting the dolphins. Of course, you can also enjoy the traditional shows with Shamu the killer whale, beluga whales, dolphins & sea lions.
When I was young, my parents took me to the original Sea World in San Diego, so I wanted to be sure my kids experienced the same fun.
Whether your kids are young or old, Fiesta Texas has attractions for all of them. We visited Fiesta Texas when our kids were under the age of 10 and found plenty of fun rides for them. Of course, I also found discounted tickets before we arrived.
We especially liked White Water Bay being connected to the rides areas. We were able to enjoy the water park during the hot hours of the day and then return to the amusement park rides when we were finished riding the water attractions. If your kids are thrill seekers, they will find plenty of spine-tingling roller coasters.
One of our favorite times of our visit was watching the fireworks and laser light show at night. You’ll get a July fourth display every night at Fiesta Texas.
Day Trips from San Antonio
Natural Bridge Caverns is about 30-45 minutes drive north from San Antonio and well worth the visit. We visited Natural Bridge Caverns last year on our family weekend getaway, for the first time. We really liked the self-guided tour where you walk at your own pace, stopping where park rangers were stationed to hear more about the formations. Your kids will enjoy walking down into the chilly caverns during a hot Texas summer. If you’re homeschooling, be sure to read up on stalagmites & stalactites before or after you visit.
Besides the caverns, kids of all ages can try the Canopy Challenge or try to find their way through the Amazen’ Round Up (5000 square foot outdoor maze). Or, you can try your had at mining at the Mining Company, looking for gems, fossils and other treasures.
You can bring a picnic to enjoy or try out Daddy’s Sweets, Treats and Brew, an old-fashioned parlor and general store.
In south Texas, it’s a given: When the temperatures reach over 100 degrees (sometimes as early as May!), it’s time to grab a tube, load up your ice chest, and jump in the river. Our family has floated the Guadalupe several times & had a terrific time; it usually lasts 2-4 hours.
Rockin’ R River Rides rents tubes with or without bottoms. Their motto is “Remember our bottom will save your bottom.” If you aren’t ready to sit in a tube, try a ‘1 Man’ raft or a ‘2 Man’ raft. They look like inflatable kayaks. Also, they rent larger rafts for up to 6 people and your ice chest.
NOTE: With several colleges nearby, the Guadalupe River is a huge party on the weekends and much of the summer. Rockin’ R advertises that weekdays and Sundays are family friendly so if you have young children, these are the best times.”
There is nothing better to combat the summer heat than tubing down the Guadalupe River. Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
Splurge Activity in San Antonio
I completely forgot about this activity until Steve said it was his favorite memory of all the family activities we’ve done in San Antonio. So, I must share it with you. Tower of the Americas
About 5 years ago, we hosted a weekend conference on the River Walk. One night we took the speakers to eat dinner on the top of the Tower of the Americas. What an awesome view. As you are eating your meal, the restaurant rotates around the tower. It’s an awesome view, especially at sunset.
If dinner is too expensive, you can still go to the observation deck for a fantastic view of San Antonio.
The same weekend we atop the Tower of the Americas, my kids had one of their other favorite San Antonio activities – attending a San Antonio Spurs game. Steve & I had to host business associates that night, so the kids attended the game by themselves. They were shocked when they found their seats – 5th row from the court.
Question: What’s your favorite thing to do on a staycation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Other Staycation ideas across the country, alphabetized by state.
A – D
Phoenix, Arizona — Saving For Someday
Fresno, California — Living A Frugal Life
Orange County, California — More With Less Today
San Diego, California — Southern Cali Saver
Denver, Colorado — Bargain Blessings
Washington, District of Columbia — Kidventurous
F – I
Disney World, Florida — The Happy Housewife
Jacksonville, Florida — Saving The Family Money
Orlando, Florida — Coupon Mamacita
St Augustine, Florida — Simply St. Augustine
Tallahasse, Florida — SwagGrabber
Tampa Bay, Florida — LaToyaEdwards.net
Atlanta, Georgia — Pretty Frugal Diva
Dahlonega, Georgia — Kathys Cluttered Mind
Savannah, Georgia — This Mommy Saves Money
Aurora/Chicago, Illinois — A Savings WOW!
Chicago, Illinois — Entertaining Chicago
Indianapolis, Indiana — Chaos Is Bliss
K – P
Lexington, Kentucky — Homeschool Village
Louisville, Kentucky — The Kennedy Adventures
Northern Kentucky, Kentucky — Simply Sherryl
Carroll County, Maryland — Looking at life CreativLEI
Boston, Massachusetts — Maven of Savin
Battle Creek, Michigan — Pichea Place
Grand Rapids, Michigan — Give Me Neither
Metro Detroit, Michigan — Saving Dollars and Sense
Kansas City Area, Missouri/Kansas — Redefined Mom
Omaha, Nebraska — Family Fun in Omaha
Central, New Jersey — Our Good Life
Cincinnati, Ohio — Adventure Mom
Cleveland, Ohio — Kosher on a Budget
Columbus, Ohio — Cleverly Simple
Dayton, Ohio — Savings Lifestyle
Mansfield & Richland County, Ohio — The Traveling Praters
Miami County, Ohio — Something 2 Offer
Northeast, Ohio — Sisters Shopping on a Shoestring
Portland, Oregon — Frugal Living NW
Harrisburg/Central, PA — Family Balance Sheet
Erie, Pennsylvania — Growing Kids Ministry
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Moms Need To Know
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — The Coupon High
R – W
Arlington, Texas — Grocery Shop For FREE
Fort Worth, Texas — Coupons and Freebies Mom
Houston, Texas — Melissa’s Bargains
Katy, Texas — Moms Confession
San Antonio, Texas — How to Homeschool My Child
Tyler, Texas — iLoveMy5Kids
Charlottesville, Virgina — How to Have it All
Norfolk, Virgina — The Talking Suitcase
Richmond, Virgina — Vacation Maybe
Seattle, Washington — Thrifty NW Mom
Tacoma/South Puget Sound, Washington — Queen Bee Coupons
Oshkosh, Wisconsin — A Little Bit of This and That
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