As most cities silently slumber, deep in the heart of Texas San Antonio shifts into celebration mode for Spring Break. Fiesta San Antonio is a 10-day long celebration that has hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets for a couple of the largest parades in the country. Add the foodie festivals and the crack of cascarones, or confetti-filled eggs, and you have the recipe for family fun.
Looking for a sunny spot to thaw the winter chill for Spring Break? Try San Antonio. It has been a favorite of mine for years with its picture-perfect River Walk, world-class history and South Texas hospitality that’s warmer than the weather. San Antonio keeps me coming back! I want to share a few of my favorite family fun spots.
Fiesta San Antonio
For over 125 years, the heroes of the Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto live on in the heart of San Antonio as the city commemorates the fallen with a 10-day long celebration. Fiesta San Antonio celebrates with two of the largest parades in the country and several foodie festivals across the city. The local kids even get the day off from school to participate.
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It all begins at the Alamo (one of the best free things to do in San Antonio with kids) with the opening ceremonies and a fireworks show. In the following days, cascarones, or brightly-colored confetti eggs, crack over heads across San Antonio as the confetti dyes the streets rainbow colors.
Fiesta San Antonio sponsors three downtown parades that are entirely organized by volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of spectators camp out along the sidelines and buy reserved seats to raise money for numerous charities. The parade route runs down Broadway Street through the center of San Antonio and the parades are family-friendly events.
Catch the Battle of the Flowers Parade on the second Friday of Fiesta in April. All along the parade route, ladies dressed in yellow – volunteer organizers – direct the spectators to their seats for the second largest day parade in the country. Be sure and yell for a Fiesta metal, a special souvenir that parades participants throw into the crowd.
The next day, San Antonio pops a million glow sticks for the Fiesta Flambeau Parade, the largest illuminated night parade in the country with 700,000 people in attendance. Fiesta San Antonio even has a floating parade, the Texas Cavalier’s River Parade, with over 40 festive parades barges that float down the San Antonio River.
Another popular event, A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) lasts for four nights at the La Villita downtown village. It’s the largest historic preservation festival in the country with over 250 food vendors in 15 heritage-themed areas. Admission for adults is $15 and kids 12 and under are free.
After the parades, take a few minutes to tour the UNESCO World Heritage Site in downtown San Antonio. Think kids won’t get the significance of the Alamo? Think again.
My boys’ eyes flashed when they saw a diorama as big as a king-sized bed depicting the battle of the Alamo. They circled the display as important figures like William Travis and Davy Crockett came to life and discussed the obstacles and ultimate defeat of the legendary forefathers of Texas.
Long before Texas became a state or the United States became a nation, a group of Franciscan friars built five missions along the San Antonio River. Starting in 1718 with the Alamo and later the Mission San José in 1720, the Spanish friars offered the Coahuiltecan Indians living in South Texas protection and sustenance.
Secularized in 1793, the original residents of the Alamo continued to live and farm this area. As the Texas Revolution escalated, the Alamo became the center of the conflict. On March 6, 1836, after nearly two-week long siege, the Battle of the Alamo broke out between William B. Travis, commander of the Alamo and General Santa Anna and the Mexican troops.
Though the defenders of the Alamo died in the battle, the legend lives on and the Alamo reminds visitors of heroic struggle against overwhelming odds. In 2015, the United Nations designated the Alamo and the remaining four San Antonio Missions a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Alamo is located in downtown San Antonio at 300 Alamo Plaza. It’s open every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It’s closed December 24 and December 25 and free to enter.
Since 1946 the San Antonio River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, has been an enduring symbol of San Antonio and the epicenter of entertainment. As a central water artery of the city, it extends 15 miles in total, centered around the downtown section that’s lined with hotels and restaurants.
Perfect for a Saturday family bike ride to explore the missions along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Walk. Or spend a Sunday afternoon strolling to a new exhibit at one of the numerous art museums along the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River Walk.
The stone and iron bridges that cross the San Antonio River add to its ambience. The old cypress trees that line each side keep the River Walk shaded, even in the height of summer.
The River Walk is free to stroll and open all day, every day.
Rio San Antonio Cruises
As much a part of the River Walk experience as sipping a margarita while listening to a mariachi band. Our tour-giving boat captain piloted us down the San Antonio River while pointing out the history, infamous residents and architecture that defines the downtown River Walk.
Each tour takes about 35 minutes and Rio San Antonio Cruises opens at 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Admission for adults is $10 and $4 for kids 1 to 5, with a senior, military or local resident discount. Great for all ages.
Other Activities Kids Will Enjoy
My kids loved the new downtown playscape, Yanaguana Garden, named after the Payaya Indians that inhibited this area. It offers challenging climbing structures, a sandscape, a splash pad, public art areas, Ping-Pong tables, changing rooms and restrooms.
The Yanaguana Garden is located in HemisFair Plaza at 434 S. Alamo St. It’s open every day from 7 a.m. to midnight and is free to enter.
While in HemisFair Plaza, a world’s fair in 1968, take in the view from the top of the iconic Tower of the Americas, as much a symbol of San Antonio as the River Walk. Rising 750 feet above the ground, riding the elevator is part of the fun and my boys pressed their faces against the glass all the way up.
Located at 739 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., the Tower of Americas is open every day at 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. most nights. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for kids 4 to 12 and kids 3 and under are free, military and senior discounts.
San Antonio offers numerous museums, like the Do-Seum, a kids museum, or my boys favorite, the Briscoe Western Art Museum. For more ideas that kids and adults will love, check out my list.
River Walk Lodging
To enjoy all that downtown San Antonio has to offer, I always stay in a River Walk Hotel. On my last trip I stayed at the Hotel Contessa, an all-suite boutique hotel on the River Walk with 265-rooms.
The location can’t be beat, just steps away from La Villita, HemisFair Park and the Briscoe Western Art Museum. A quiet location perfect for families that’s still in the middle of the action just not the bars.
I found amenities that families need without being a kid-themed hotel. The breakfast buffet has kids’ pricing and the cereal my kids liked. The roof-top pool was a hit with my kids and I loved relaxing on the Hotel Contessa’s loungers with a cocktail.
Getting Around Downtown San Antonio
Several commercial airlines service the San Antonio International Airport that’s 10 miles north of Downtown San Antonio. Cab service or pubic transportation is available at the airport.
Most of the major attractions in San Antonio include a B Cycle station, a bike sharing program. The cycles can be rented for the hour after a small fee and are ideal for hopping from one attraction to the next.
Via Streetcar, operated by San Antonio’s public transportation system VIA, offers several color colored routes to popular tourist destinations, like El Mercado and the King William District. With a $4 day pass, it’s an easy way to get around downtown and my kids love riding the streetcars.
Tips from a Traveling Mom:
- The majority of downtown hotels charge for parking, some offer self-parking for a discount.
- The Alamo is especially hallowed ground for Texans, please remove hats and photos are not allowed inside of the mission, the main building.
- With the majority of attractions located within walking distance, it’s more convenient to walk or take public transportation than try and find parking at each destination.
- The Alamo doesn’t have designated parking.