San Antonio for Families

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San Antonio for Families
San Antonio is home to a number of popular attractions and adventures that will entertain both children and parents. From ranches and cave tours to museums and theme parks, there’s something exciting to discover around every corner.
By Lara Dalinsky, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Chuck Eckert/age fotostock
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    Thrilling Theme Parks
    San Antonio serves up Texas-sized adventures when it comes to theme parks. Thrill-seekers can head to Six Flags Fiesta Texas for hair-raising rides, and animal lovers should visit SeaWorld for shows and entertainment. Morgan’s Wonderland is completely wheelchair-accessible and is billed as "the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park," with over 25 sensory attractions. Water parks are also in abundance around San Antonio. Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort has 65 acres of tubes, chutes, beaches, and rides; another family favorite, Splashtown, is filled with slides, pools, and a lazy river.
    Photo by Chuck Eckert/age fotostock
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    Remember the Alamo
    The Alamo is the heart of San Antonio and an icon of American history. It was founded in 1718 as the first Catholic mission of the city. The Alamo served as a way station between East Texas and Mexico and in 1836 became the site of a pivotal battle of the Texas Revolution. Today, more than 2.5 million people a year visit the 4.2-acre complex. The Alamo Shrine is the main attraction, but the Long Barrack is actually the oldest building on the grounds and houses an interactive exhibit about the site's history. Outside, the Wall of History displays a chronological timeline of the Alamo, and the surrounding gardens serve as a lush oasis that provides cooling shade during hot summer weather.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Magnificent Museums
    Alamo City has world-class museums that cover a variety of interests for the whole family. Art enthusiasts should head to San Antonio Museum of Art (also known as SAMA) and the McNay to view impressive collections of local and global art. Interactive educational displays like the H-E-B Science Treehouse can be experienced at the beautiful Witte Museum. History buffs won’t want to miss the imaginative exhibits at the Institute of Texan Cultures or at the Spanish Governor’s Palace; both offer the opportunity to learn more about the city’s heritage and rich cultural tapestry. Even younger kids have a place to play and learn at The Doseum, San Antonio's Museum for Kids.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Dude Ranches
    Families can experience life on the open range by visiting and working on a dude ranch. Guests are greeted with warm Western hospitality and can take part in activities that include horseback rides, hayrides, nature walks, wrangling demos, or just plain relaxing. Most of these rustic retreats are located in the rugged Hill Country countryside surrounding Bandera—an ideal backdrop for trail rides and campfire dinners under the stars. Ranches usually operate from early spring to late fall, when the weather is warmest. Rio Cibolo Ranch, Mayan Dude Ranch, and Dixie Dude Ranch are among the most popular to visit; all are within an hour of San Antonio.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Parks and Wildlife
    San Antonio boasts many picturesque parks that are superb for recreation and relaxation. Lush gardens and shady paths await at the Japanese Tea Garden and the San Antonio Botanical Garden; both are perfect spots for picnics and photo ops. Nature lovers can admire wildlife up close at nearby zoological parks. The San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium is the third-largest animal collection in the country, with fantastic outdoor displays of species from the African plains and the Amazon. The Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has a 400-acre drive-through safari, or guests can stroll through the walkabout and a petting barnyard. Children will be delighted at the chance to touch and feed animals like pygmy goats, emus, and llamas.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    The Guadalupe River
    Lined by shady cyprus trees and dramatic limestone banks, Guadalupe River is ideal for water-based activities like tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. The river begins at the base of Canyon Lake and ends 230 miles away at the Gulf of Mexico. One of the most popular activities is to rent an inner tube and float around Horseshoe Loop. Several outfitters are located around this part of the river, many also renting coolers that can be packed with snacks and drinks for the journey. Paddlers will discover spectacular scenery along the Upper Guadalupe River on guided tours with companies like Guadalupe Canoe Livery and Bigfoot Canoes. The best times to go are early spring through late fall, when water temperatures are warmest.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Bike the Mission Trail
    The Mission Hike and Bike Trail is eight miles of pathways that wind alongside the San Antonio River, farmland, and historic neighborhoods. It connects four of San Antonio's Spanish colonial missions: Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. The trails are well marked, paved, and flat, suitable for even young family members to ride. Bikes can be rented from local shops or the San Antonio BCycle program, a large-scale municipal bike sharing system. Visitors can purchase a 24-hour pass and pick up and drop off one of these gray bicycles at any of the city’s 50 stations along the Mission Trail or downtown.
    Photo courtesy of B-cycle
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    Texas Hill Country
    Texas Hill Country is the breathtaking region that comprises the heart of the state. Travelers driving through the area will encounter grand lakes, bucolic countryside, colorful wildflowers, rolling terrain, and quaint towns. Day-trippers starting in San Antonio can tour the area’s major attractions by starting on Highway 16 and looping back on Highway 35. Some noteworthy stops include Bandera (known as the Cowboy Capital of the World), the German pioneering town of Fredericksburg, the scenic Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, the historic Gruene and New Braunfels towns, and the clear waters of Comal River.
    Photo by Dan Leffel/age fotostock
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    Ghost Tours
    Experience a unique and eerie side of the city by taking a walking ghost tour through the streets of old San Antonio at night. History is brought to life as participants stop at different landmarks to hear the stories behind the legends whose spirits may still linger there. Some companies place a fun spin on their tours: Sisters Grimm Tours offers dinner beforehand in the (allegedly) haunted Menger Hotel, and Alamo City Ghost Tours gears up guests with ghost-hunting "equipment" to measure electromagnetic frequencies and detect cold spots. Expect most tours to last approximately 90 minutes, and wear comfortable shoes since circuits often cover at least one mile.
    Photo courtesy of San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau
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    Caves and Caverns
    Evade the Texas heat and head underground to uncover a world of natural beauty that stays at a comfortable 65 degrees all year round. San Antonio is surrounded by numerous limestone caves and caverns that were formed by prehistoric rivers and seas. Stalactites, stalagmites, and other rock formations create spectacular geological passages to explore. Natural Bridge Caverns offers the most extensive and impressive tours, with the option of adding on adventurous activities that include rappelling, zip-lining, and climbing. Cave Without a Name displays exquisite formations and cave curtains, and kids will be delighted to discover the small bats and salamanders that lurk inside of Cascade Caverns’ walls.
    Photo courtesy of Natural Bridge Caverns