Visitors travel to San Antonio from near and far. While there is plenty to see and do, even small entry fees for activities and places of interest can quickly add up if you’re not paying attention. Sometimes, you’re just looking for something that is not a dent in the pocketbook. This is what I was looking to do on my recent weekend trip to San Antonio Texas. Other than gas, food and lodging, I wanted to experience a new place without the extra expense of sightseeing. Here are 5 places I experienced during my visit without admission or activity fees.
1. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
The Spanish built missions across North America during their settlement. Four San Antonio missions dating to the early 1700s are preserved as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historical Park.
The visitor welcome center for the park is located at Mission San Jose, although the best way to visit each mission is in geographical order from south to north – beginning with Missions Espada and San Juan before visiting the Mission San Jose, concluding your park visit at Mission Concepcion near the center of San Antonio. You can experience the missions by car, bicycle, or public transit.
Each mission has ruins of former living quarters occupied by both Indigenous Peoples and missionaries. I recommend visiting each mission as there is something unique at each. At Mission San Jose you can see a water-powered grist mill in operation. Mission Espada has a replica of a 1700s blacksmith shop. Mission San Juan has information about trade during the mission’s active period. Mission Concepcion is the most preserved of the four. The chapels at each mission still hold Catholic worship services.
2. The Alamo
The Alamo is listed separately from the other four missions because it is more known from the 1836 battle between American settlers and Mexico in the war for Texas Independence. It is also managed by the Texas General Land Office, separately from the National Historical Park.
Originally a Spanish mission previously known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, the structure that people recognize as the Alamo is actually part of a 4-acre compound. The site has served as a fort for Spanish, Mexican, Texian, Confederate and US soldiers. Ruins of fort walls are still on this site. The current appearance of the chapel – specifically the roof and hump-shaped facade – did not exist until years after the 1836 battle.
While there is a guided tour that currently costs $15 for adults, visitors can roam the compound and enter the chapel without a guided tour. Behind the chapel, there is a living history exhibit that provides an insight of life in 1800s Texas.
3. San Antonio: The Saga
In 2014, french artist Xavier de Richemont created a outdoor video combining his art with choreographed surround sound music to represent the history of San Antonio. His work is presented using the San Fernando Cathedral as a canvas. The 24 minute video chronicles the history of San Antonio beginning with Indigenous Peoples to the 20th century. Viewing times are Tuesdays and weekends at 9:00 PM, 9:30PM and 10:00 PM. The courtyard has limited seating, but plenty of space to spread a blanket or place a lawn concert chair.
4. Pearl Brewery
Once a brewery for Pearl Beer, the area has been converted to retail and housing and entertainment while preserving many aspects of the former brewery, including brewing vats. While strolling through this historic area towards the far north end of the San Antonio Riverwalk, you can experience the sights and smells of the weekend farmers market in the sprawling courtyard area. Live music acts are typically performing. There are also restaurants, coffee shops, pastry stores and a number of shops to visit.
5. San Antonio Museum of Art
The San Antonio Museum of Art is also based in a former brewery. Adolphus Busch founded Lone Star Brewery in 1884 as the first mechanized brewery in the state of Texas. In 1970, the museum acquired the historic complex. Originally started with a primary focus on art related to San Antonio and Texas, the museum now has dedicated wings to art from the United States and around the world.
The key to free admission is visiting during free hours, currently Tuesdays from 4PM to 9PM and Sundays from 10AM to noon.
Thank you to my friend and museum officer Elda Martinez for providing access outside of the free hours during my visit to San Antonio. If you are a foodie, visit her blog at EldaEats.com.
Fans of murals will enjoy walking the streets here as San Antonio has some amazing street murals. The San Antonio Street Art Initiative (Instagram @sanantoniostreetart) is a new non- profit designed to help and inspire local street artists to share their vision of San Antonio’s culture. The first phase, Murals @ Midtown, recently opened at the intersection of Quincy and St. Mary’s streets, underneath Interstate 35. There are hosted events here, with music, vendors and food.
Have you visited San Antonio? What places did you visit that did not have an admission or activity fee?