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. Of course people want to visit.
But did you know that most of these terrific places offer free hours and events? 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 that 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.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, learn all about the main weapon used at the Battle of Alamo, the flintlock musket. This 15-minute presentation covers the history and use of flintlock firearms and includes live firings done by the Alamo Living History staff. 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 is a definite conversation starter. 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 offers free admission, though you need to schedule your visit. Donations are requested in lieu of admission, so make a donation to keep Blue Star the gem that it is.
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.
Children under 12 are always free at the Briscoe, as are active duty members of the military (family members receive discounted admission when the military member is present). The third Sunday of every month is also Locals Day, where all Bexar County residents are admitted at half-off of general admission. The museum also regularly hosts 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: 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 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 RSVPs/wristbands are required. A link for ticket reservations is posted at 8am the morning of Free Family Night. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. For other DoSeum events, check out its calendar.
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. And the McNay is a great spot for outdoor art exploring, visiting their pond and enjoying a picnic. During Daylight Saving Time, the Museum’s sculpture grounds are open every day from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. During Standard Time, the sculpture grounds are open every day from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The newest addition to La Villita and a fantastic addition to the San Antonio landscape is the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM). Located on S. Presa on the outer edge of La Villita, the museum is always free and open during the same hours as La Villita.
The museum’s mission is to collect, preserve and share the cultural heritage of African Americans in the San Antonio area. They host a monthly Black History River Cruise (ticketed event) and feature a wonderful array of online content on their website, so you can also learn this essential piece of San Antonio history right from home.
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 for Bexar County residents 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, 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, 3:00–7:00 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!