Towering Fun Exploring Hemisfair

The Tower of the Americas, one of the most recognizable buildings on San Antonio’s horizon

It looms on the horizon whenever you’re facing downtown: familiar, recognizable and welcoming. But most of us never venture to the Tower of the Americas, leaving it for the tourists and overlooking it as a fun destination that puts our city in a whole new perspective. And—surprise!—there’s more to do than just enjoy the view.

A view from the elevator window

But first, the tower. This year is its 50th anniversary as it was created as part of HemisFair in 1968. At 750 feet, the Tower of the Americas is the tallest building in San Antonio and the 27th tallest building in Texas. The elevator ride up gives a glimpse of what’s to come. As you ascend, everything starts getting smaller and there are plenty of oohs and aahs from anyone staring out the window.

At the top of Tower, you can enjoy the observation deck and roam indoors and read up on Texas history, or step out onto a covered (and highly secured and fenced so that even the best escape artist toddlers aren’t at risk) deck that circles the structure. 

Things definitely look different from 750 feet in the air. From above, everything looks miniature and picturesque, a snow globe view of our great city. On a clear day, it’s as if you can see forever, especially when you admire the view through little eyes. With a 360-degree view of the city, there’s something to notice in every direction.

San Antonio from 750 feet in the air

“What building is that? Where does that bridge go? Can we see Mexico? What about my school?” The stream of questions and commentary is never-ending and fun. Thankfully, there are photos inside to help you identify the landmarks and buildings you’re seeing, and kids like to compare the pictures to what they see as they peer through the tower’s large windows.

At the base of the tower, you can enjoy 4-D movies, all of which are included with your admission ticket. The 4-D experience includes shaking seats, blowing air to simulate wind, and some squirting water at appropriate moments. And of course, if you’d like to add a meal to your view, you can enjoy the Chart House Restaurant (there’s a separate entrance/elevator for the restaurant).

Tori the Tower mascot
“Alas de Mexico”

Back outside, be sure to roam and enjoy. There are fountains and public art to discover, including “Alas de Mexico,” or “Wings of Mexico.” A gift from Mexico to mark the Tricentennial, it’s San Antonio’s latest selfie hotspot, so be sure to snap some shots for Instagram.

Tip: If you go on a Sunday, you can park at city meters for free. We like to park on Cesar Chavez and roam to the Tower. You can also stop in the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures for a fun addition to your day of play. On the second Sunday of the month, the Institute offers Second Sunday programming, with free admission and activities. (Note: Second Sundays take a hiatus in June. The Texas Folklife Festival fills that weekend, so the Sunday programming is not offered.)

“The Voices of Yanaguana” by David Zamora Casas

But that’s not the only fun you can enjoy. The area around the base of the tower is filled with fountains and space to roam, as well as grottos tucked away on the southeast corner of the convention center. Through October, bring your crew to Party on the Plaza on Friday nights and catch free concerts, bounce houses, food and drinks, and more.

We like to wander from the tower area through Hemisfair, enjoying the tree-shaded paths and finding public art along the way. It’s a nice, relaxing exploration of a part of our city that many have no idea exists. Explore the Instituto Cultural de México at San Antonio for free and enjoy seeing various art shows/exhibitions. (Note: Not all of the art may be age-appropriate subject matter. Like many things with art, it can be subjective. However, children are welcome.)

A sculpture at Instituto Cultural de México at San Antonio

Your exploration has a fantastic end goal: Yaunaguana Garden, which keeps getting better. There’s so much to do that kids never get bored, and it’s a great place for adults to hang out and relax while kids have fun. There’s art to enjoy, terrific play structures (some located under a new shade structure/art installation that helps keep things cool), community games, and more. You can even sit in one of the vintage gondolas from HemisFair, though they’re now anchored to the ground instead of soaring over the park. The splash pad and play areas make kids swoon, and restaurants keep popping up to feed/cool/refresh everyone. (Tip: If Yaunaguana is your destination, bring along towels and suits for the splash pad—there are even changing rooms—and don’t be afraid to let the kids get dirty in the huge sand area.)

Splashpad fun at Yanaguana

On our visits, we always make time/room for paletas from Paleteria San Antonio, love the shaded patios (and the chickens!) at Con Safos, and of course, you can grab coffee and more at Commonwealth. The latest food addition is Dough, open now and expanding its hours later this summer.

Paletas at Paleteria San Antonio

Splash pads, pizza and paletas? Now that’s a kid’s paradise—and a piece of San Antonio tourists shouldn’t get all to themselves.

An Army brat who came to Texas for college and ultimately managed to make the Lone Star State her permanent home, Dawn became a mom “AMA” (advanced maternal age), giving her the opportunity to use a stroller vs. a walker as she navigates the world of motherhood. Her growing up way too fast native Texan loves all things Star Wars, Legos, dinosaurs and keeping his parents on their toes. When she’s not busy parenting the original strong-willed child, Dawn runs Tale to Tell Communications, a San Antonio-based PR and marketing agency. An award-winning writer, Dawn also contributes to San Antonio Woman, Rio Magazine and Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She and her family enjoy exploring all that San Antonio has to offer, going on adventures and playing tourist together as much as possible. Favorite Restaurant: Clementine Favorite Landmark: The beauty of the River Walk, especially La Villita Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Celebrating anything and everything with color, music and food