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Think of San Antonio, and you'll likely think of the Alamo, the site of the pivotal battle that led to Texas' independence from Mexico in 1836. But the Alamo is only part of what attracts roughly 35 million visitors to the state's second-largest city every year.
San Antonio is also famous for its downtown River Walk — a 15-mile footpath on the San Antonio River, replete with restaurants, shops, museums and hotels.
Another claim to fame for the city is that it harbors one of the largest collections of 18th-century Spanish missions in the world. In fact, if you follow the River Walk's Mission Reach trail to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, you'll find four of these missions, which, together with the Alamo (or Mission San Antonio de Valero, as it was originally called) have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park can also be reached by car if your crew isn't up to pounding the pavement.
Alternatively, you can explore the area by renting two wheels from numerous bike-sharing stations along the route. Be sure to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the visitor center when you arrive, and have the kids complete the activities to score a collectible badge.
Nearby are several more must-see gems. First up is the Tower of the Americas, a 750-foot-tall observation tower and revolving restaurant that was constructed for the 1968 World's Fair. Taller than Seattle's Space Needle, it's a perfect place to get a panoramic view of the city.
Next, you'll want to head over to Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, a combination tavern and museum featuring an eclectic collection of taxidermy animals, cowboy memorabilia and original artifacts from the state's legendary law enforcement agency. And for a taste of Mexican culture, it doesn't get any better than Market Square (El Mercado), a festive outdoor plaza boasting shops, galleries, strolling musicians and some of the best Tex-Mex cuisine in town.
Once you finish scoping out the downtown district, head about 3 miles up to Brackenridge Park, a lush 343-acre oasis that dates to prehistoric times. You could spend the entire day picnicking, fishing, birding and meandering through the Japanese Tea Garden — and this is indeed what locals do, especially on weekends. For families, though, the park's biggest asset is its proximity to the San Antonio Zoo, The DoSeum children’s museum and the Witte Museum — a top-tier institution for natural science and history. Another cool feature here is the miniature Eagle Train, which loops around the park making frequent stops at all the major attractions. (Speaking of attractions, Kiddie Park is another not-to-be-missed spot; it's one of the oldest amusement parks in the country.)
Tempting as it may be to spend all your time in the city, you'd be remiss not to visit Natural Bridge Caverns, the largest commercial cavern system in the state.
Situated approximately 30 miles north of downtown San Antonio, the caverns feature a vast wonderland of geological treasures, including one of the longest soda straw stalactites — measuring 14 feet — in North America. In addition to exploring down under, families can also mine for gems, take a canopy zipline tour or wander through a 5,000-square-foot outdoor maze. Oh, and did we mention that there's a wonderful drive-thru animal safari (Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch) located right next door?
And just in case you still have time on your hands, you can always hit up San Antonio's major theme parks — SeaWorld and its sibling waterpark, Aquatica — and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
It's also worth noting that every August, Visit San Antonio hosts Kidcation Week, where families can enjoy free activities throughout town, as well as money-saving deals on hotels, restaurants and attractions.
WHERE TO STAY
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and SpaThis sprawling luxury resort boasts everything from a full-service spa, a fitness center and jogging trails to a 27-hole golf course and a 5-acre waterpark with a 950-foot lazy river.
Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio River WalkSituated in the former Alamo National Bank along the San Antonio River, Drury Plaza offers excellent lodging and a stunning rooftop pool.
WHERE TO EAT
Mi TierraOpen 24/7, this festive Market Square institution is known for its kitschy decor, strolling mariachis and fabulous Tex-Mex.
The LuxuryThis expansive outdoor eatery on the River Walk serves chef-driven pub grub out of two cargo containers. An added bonus is that there’s plenty of space to spread out and a bocce ball court to keep kids entertained.
WHEN TO GOWith 300 days of sunshine and mild weather most of the year, there is never a bad time to visit San Antonio, though the most pleasant months are between November and April, when temperatures range from 50 to 80 degrees. Expect to find the warmest weather between late May and September, when it’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach 90 degrees and above.
GETTING THEREThe greater San Antonio area is served by San Antonio International Airport, located approximately 8 1/2 miles north of downtown and the River Walk.