Looking for more about great parks in San Antonio? Check out our updated guide!
Hardberger: it’s the crown jewel of the San Antonio park system. So much to do! Such natural beauty! If San Antonio were a high school, Hardberger would be the Captain of the Cheerleading Team, Student Council President, and Homecoming Queen all rolled into one. Well, you know what? A lot of girls go to this high school. Fun girls. Interesting girls. Girls who have a lot to offer, if you’d just get to know them a little better.
I’m a San Antonio parks enthusiast, and I’m excited to introduce you to five of my favorites. Here they are, in random order.
San Pedro Springs Park: What You Would Get by Crossing Barton Springs and Central Park (San Pedro at Ashby)
The park is named for the springs that emerge from a natural fault at the base of a limestone bluff. The outflow from the springs feeds a massive pool that has served as a municipal swimming facility since 1922.
You’ve got to see the pool to believe it. It’s lined with majestic (and, no, that’s not too strong a word) cypress trees. The water is crystal clear and stretches as far as the eye can see.
The pool has a zero-entry, so even non-swimmers can join the fun.
On our most recent visit (which was just me and my toddler), I didn’t plan on the little guy swimming.
For a boy who gets excited about the bathtub faucet, the rushing water was too much to resist. Like a moth to a flame, he waded through the shallow water in his street clothes and had the time of his life getting drenched.
Even if swimming is not on your agenda, San Pedro Springs Park is worth a visit. Fun Facts: King Philip V of Spain made a royal grant of the land for public use in 1729. The tract was officially dedicated as a park in 1852. It is the oldest park in the State of Texas and the second oldest in the United States. Only Boston Common is older.
The park has a nice-size playground for younger kids, which includes some pretty cool “please touch” animal sculptures.
For summertime rodeo fun, I suggest trying to sit on this bad boy for eight seconds, right around 3pm.
Older kids can shred at the skateboard park…and roll their eyes at squares like me who use words like “shred.”
A large gazebo overlooks the lawn and pool. It is available for rental. When my daughter is a little older, I might get a wild hair to host a Victorian-style tea party here for her and her friends. Or I might just swing them through the Starbucks drive-through and call it a day.
The Greek-revival style San Pedro Playhouse sits inside the park. The theater opened its doors on January 22, 1930, three months after the stock market crash of 1929. At that time in history, patrons arrived in both horse-drawn carriages and cars. It is the oldest municipally-built theater in the United States, and its resident troupe is the city’s oldest arts organization.
The park also is home to the McFarlin Tennis Center, which boasts 22 lighted hard courts, a pro shop, lockers, and showers. The Center offers year-round lessons, camps, clinics, tournaments, and leagues. In 1981, the United States Tennis Association granted it an Outstanding Facility Award.
Here at Alamo City Moms Blog, we are passionate about community and our fabulous city. Area parks are great places to meet fellow San Antonians and to get excited about local history.
Denman Estate Park: Like EPCOT, but Closer to the Medical Center (Fredericksburg Road at Callaghan)
The 21-acre Denman Estate Park is full of surprises, the most remarkable of which is a Korean pavilion similar to the Gwangju Democracy Bell in Gwangju, South Korea.
The pavilion was a gift from the city of Gwangju, a sister city of San Antonio. Its stated purpose is to facilitate business and cultural friendships between the two cities. As a practical matter, it forms a tranquil focal point, inviting visitors to stroll the path around the park pond to reach it.
The pavilion was built with old growth red pine timber that was harvested in Canada and milled in South Korea. Natural stone, granite, and traditional yellow clay roof tile shipped from South Korea are incorporated into the structure.
Sadly, visitors cannot touch or climb on the pavilion itself. An accessible wooden gate gives curious hands something to explore.
Trees around the pond create welcome shade in summertime but are particularly beautiful in the fall.
One nice feature of Denman Estate Park is its small size. You can hit all the highlights in under an hour.
More relevant to my parenting philosophy: an adult can sit at one of the shaded picnic tables and have a sight-line to the entire pond area. Your children can walk, bike, or ride scooters around the path on their own. They get a sense of independence and self-reliance even while you keep an eye on them from a distance.
The pavilion is a showstopper, but Denman Estate Park is not without her quieter charms. It has a labyrinth, which is guaranteed to buy you at least 45 seconds of “you time” while your children puzzle their way through it.
The pond is home to fish, turtles, ducks, and cranes.
To extend your outing, stop at nearby Beijing Express (corner of Callaghan and Fredericksburg) for a glass of bubble tea. You’ll develop the day’s broad East Asian theme and blow your kids’ minds with the tapioca “bubbles.”
MacArthur Park: Best Playground (410 and Harry Wurzbach)
When I was growing up, a trip to MacArthur Park was a special treat. It wasn’t the playground closest to our home, but it had the best variety of play equipment. San Antonio natives might remember the mustard-yellow colored circular tower built out of rebar. My low-grade acrophobia kicked in more than once on that tigre, requiring me to be rescued by whatever adult was serving as the day’s chaperone. Good times.
Those of you who remember MacArthur Park from your own childhoods will be happy to see that some of “our” old play elements are still in use.
The giant metal slide is gone, as it the rickety merry-go-round. They’ve been replaced with the best variety of playscapes in town…
…and a bunch of cool free-standing elements.
Unlike some parks, MacArthur Park has both toddler and big kid swings. Even better, it has accessible swing seats (in two sizes) for visitors with physical limitations.
Now that I’m a mother, my favorite way to work MacArthur Park into our rotation is to go in the evening, with a picnic dinner. The park’s many picnic tables, pavilions, and close-by parking make this easy to do.
Insider Tip: MacArthur is a county park, so the ordinance that bans alcohol in city parks does not apply. What this means for you is, that picnic dinner can include a glass of wine. You’re welcome. Glass containers aren’t allowed, but box wine has come a long way since your sorority house Franzia.
With minimal planning, you have the makings of a great summer evening. If my recent experience is any indication, the payoff is well worth the effort!
Woodlawn Lake Park: Puro San Antonio (West Woodlawn Avenue)
To me, Woodlawn Lake Park is classic San Antonio. It’s been a gathering place for more than 100 years, and it’s the site of the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration. According to city historians, the 30-acre lake for which the park is named was the dream of real estate developers in the 1880s. They wanted to create West End, a residential subdivision on what was then the city’s rural west side. To attract residents, they dammed Alazan Creek to create “the finest artificial lake in the south.” Electric lights illuminated the lake, and visitors traveled by street car to dance in an outdoor pavilion and row in small boats.
With all its history, the park still has a lot to offer modern families:
A 1.3 mile paved trail circles the lake. It’s great for walking and biking and makes for an inexpensive family outing or date night.
The park includes a public pool (with sweet water slides). In 2013, the regular season runs through August 18. Open swim is Tuesday through Sunday, from 1:00pm to 7:00pm. Admission is free.
After our recent visit, we stopped right outside the park at La Michoacana Paleteria y Neveria for fresh watermelon and coconut ice cream made with real coconut. The store is immaculate and very affordably priced. It’s the perfect place to cap off a classic San Antonio day!
San Antonio has a number of parks that offer hiking trails. Eisenhower has a few things going for it, though. First, the park does not allow bikes. I dig mountain biking as much as the next girl, but if I’m taking my children hiking, it’s nice not to have to worry that they will be standing inside a blind curve when a biker comes careening down the hill.
Second, the park allows dogs, which I appreciate. My 15-month old son gets to practice crowing, “dog…dog…big dog…dog” to every pooch we see. And, I can bring my beloved beagle along to make up for the fact that since I had children, he was unseated from the top of our family totem pole.
Third, Eisenhower’s Cedar Flats trail gives hikers with small fries great bang for their buck. It’s a fully-paved (read: stroller-friendly) trail that takes you 0.9 mile to the top of a hill. At the summit, you’ll find a wooden observation deck–call it a Pricess Tower if you must–that gives you spectacular views of the city. It’s a payoff destination for little hikers who aren’t yet sold on fresh air and excercise as their own rewards.
Finally, in addition to the paved trails, Eisenhower has legit natural trails that are great for older kids and more intrepid hikers. When I don’t have my shorties in tow, I take the 2.5 mile Hillview trail and add on the 0.3 mile Shady Creek trail and 0.5 mile Red Oak trail. It’s a great outdoor workout that takes about an hour.