Guide

Explore 8 Must-See Sites of San Antonio, Texas

Welcome to San Antonio, a south-central Texas city packed with historic and cultural treasures. Established as a Spanish mission in 1718 and briefly part of the Republic of Mexico from 1821 to 1836, the city has seen successive generations of migration from Europe and South America. The Papaya Indigenous people, who lived at the San Pedro Springs before European colonization, also have a rich history here.

Follow along with this guide to learn more about San Antonio’s must-see sites—from the iconic Alamo to the enchanting river walk, and historic districts dotted with Victorian-style villas or examples of modern architecture, all with a bit of Texas charm.

  1. Photo By: White Cloud Drones

    San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

    San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is the only national park in San Antonio and the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas. It tells the stories of those who came to live in the Spanish missions beginning in the 1700s. The park preserves four frontier missions pivotal to acculturating and converting indigenous populations during this period. Besides Missions Concepción, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada, the park includes Espada Aqueduct, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, built by Franciscan friars in 1731 and still used today.

  2. Photo By: Rubycityart via Flickr CC BY-SA 4.0

    Ruby City

    San Antonio's premier location for contemporary art is housed in a striking building by renowned architect Sir David Adjaye. Ruby City’s core collection includes more than 14,000 artworks from the collection of the late Linda Pace, who is said to have dreamed about a Ruby City-like building before she found an architect to make it a reality. Coupled with the adjacent Chris Park, the site is a testament to Pace’s artistic legacy and philanthropic spirit—and the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

  3. Photo By: Carol Highsmith

    Villa Finale and King William Historic District

    Learn about the many generations who have called San Antonio home in the King William neighborhood. The area was first used as farmland for the Alamo Mission and later evolved into a haven for German immigrants, earning it the moniker “Sauerkraut Bend.” The district waned in the early 1900s but experienced a renaissance in the 1950s and became San Antonio’s first designated historic district in 1968. Today, it is packed with beautifully preserved Greek Revival, Victorian, and Italianate-style homes. Don’t forget to stop at Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens, a National Trust Historic Site, to learn about the district’s history and revitalization.

  4. Photo By: Nan Palmero via Flickr CC BY 2.0

    San Antonio River Walk

    Encompassing about three miles of downtown walkways, the San Antonio River Walk or Paseo del Rio is a unique city park and pedestrian street that meanders and loops under bridges along both sides of the San Antonio River, a level below car traffic. The project received vital funding under the Works Progress Administration in 1939 and has since been a boon for the restaurants and shops that flank its trails and a favorite among locals and travelers alike. While there, visit key attractions along the walk, like the Arneson River Theater, La Villita Historic Arts Village, and the San Antonio Museum of Art.

  5. The Alamo Plaza Historic District

    The Alamo Plaza Historic District in downtown San Antonio, encompasses over two dozen historically significant buildings or structures, including the iconic Alamo. For a lesser-known site, head to the Menger Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi and a favorite among ghost hunters, who believe the site is haunted. Or check out the Woolworth Building, a former department store that desegregated its lunch counter in 1960 following sit-ins across the country, making it a landmark in the nation's history of racial desegregation.

  6. Photo By: Google Streetview

    Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

    San Antonio’s Westside is the heart of the city’s Mexican American working-class communities, and the Esperanza Center for Peace and Justice champions these communities’ diverse experiences and vibrant heritage. At the organization’s headquarters, you’ll find a full schedule of art shows, lectures, workshops, performances, and more. If you visit San Antonio after this spring, look for the Museo del Westside, another Esperanza initiative. This community participatory museum is slated to open in mid-2024.

  7. Photo By: San Antonio Parks and Recreation

    San Pedro Springs Park

    One of the oldest parks in the United States, San Pedro Springs Park offers a timeless escape in the heart of San Antonio. It spans 46 acres, surrounding the natural springs that served as San Antonio’s birthplace. Before Spanish colonists arrived, the site was home to a Papaya Indian village called Yanaguana, and the park boasts archaeological evidence of human presence dating back as far as 12,000 years. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, the park has modern amenities, including a gazebo and swimming pool. The San Pedro Library and the San Pedro Playhouse are also on site.

  8. Photo By: Anh-Viet Dinh via Flickr CC BY-SA 4.0

    Trinity University Historic District

    One of only a few universities in the nation to be designated a historic district, Trinity University Historic District is a must-see for lovers of modern architecture. Architect O’Neil Ford, one of America’s lesser-known great modern architects, designed many of the university’s buildings from the 1950s to the late 1970s. He drew inspiration from the region’s topography and architectural heritage to craft climate-sensitive modernist red brick buildings, earning the campus a unique place in history.

Marianne Dhenin is an award-winning journalist and historian.

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