Spring Break for Cheapskates

If your family’s anything like mine, Spring Break isn’t always the ideal time go on a week-long family getaway. Between job responsibilities, budget limitations, and timing issues, getting away for a long stretch smack dab in the middle of March just isn’t gonna happen. But that doesn’t have to mean we miss out on all the Spring Break fun, even if our pocketbooks are running on empty.

There really is something for everyone within a two-hour drive of San Antonio, whether it’s just a quick day trip or long weekend. Spring Break can also be a great opportunity to explore new places in town. I prefer to visit spots that are a bit off the beaten path, hence avoiding the peak Spring Break crowds. If that sounds semi-appealing to you, read on for some of my personal favorite family-friendly excursions that won’t break the bank and are less likely to be mobbed by throngs of tourists.

Get Your Outdoors On

I love taking the kids to parks, but it never seems convenient on a normal weekday (unless it’s to Lion’s Field, which is literally on the car ride home from school). But when the kids are out of school, I’m more willing to drive the extra 20 or 30 minutes for a new-to-us experience, or to reconnect with a tried-and-true favorite. The best part? City parks are totally free! Here’s a list of my favorites, and hope-to-be new favorite places to get some fresh air in town:

Phil Hardberger ParkOur all-time favorite local park keeps getting better and better. While I like both sides of the park, I tend to prefer parking at the playground on the NW Military Highway side, as there is a nice nature trail next to their new(ish) eco center. It’s short and easy enough for small children, but you still get to connect with nature in a meaningful way. And the Urban Ecology Center could not be more beautiful, complete with decks, shade, and flowing water, for a perfect place to picnic in the shade, meditate, and feel good outside. They also have a ton of kid-friendly, eco-centered programming. Vsit the website for details.

Elmendorf Lake Park—The newly remodeled park, right next door to the majestic Our Lady of the Lake University, is the jewel of the West Side. I recommend stopping to pick up fresh pan dulce at Panifico Bake Shop, just a couple blocks away, then taking a leisurely stroll around the lake. My kids love crossing the bridge to the island in the center, pointing out birds, and playing on the nice large playground. There is also an incredible tile mosaic bench, much like the one at Yanaguana Gardens but significantly longer.

Woodlawn Lake ParkIf you haven’t noticed a theme here, it’s that I really like parks that have a body of water and nice walking trails. Woodlawn in a classic. On weekends it’s always super busy, with families grilling, raspa trucks selling shaved ice and chili-covered candy concoctions, and other comforting Tex-Mex sights and sounds. You can fish, bring a paddle boat and ride around the lake, and enjoy the two playgrounds and large swimming pool (this location has one of the longest pool seasons in the entire city). Warning: this place gets super busy during Spring Break, so get there early to avoid the crowds.

Playing with "Play"

My kids are delighted by artist Joey Fauerso’s work in the aptly-titled “Play,” one of many public art play structures at Yanaguana

Yanaguana at Hemisphere—If you haven’t visited this park, you are seriously missing out. It has everything from a splash pad to a giant sandbox, to public art that kids can actually climb on—and that’s just scratching the surface. This compact park is also home to the newly opened second branch of Commonwealth Coffeehouse, so moms and dads can be civilized and sip lattes while kids admire the chicken coop that’s nicer than my house. If it’s a hot day the artisan paletas at Paleteria San Antonio will change your life. It’s also an easy walk to the Tower of the Americas and the shops and restaurants of Southtown. Learn more about the area here.

Confluence Park—Located on the city’s South Side at 310 W. Mitchell Street, Confluence Park is planning an official grand opening in March. I’m eager to welcome this much-anticipated new South Side spot, which will offer pavilions, murals, and interactive learning opportunities.

Pearsall Park—Boasting a giant playground, zip line, splash pad, skate park, and more, Pearsall Park is a top pick in my house. In fact, my kids have declared this 500-acre acre park their very favorite. It really is one of a kind, especially the trails on the moon-like rolling hills. 

Mitchell Lake Audubon CenterOK, so it’s not free, but at $5 for adults and $2 for kids, this conservation-minded oasis is a must-see for those looking to learn about native birds and wildlife and connect with nature in a truly stunning environment less than half an hour south of downtown.

Mission Reach Bike Trail—We’ve been enjoying the mission reach since my youngest was a baby in a stroller, but now that my kids are eight and five, respectively, they love riding their bikes or scooters and leaving their parents in the dust. We like to park at Roosevelt Park and make our way south, stopping at Concepcion Park for playground time and finishing up at Mission Park Pavilion for a well-earned picnic. Families with younger kids can make Concepcion Park their end route. If it’s too much of a good thing for the whole family, my husband or I will ride back solo and pick up the rest of the family. Next time we might see just how far we can all go in one trip, and then send Dad back via Uber to fetch the car. I also enjoy stopping by Mission San Jose and watching the short free movie that “tells the story of the native people of 18th-century South Texas, their role in colonizing New Spain, and the results of entering the Spanish missions.”

Day Trips

The long hike down to the “beach” is well worth it for a day of enjoying cool, clear water at Pedernales State Park.

I’m calling these day trips because they are within a two-hour drive of San Antonio, but if you have time to stay the night a night or two, it’s worth it for the extra relaxation.

Johnson City is such a family-friendly little town, and the LBJ State Park is a winner. Head straight to the Sauer-Beckmann Farm, a living history experience where “interpreters wear period clothing [and] do the farm and household chores as they were done at that time.” It’s a thrill to go back in time and see people making cheese and sausage, wearing period clothes, gathering eggs, and cleaning with period-accurate lye soap. I feel like this place is one of the best-kept secrets of the Hill Country, unlike anything else around it. I also recommend visiting the Hill Country Science Mill, a high-tech, hands-on museum with a STEM focus. Located in downtown Johnson City, the Science Mill makes it easy to walk around town after and enjoy dinner on the town square.

New BraunfelsThe McKenna Children’s Museum is perfect for younger kids, and you can end the day at the best family-friendly drive-in movie facility around, Stars and Stripes. I love to stop for dinner at the Gristmill in Gruene on the way back from Austin or New Braunfels. Landa Park is always a favorite, especially on hot days when a cool dip in the wading pool is called for. Check website for hours and details.

Texas State ParksGovernment Canyon and Guadalupe River State Park are both very close to town, but get there early to avoid big crowds. Pedernales State Park is a bit farther, but the riverside beach is lovely and worth the steep hike down to get there (not toddler friendly, unless you are cool with carrying them up and down). A very family-friendly option is Blanco State Park because it’s so small and contained, and because the playground and bathroom facilities are lovely. It’s also only a few blocks from the town of Blanco, so it’s easy to hop on down to the square for dinner and a cold draft beer from Real Ale Brewery, brewed right in Blanco. The Redbud Cafe and the Old 300 BBQ are both top-notch, and kids are always welcome.

Here’s to a fun, budget-friendly Spring Break for families that want to stay close to home!

2 Responses to Spring Break for Cheapskates

  1. Cristina Noriega
    Cristina Noriega February 19, 2018 at 3:34 pm #

    So glad you found this helpful Marce! There is so much fun to be had without spending much in San Antonio, from parks to free museum nights. My kids have just as much fun at the free places 🙂

  2. Marce February 19, 2018 at 11:33 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing! I live 2 hours away from SA and this information comes in very handy, sadly where I live there is not that many recreational places to go visit, but now I can start planning for spring break and even summer for the whole family! so excited!