Can I let you in on a secret? San Antonio is the top tourist destination in Texas. OK, so that’s not really a secret. Our fabulous city has great museums, fun activities, and cool things to explore, so of course, people want to visit.
But did you know that most of these terrific places offer free hours and events that give you the opportunity to enjoy them at no cost? That’s right—free. Gratis. Complimentary. Easy on mom’s pocketbook, and a secret bonus: while your kids are enjoying themselves, they’ll be learning something too. (You might want to keep that to yourself.) Or, sneak away for a day date or a girls’ night and enjoy some adult conversation while you soak in some culture, art, and fun (we won’t tell!).
Below is a list of days and times you can visit a variety of local San Antonio attractions, as well as some special family events you might want to check out. Jump in and explore the Alamo City, all free of charge. And if you like what you see, consider becoming a member or supporting these fantastic institutions another way. They’re all nonprofits and help make our community the fabulous spot we all love.
Did you know that one of Texas’s most visited landmarks never charges a fee? That’s right—entrance to the Alamo church and grounds is always free. Don’t let the idea of tourists scare you. Take your kids, roam the grounds, and soak in some history.
Fun event to note: On the first Saturday of every month, the grounds of the Alamo are transformed back in time to the 1830s. Learn about life in frontier Texas with special demonstrations and crafts 11:30 A.M.–4:00 P.M. on the first Saturday of each month. To learn more and check out other special events, check out the Alamo’s event calendar.
The first and longest-running nonprofit venue for contemporary art in San Antonio, Blue Star Contemporary showcases emerging and established artists through an array of exhibitions each year. And as part of the Blue Star Arts Complex, it’s nestled right along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, making it a great starting point for some River exploring as well. There are also some great galleries and more to explore at Blue Star, including restaurants you can enjoy.
Contemporary art isn’t always my thing, but I love seeing what these artists come up with, and it’s always a great talking point with my art-loving son. Note: some of the exhibits may not always be kid-friendly. I once had to tell my son NOT to sit on the art. He had no idea the bench he was eyeing was actually an exhibit! Blue Star is free on Thursdays, 4:00–8:00 P.M., and all day on the First Thursday of the month, 10:00 A.M.–8:00 P.M. It’s also free on First Fridays, 10:00 A.M.–9:00 P.M., a great event to explore with your family, or as a date night or girls’ night out.
The Briscoe is a fun gem that gives your kids a peek into Western life, housed in a beautiful building that’s just down from the Arneson River Theater on the River Walk. Officially, the Briscoe “preserves and interprets the art, history, and culture of the American West through engaging exhibitions, educational programs, and public events reflective of the region’s rich traditions and shared heritage.” What does that mean for kids? They get to learn about cowboys! For a mom’s perspective on the Briscoe, check out Inga’s visit with her son.
Every Tuesday, 4:00–9:00 P.M., the Briscoe offers free admission. Cool to know: the museum offers a special program for families, Lil Partners, that includes “Buckaroo Bags” to help engage your kids in the museum. It also regularly hosts other free events, like a celebration of the National Day of the Cowboy. You can check out what’s ahead on the museum’s event calendar.
Another tip: Visiting the Briscoe on Tuesdays is even easier thanks to Downtown Tuesdays, which offers free parking at city facilities and meters every Tuesday night from 5:00 P.M.–2:00 A.M. There is even an array of restaurant specials and deals on Tuesdays, so park, enjoy the Briscoe, and explore downtown.
The DoSeum is a local favorite, and many of us with children can spend hours exploring all there is to do. But did you know that you can visit for free once a month? Free Family Night is offered the first Tuesday of each month from 5:30–7:30 P.M. During the summer, Free Family Nights are also offered on the third Tuesday of each month from 6:30–8:30 P.M. Note: Space is limited, and wristbands are required. Wristbands are given out starting at 4:00 p.m. before the Free Family Night hours. For other DoSeum events, check out its calendar.
UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures shares stories of the immigrants who settled in Texas and contributed to the unique melting pot of cultures, traditions, flavors, music, and art that make Texas what it is. Home to the incredibly popular Texas Folklife Festival (held in June each year), the Institute is a great way to help kids understand more about the cultures that have influenced our state.
While you may not have visited ITC, I’m sure you’ve driven by it. Located at Hemisfair, steps from the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Tower of the Americas, the museum is family-friendly and includes many hands-on elements for children. You can enjoy its Second Sunday programs, with free admission and special programs highlighting different cultures each month. To see which culture is featured each month, just check the calendar. Important to note: there is no Second Sunday program in June, but you can enjoy the Texas Folklife Festival instead.
The McNay is a San Antonio treasure. The grounds are gorgeous—and perfect for picnicking—and the art collection is fantastic. Many people have no idea that you can see Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, and more, right here in San Antonio. Once a family home, the McNay is a great space to explore with your family. And yes, you can introduce your kids to art, and yes, they are welcome at the McNay! For another mom’s take on exposing kids to art, check out Inga’s post about the McNay, or my summer of art with my favorite junior art critic.
The McNay offers a variety of opportunities to enjoy the museum at no charge. Free H-E-B Thursday Nights (4:00–9:00 P.M. every Thursday) include free general admission. Special exhibition access is $10. First Sundays of the month are also free admission (noon–5:00 P.M.), and anyone 19 and under gets in free ALL THE TIME, so you can enjoy the museum with your family whenever you like and not have to pay for the little ones. Fun event to check out: free Second Thursdays. A night of art, music, food, and drinks, with local bands, food trucks, and more, you can bring your own picnic blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the museum’s grounds (6:00–9:00 P.M.). Check out the calendar for more information and events.
On the banks of the River’s Museum Reach, San Antonio Art Museum (SAMA) takes you around the world with collections of Latin American, Asian, and Ancient Mediterranean art. There’s also a terrific contemporary collection, and like the McNay, the museum’s buildings and grounds are also fun to check out. It’s another spot I enjoy with my son (here’s a post about our visits) and one that is family-friendly year-round.
General admission to SAMA is free on Tuesday nights (4:00–9:00 P.M.) and on Sunday mornings (10:00 A.M.–noon). FYI, children 12 and under always receive free general admission to SAMA, and SAMA offers a special program, First Sundays for Families, each month (12:00–3:00 P.M. and included with general admission). Still wondering if kids really are welcome? SAMA even offers guides to help you engage your children while you enjoy the collection, so quit worrying and go explore.
Oh Witte, how I adore thee! My son’s love of dinosaurs knows no bounds, and you, dear Witte, help keep him entertained and educated in such a cool way that he has no idea all that he’s learning. If the Witte were a fellow mom, she’d be the cool mom the rest of us admire. And I’d buy her coffee. Seriously. If you haven’t been to the Witte, GO! For a quick look at the “new” Witte and why you and your kids will love it, check out my post from the grand opening.
So how can the Witte be more terrific? Free admission every Tuesday, 3:00–8:00 P.M. Note: there is a charge for admission to special exhibits during this time, but the special exhibits are usually so terrific that they’re worth it.
So put your wallet away and get to exploring!