Giving Presence and Presents

Ah, the joys of Christmas shopping. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all of the crazy shopping days from Thanksgiving to Christmas put a big dent in my holiday joy. I love giving just the right gift, and a good deal is always fun. But I’m tired of it.

Even with selective gift-giving, the toy hoard in our house is overwhelming. Most of our selections have become favorites that in some cases have been played with for years, and our little toy loyalist could be considered a hoarder as he can’t seem to imagine parting with anything.

But he also treasures family time. Have you ever heard “sometimes presence trumps presents”? That’s my new mantra, and we’re adding family experiences to our gift lists. Doing things together makes memories, builds family bonds, and (shhh!) often includes a bit of learning while we have fun together. We’ve done big things together (family trips) and little things (a hike at a park we’ve never visited), but some of our favorites are things we can fit in anytime thanks to annual passes and memberships.

One of the reasons San Antonio is such a tourist magnet is that we have an abundance of great things to see and do. We have museums and attractions here to fit every interest, so both the big and little kids on your gift list can explore and have fun thanks to the gift of a family pass, membership, or even just tickets for a fun day trip. So give some presence this year—and suggest it to your family and friends looking for just the right thing for your littles. It’ll give you a year of adventures, a great go-to when you hear “I’m bored!” and fun perks like free pictures with Santa, cool members-only parties, and discounts to gift shops (see, there’s still shopping to enjoy!).

Not enough to convince you? Then listen to Dr. Seuss: “Sometimes, you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” Some ideas for making memories, in no particular order, include something for just about everyone on your list—and are great to share with people asking “what should I give your little this year?”:

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

Home to more than 500 animals, Natural Bridge Wildlife Caverns is a great destination for animal lovers. Annual passes are available—per person, vs. per vehicle, so keep that in mind—and you can enjoy zebras sticking their heads in your car, ostriches saying hello, and watusi that do whatever they want. Even if you don’t do an annual pass, a visit to Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is definitely a terrific adventure.

The DoSeum

A kid’s paradise, a membership to the DoSeum (various levels available) gives you year-round fun, with education cleverly disguised as a good time. Members receive discounts on birthday parties, camps, and more, as well as special members-only hours and activities. With rotating exhibits and too much to do in one day, there’s always something new to explore, so your littles will never say they don’t want to go.

Morgan’s Wonderland

Confession: it took me too long to take my little to Morgan’s Wonderland. It’s designed for those with special needs, but it’s fun for everyone, and quite honestly, it’s fantastic that San Antonio is home to the only theme park designed to give everyone, no matter their ability, a fun time. We purchased a punch card this year, but that program has been updated to membership options. With holiday lights and special events like “Delightful Not Frightful” Halloween fun—and a new waterpark opening in 2017—Morgan’s is a great gift.

Bat Conservation International

Unless you're a BCI member, then follow the guides and see bats, bats, bats and more bats.
Unless you’re a BCI member, then follow the guides and see bats, bats, bats and more bats.

Have a bat lover in your family? If so, BCI (Bat Conservation International) is a must, especially if you’d like to witness the largest known concentration of mammals on earth take flight to grab their dinner on a summer night. That’s 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats, just north of San Antonio, and you can see them. That may not sound like your idea of a great night, but I promise, it’s fun and will leave both you and your littles amazed. Members of BCI get priority access to seeing the bats at Bracken Cave as well as other benefits, and there’s even a kid membership (the Bat Squad) that includes a stuffed bat (great for under the tree, or hanging in the tree!) and a magazine.


“The hottest, coolest time in Texas,” Schlitterbahn is the perfect summer diversion for anyone who enjoys a wide range of water fun. With everything from the littlest kiddie pools to surfing and serious waterpark fun, Schlitterbahn is routinely voted America’s number one waterpark for a reason. With free parking and the ability to bring in your own snacks/lunch/beverages, it is also very family friendly. Season passes are available and discounted before the season begins, so buy early to save.

The Witte Museum

The Witte has been undergoing a transformation and will throw open the doors to the all-new Witte in 2017. We love what we’ve seen thus far, and next summer’s exhibit on whales is a MUST on our calendar (any and all sea creatures are a passion). We’ve had a membership at the Witte for a few years now, and even with the construction, it has been more than worth it. Special events and members-only preview access to exhibits has been terrific, but we’ve also taken advantage of their reciprocity program, using our Witte membership for free access to other museums when we’re traveling. With great options in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and Houston, we’ve more than paid for our Witte membership with our savings.

McKenna Children’s Museum

Astronaut fun at the McKenna.
Astronaut fun at the McKenna.

If you have truly littles, the McKenna is for you. Just a short trip north to New Braunfels, McKenna offers wonderful activities to keep kids busy (and learning!) in an environment that’s easy for moms. In other words, you can sit in one area and keep an eye on multiple kids without a problem—a win-win for sure. We’ve spent hours exploring, building, and imagining at McKenna, and my almost six-year-old makes regular requests to go back. This summer, we’ll be doing some of their summer camps (they have a great cooking program for littles). Membership includes discounts on parties there and more. (Sorry, no link is available to the membership area of their website, but look under the “Children’s Museum” tab to locate the information.)

San Antonio Zoo

Saying hello to hippos at the zoo.
Saying hello to hippos at the zoo.

Another gift option for animal lovers is a pass to the San Antonio Zoo. The zoo has welcomed two new elephants this year, added a giraffe exhibit, and recently unveiled a new lion exhibit that allows you to get closer than ever to the king of the jungle. Memberships are priced by the number of people in your “pack” so you can cover everyone in your family, and include discounts to special events, early access hours in the summer, and faster entry (skipping lines) to get into the zoo.

Las Casas Foundation

Know a theater fan or music lover? Anyone who likes comedy, drama, music, and more will appreciate a Las Casas Foundation membership. Want to get fantastic theater tickets without dealing with online purchasing or crazy phone waits? The best benefit of Las Casas membership is its ticket-buying service for members. Tickets to any show at the beautiful Majestic Theatre or its gorgeous sister, the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, can be purchased through Las Casas Foundation and, rather than paying Ticketmaster fees, your purchase benefits its annual scholarship fund. Can you say fantastic seats (and major mom points) to Octonauts Live, with no ticket purchasing hassle?!? We’ve also enjoyed Broadway shows, and for mom and dad, awesome concerts. And your membership, as well as a portion of your ticket purchases, is tax deductible.

The Jumpy Place

Guaranteed to get the wiggles out, a morning or afternoon bouncing at The Jumpy Place is a good diversion for littles up to age 10. With comfy chairs and free Wi-Fi, mom can hang out and let the kids bounce away in either San Antonio or New Braunfels. Punch cards, gift cards, and memberships are available to make multiple visits a breeze—just don’t forget your socks (even for mom)!

San Antonio Art Museum

A gorgeous Texas landscape by Julian Onderdonk included in the SAMA collection.
A gorgeous Texas landscape by Julian Onderdonk included in the SAMA collection.

A fantastic way to get your littles interested in art, the San Antonio Art Museum features family programming, a kids’ club, and terrific special exhibits for the whole family to enjoy. Memberships are tax-deductible and give you unlimited admission to the museum and all special exhibits, discounts in the gift shop, and more. We enjoy visiting the museum when we’re exploring the Museum Reach and often take visitors there to show off some of San Antonio’s treasures.

Altitude Trampoline Park

Keeping your littles moving is always a good thing, and with 30,000 square feet of high-energy fun, you’re guaranteed quiet time after you leave. Altitude Trampoline Park includes foam pits, gymnastic tumble tracks, a junior jumper area, dodge ball, trampolines, and more. Frequent Jumper and Loyal Jumper cards are available to pre-pay for jumping time.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas

If thrill rides are on your littles’ lists, tickets or passes to Six Flags Fiesta Texas will definitely fit the bill. With holiday lights, Halloween frights, and endless summer fun, the theme park is a good option for older kids. There’s a wide array of ticketing and pass options, some of which include free parking (which is $20 per visit, so something to consider).

Kiddie Park

America’s oldest children’s amusement park started right here in San Antonio in 1925 and is still going strong. Many moms remember going there as kids and now enjoy taking their children to ride the rides and have some old-fashioned fun. While memberships are not available, books of ride tickets can be purchased, and unlimited ride bands are available on Wednesdays.

San Antonio Botanical Garden

There’s always something growing at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. (See what I did there?) But truly, the garden is a great place to explore and learn (I’m always sneaking that in, aren’t I??) while enjoying nature. And 2017 will see everything expand with eight new acres and new activities to explore. Memberships include unlimited admission to the garden, free admission to many special events, and special members-only activities, as well as discounts to classes and camps.

The McNay Art Museum

A true treasure, the McNay Art Museum is the first museum of modern art in Texas, and its more-than-20,000-piece collection is fantastic. The grounds are beautiful—and a great destination for a picnic before or after you explore the museum. If you’re not sure about how to introduce your kids to art, follow Inga’s advice and enjoy the McNay. Memberships are tax deductible and include discounts in the museum shop, free admission to a variety of events, and special members-only preview events.

Briscoe Western Art Museum

Perfect for those who enjoy cowboy life, art, and more, the Briscoe includes a variety of Western art and artifacts, ranching history, and more for junior cowboys and cowgirls to explore. We’ve celebrated the National Day of the Cowboy there, roamed through the sculpture garden, and learned all about spurs (those on your boots, not on the basketball court). Check out this post to learn more about how the Briscoe is fun for kids. Memberships here could also be a good gift for some of the big folks on your holiday list, too.


Meeting sting rays at Aquatica, an animal interaction available for an extra fee.
Meeting sting rays at Aquatica, an animal interaction available for an extra fee.

If you have a sea lover, SeaWorld is a good destination to enjoy sharks, dolphins, penguins, and more, as well as water fun and coaster thrills. Annual passes, memberships, and fun cards offer a variety of options. Admission to Aquatica, the waterpark that’s open through the summer season, is not always included, so if that’s part of what your little would enjoy, be sure to purchase the right option. Also good to note: in recent years, the park has offered Texas residents ages three to five free passes to SeaWorld. However, there is no way of knowing if that offer will be extended again in 2017 or what the details of the offer may be.

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