Can I let you in on a secret? San Antonio is the top tourist destination in Texas. OK, so that’s not really a secret. Our fabulous city has great museums, fun activities, and cool things to explore, so of course people want to come visit.
But did you know that most of these terrific places offer free hours and events that give you the opportunity to enjoy them at no cost? That’s right—free. Gratis. Complimentary. Easy on a mom’s pocketbook, and a secret bonus: while your kids are enjoying themselves, they’ll be learning something too. (You might want to keep that to yourself.) Or, sneak way for a day date or a girls’ night and enjoy some adult conversation while you soak in some culture, art, and fun. (We won’t tell.)
I promise you it’s OK to play tourist in your hometown. Don’t let visitors have all the fun! Below is a list of days and times you can visit a variety of local attractions, as well as some special family events you might want to check out. Jump in and explore San Antonio, all free of charge. And if you like what you see, consider becoming a member or supporting these fantastic institutions another way. They’re all nonprofits and help make our community the fabulous spot we all love.
Did you know that one of Texas’ most visited landmarks never charges a fee? That’s right—there’s actually never a charge to see the Alamo. Entrance to the Alamo church and grounds is always free. Don’t let the tourists scare you—take your kids, roam the grounds, and soak in some history.
Fun event to note: On the first Saturday of every month, the grounds of the Alamo are transformed back in time to the 1830s. Learn about life in frontier Texas with special demonstrations and crafts from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. on the first Saturday of each month. To learn more and check out other special events, check out the Alamo’s event calendar.
The Briscoe is a fun gem that gives your kids a peek into western life, housed in a beautiful building that’s just down from the Arneson River Theater on the River Walk. Officially, the Briscoe “preserves and interprets the art, history, and culture of the American West through engaging exhibitions, educational programs, and public events reflective of the region’s rich traditions and shared heritage.” What does that mean for a six-year-old boy (or girl)? He (or she) gets to learn about cowboys. For a mom’s perspective on the Briscoe, check out Inga’s visit with her son.
Every Tuesday, from 4:00–9:00 P.M., the Briscoe offers free admission. Cool to know: the museum offers a special program for families, Lil Partners, that includes “Buckaroo Bags” to help engage your kids in the museum. It also regularly hosts other free events, like a fabulous Lego program offered during Spring Break and a celebration of the National Day of the Cowboy. And the free Story Time Stampede is offered the second Saturday of each month, 11:00 A.M.–noon and 1:00–2:00 P.M. You can check out what’s ahead on the museum’s event calendar.
I’m pretty sure unless you just moved to town in the last 15 minutes, if you’re a mom in San Antonio, you’ve heard about the DoSeum. It’s local favorite, and many of us have children who can spend hours and hours exploring all there is to do. But did you know that you can visit for free twice a month? H-E-B Free Family Night is offered the first and third Tuesday of each month from 5:30–7:30 P.M.
UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures shares stories of the immigrants who settled in Texas and contributed to the unique melting pot of cultures, traditions, flavors, music, and art that make Texas what it is. Home to the incredibly popular Texas Folklife Festival (held in June each year), the institute is a great way to help kids understand more about cultures that have influenced our state.
While you may not have visited ITC, I’m sure you’ve driven by it. Located at Hemisfair, steps from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Tower of the Americas, the museum is family-friendly and includes many hands-on elements for children. You can enjoy its Second Sunday programs, with free admission and special programs highlighting different cultures, each month. To see what culture is featured, just check the calendar. Important to note: there is no Second Sunday program in June, but you can enjoy the Texas Folklife Festival instead. And if you’re a military family, ITC offers free admission for active duty military and dependents Memorial Day through Labor Day, so definitely add it to your summer explorations.
The McNay is a San Antonio treasure. The grounds are gorgeous—and perfect for picnicking—and the art collection is fantastic. Many people have no idea that you can see Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, and more, right here in San Antonio. Once a family home, the McNay is a great space to explore with your family. And yes, you can introduce your kids to art, and YES, they are welcome at the McNay. For another mom’s take on exposing kids to art, check out Inga’s post about the McNay, or my summer of art with my favorite junior art critic.
The McNay offers a variety of opportunities to enjoy the museum at no charge. Free H-E-B Thursday Nights (4:00–9:00 p.m. every Thursday) include free general admission. Special exhibition access is $10. First Sundays of the month are also free admission (noon–5:00 P.M.), and anyone 19 and under gets in free ALL THE TIME, so you could enjoy the museum with your family whenever you like and not have to pay for the little ones. A fun event to check out: free Second Thursdays. A night of art, music, food, and drinks with local bands, food trucks, and more, you can bring your own picnic blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the museum’s grounds (6:00–9:00 P.M.). Check out the calendar for more information and events.
On the banks of the river’s Museum Reach, San Antonio Art Museum (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. It’s another spot I enjoy with my son (here’s a post about our visits) and one that is family-friendly year-round.
General admission to SAMA is free on Tuesday nights (4:00–9:00 P.M.) and on Sunday mornings (10:00 A.M.–noon). FYI, children 12 and under always receive free general admission to SAMA, and they offer a special program, First Sundays for Families, each month (11:00 A.M.–3:00 P.M. and included with general admission). Still wondering if kids really are welcome? SAMA even offers guides to help you engage your children while you enjoy the collection, so quit worrying and go explore. (Psst!…you can also check out Art Fit at SAMA. Runners of all levels can hit the museum from 6:00–7:00 P.M. on the second Tuesday of each month for a leisurely run or walk and a tour of the museum.)
Oh, Witte, how I adore thee! My son’s love of dinosaurs knows no bounds, and you, dear Witte, help keep him entertained and educated in such a cool way that he has no idea that he’s learning. If the Witte were a fellow mom, she’d be the cool mom all of the rest admire. And I’d buy her coffee. Seriously. If you haven’t been to the Witte, GO. Now. Just kidding. Maybe. For a quick look at the “new” Witte and why you and your kids will love it, check out my post from the grand opening.
So how can the Witte be more terrific? Free admission every Tuesday, 3:00–8:00 P.M. Note: there is a charge for admission to special exhibits during this time, but the special exhibits are usually so terrific that they’re worth it. We’re looking forward to this summer’s whale exhibit. Rumor has it that it includes a full-size whale skeleton and a replica of a whale heart that’s big enough for children to walk through. (Apologies in advance if you’re there while we are and my son is squealing/giggling maniacally as he enjoys the exhibit.)
Did I miss anything?? What’s your favorite spot to hit in San Antonio? And more importantly, what are your favorite free activities in town? We’d love to check them out!