Passionate About San Antonio
and the Moms Who Live Here

The Art of Summer: Museums in San Antonio

If summer is melting your sanity and you’ve run out of ideas on what you can do to escape the house and the heat—and the incessant whining of “I’m bored!”—make an artful escape to an art museum.

Did I hear a snort or detect an eye roll? When you think of kids at an art museum, do you have visions of them running through the museum destroying priceless works of art? I’ll admit that was something I feared. But guess what—most museums not only welcome children, they actually encourage them to visit. Children may not be able to touch the works of art (by the way, we grownups need to keep our hands to ourselves, too), but that doesn’t mean they can’t visit, enjoy, and maybe learn a thing or two.

For the record, I don’t have a degree in art history, I am far from an art expert, and my artistic ability is limited to stick figures. What I do know about art is limited to what I’ve picked up attending museums and enjoying exhibitions—which is also why I decided to start taking my son to see art. And San Antonio is home to some amazing museums, so we have ample opportunity to stay cool, enjoy some art, and expose our little ones to something new.

One of our favorite pieces in San Antonio: a glass ceiling designed by American artist Dale Chihuly.

One of our favorite pieces in San Antonio: a glass ceiling designed by American artist Dale Chihuly, part of the collection at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

To dip our toes into everything that San Antonio has to offer for anyone who wants to explore art, our first adventure was to the McNay Art Museum. Named for founder Marion Koogler McNay, the McNay is the first museum of modern art in Texas, and its more than 20,000 piece collection is fantastic. Many people have no idea that you can see Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, and more, right here in San Antonio. And the museum itself is gorgeous. Once a family home, the McNay is a great space to explore with your family. The shaded, art-filled grounds are fantastic for picnics—you can also have fun counting turtles in the pond or the fish in the fountains.

The interior courtyard of the McNay features terrific landscaping, sculptures and fish. It's fun to sit back and think about what it must have been like to actually live there when it was a family home.

The interior courtyard of the McNay features terrific landscaping, sculptures, and fish. It’s fun to sit back and think about what it must have been like to actually live there when it was a family home.

The grounds of the McNay are great for exploring--and your littles will have no idea that they're actually enjoying art!

The grounds of the McNay are great for exploring–and your littles will have no idea that they’re actually enjoying art!

Even better: children and teens are FREE at the McNay, making it an inexpensive option for some cool summer fun. Anyone 19 and under can visit the museum for free, while the entire family can enjoy the museum for free on Thursday nights (4:00–9:00 P.M.) and on the first Sunday of the month (noon–5:00 P.M.) The second Thursday of each month the McNay hosts “Second Thursdays,” with music, food, and drinks (6:00–9:00 P.M.), featuring free general admission and free museum tours at 6:30 P.M. and 7:30 P.M. For a great overview of everything you can enjoy with your kids at the McNay, check out Inga’s terrific post, Introducing Your Kids to Art Appreciation at the McNay Art Museum.

Another spot we enjoy is the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). On the banks of the river’s Museum Reach, SAMA takes you around the world with collections of Latin American, Asian, and Ancient Mediterranean art. There’s also a terrific contemporary collection, and like the McNay, the museum’s buildings and grounds are also fun to check out. Housed in the former Lone Star Brewery, the museum is a complex of buildings with the river in its backyard. Majestic trees shade much of the grounds, and the view overlooking the River Walk is wonderful. It’s also a fun place to walk to from The Pearl, so we’ve been known to start our weekends checking out the flavors of the Pearl Farmer’s Market and walk the river to SAMA.

San Antonio Museum of Art's side yard, featuring sculpture and a great view of the River Walk.

San Antonio Museum of Art’s side yard, featuring sculpture and a great view of the River Walk.

SAMA’s full collection includes almost 30,000 works that span 5,000 years of history, so there’s a little something for everyone. Children 12 and under receive free general admission to SAMA, and thanks to weekly free hours, you can check it out with your littles without breaking your adventure budget. General admission to SAMA is free on Tuesday nights (4:00–9:00 P.M.) and on Sunday mornings (10:00 A.M.–noon).

Still wondering if kids really are welcome? I promise, they are. SAMA even offers guides to help you engage your children while you enjoy the collection. With ideas that include riding their glass elevators to get a different view of the galleries and laying on the floor to count the number of cherubs in its beautiful Chihuly glass ceiling, the guide was a big hit with my son on a recent visit. (We also kept our eyes on the ceiling while we “gently” spun in circles and got dizzy. Art appreciation comes in all shapes, sizes, and activities!)

Dale Chihuly's "Persian Ceiling" featured in SAMA. Doesn't it look perfect to spin around under so the colors blur?!?

Dale Chihuly’s “Persian Ceiling” featured in SAMA. Doesn’t it look perfect to spin around under so the colors blur?!?

SAMA’s self-guided activities for families and the guides they offer for each of their collection have really helped us enjoy the museum. The information helps those of us who are art-challenged explain different styles of art or the topics featured in some of the works. The guides feature symbols that kids can look for in each gallery, engaging them and giving them a bit of a scavenger hunt to play as you go through the exhibits.

Another activity we enjoyed: SAMA’s art card for kids. Highlighting the Samurai “Suit of Parade Armor” in the Japanese gallery, it gives you things to discuss with your littles before they can create their own family crest. Like many boys, getting my son to sit still and draw something isn’t always easy, but having this concrete example to discuss and imagine helped spur him along.

I had to explain that no, this woman is not encased in carbonite like Han Solo. So if you're wondering how to discuss ancient sculpture with your littles, don't be afraid to bring up Star Wars.

I had to explain that no, this woman is not encased in carbonite like Han Solo. So if you’re wondering how to discuss ancient sculpture with your littles, don’t be afraid to bring up Star Wars.

SAMA has also compiled a counting tour for kids and a color tour, giving parents easy guides to have in hand as you explore the galleries. Just ask for the guides at the information desk and you’ll have something for your littles to look for as you tour each exhibit. The museum also has a great series of bilingual board books that help little ones get into art. With books on numbers, colors, and animals, the series is a fun way to spur little art fans.

This piece in SAMA's collection gave us all sorts of things to talk about, including how we DO NOT paint, draw or color on furniture. Let's leave that to the professionals!

This piece in SAMA’s collection gave us all sorts of things to talk about, including how we DO NOT paint, draw, or color on furniture. Let’s leave that to the professionals!

We have one more San Antonio museum on our summer exploration list: the Briscoe Western Art Museum. We’re looking forward to exploring the American West and checking out all things cowboy, a sure hit for almost any little cowpoke. Like SAMA and the McNay, the Briscoe welcomes smaller visitors and features programming designed for pint-sized cowboys and cowgirls. The museum also offers free admission on Tuesday nights (4:00–9:00 P.M.), perfect to take advantage of free parking on Downtown Tuesdays. And if you’re active duty military, you and your family are always admitted free through Briscoe’s military salute program.

July at the Briscoe also features Briscoe Blast: National Day of the Cowboy on Saturday, July 23rd, with special activities and free admission all day. Who can resist the fun of stick horses, chuck wagons, and cowboys?!? And to help us enjoy the museum, we’ll be following Inga’s great hints.

So stay cool, get over your museum fears, and add some art to your summer (winter, spring, and fall!). Your little cowboys and Picassos, as well as your sanity, will thank you for it!

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