A Change in Scenery: Mask up and Explore San Antonio’s Museums

So. Over. It. It’s the cry from moms and kiddos everywhere. We’ve stayed in, stayed isolated, and done our best to stay healthy.

The bad news? There’s no end in sight. We have to keep at it to stay safe.

The good news? That doesn’t mean that you have to stay home.

San Antonio is brimming with fun destinations, but our museums and cultural institutions are something not to be missed. They’re all things you can safely do with your family. And they need our support. They’ve carefully put health and safety protocols in place. They’re following all of the guidelines. They want you to be safe and they themselves want to be safe. They are ready to welcome you and your family. But before you toss your mask in the trash and rush out the door, let’s talk.

Mask up to enjoy the McNay.

To be safe, that means not meeting up with friends. It means choosing times to go when things aren’t so busy. It means hand sanitizer. It means talking to your kids so they know what to expect. It means not going out if you or anyone in your family has symptoms. It means not going out if you are high risk or have someone in your family who is. And it means wearing a mask. That last part is non-negotiable. It’s required in Bexar County and many other places. It’s now the norm we all have to get used to it.

That may mean some families would rather just stay in and not mess with it. And that’s okay.

But if you want to venture out, you can do it. I promise you it’s fun to play tourist in your hometown. Our fabulous city still has great museums, fun activities, and cool things to explore. Seeing them with a mask doesn’t change any of that. Secret bonus: while your kids are enjoying themselves, they’ll be learning something too. (You might want to keep that to yourself.)

If you’re going to get out and explore, follow these guidelines:

Staying safe the cowboy way at the Briscoe.

1.) Mask up. It’s required for everyone over 10 and highly recommend for anyone over the age of 2. Every spot on this list requires masks for entry, so don’t head out without one for you and everyone in your group.

2.)  Reserve a spot, or buy tickets in advance. Places like the DoSeum require advance ticketing. Capacities are limited (just 25% at the DoSeum) to help with safe social distancing and some places require timed admission tickets, meaning you must use your ticket within a certain window on a specific day. Even those that don’t require timed tickets are offering/recommending advance online purchases to minimize contact onsite. Plan ahead and help keep your family and our community safe.

3.) Leave your cash at home. Many spots are no longer accepting cash payments. So if you plan to buy tickets in person or want to purchase something onsite, be sure to have your credit card handy.

4.) Bring your sanitizer. All destinations have placed hand sanitizing stations throughout their locations. Some, like the Witte, even offer hand washing in sinks throughout the museum. But don’t rely on always finding options. Come prepared, with your own wipes/sanitizer for your own peace of mind. And use it liberally!

5.) Bring your own water and snacks. We feel most comfortable eating food we’ve prepared at home right now, or doing take out from some trusted local spots. While you can’t enjoy those inside the museums, all of the locations offer outdoor areas where you can sit and enjoy a snack with your kids. Grab a bench and some shade to snack and relax.

6.) Understand that not everything will be available. Some activities or interactive displays may be closed per regulations and guidelines. At the Witte, you can’t do the H-E-B Body Adventure and the popular dinosaur dig is under plexiglass. The Briscoe has removed its audio kiosks and the Witte gives you a stylus to use on their touch screens. Some areas of the McNay aren’t spacious enough for social distancing. Each museum and its staff worked tirelessly to ensure our safety when they reopened. If something is closed or limited, it’s because it doesn’t meet the safety protocols.

7.) Be ready to be welcomed. Parents always fear that museums will turn their noses up at kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t be afraid to wheel your stroller in. The staff wants to welcome you and your family. They want you to enjoy your visit. They have suggestions and ideas for things to see and enjoy during your visit, some even offer specific brochures or information designed to help bring the museum to life for kids. Now more than ever, they want to welcome everyone to enjoy all they have to offer.

Get lost in the color and beauty of the Dale Chihuly ceiling at the San Antonio Art Museum.

Here’s a list of some spots you can enjoy right now. Please note that of course, things are always evolving. Be sure to check before you venture out to make sure that hours or visiting requirements haven’t changed and if you can, buy your tickets in advance. As we’re writing this, a few spots are not open to visitors, including the Alamo, the Institute of Texan Cultures, Ruby City, and outside of San Antonio, the McKenna Children’s Museum in New Braunfels. We hope all of those spots are able to safely open soon. And of course, while they’re not museums, the San Antonio Botanical Garden and San Antonio Zoo are both great options for families to enjoy, too.

The Briscoe Western Art Museum

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 kiddos, or “Lil Partners” as the museum calls its younger guests? They get to learn about cowboys, wildlife, vaqueros and Native Americans. For a mom’s perspective on the Briscoe, check out Inga’s visit with her son.

A real stagecoach at the Briscoe Western Art Museum.

The museum also offers virtual programming called Beyond the Briscoe, that includes online activities for kids. You can also subscribe to the Beyond the Briscoe newsletter for “How the West was Fun” and the #BuildtheWest LEGO challenge. If you go, don’t miss the sculpture garden. The museum features more than 30 sculptures in the garden and on its campus, making it fun outdoor destination, too. And bonus: children under 12 receive free admission, making the Briscoe an affordable family destination.

The DoSeum

There’s probably not much I can tell you about the DoSeum you don’t already know. A local favorite, and many of us have children who can spend hours and hours exploring all there is to do. Tickets are timed admissions and staff is constantly cleaning and sanitizing. Be sure to prep your kiddos: everything may not be what they’re used to seeing. The more they understand, the less frustration they’ll experience if an activity isn’t available. The DoSeum offers outdoor exploration as well, so keep that in mind when you plan your visit.

A beautiful picture spot in front of the McNay. Current construction means no water in the fountains, but the grounds are still a great place to explore.

The McNay

The McNay is a San Antonio treasure. The grounds are gorgeous—and perfect for picnicking, though their current grounds expansion has the sights and sounds of construction equipment—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 children 12 and under free admission, so you can enjoy the museum with your family whenever you like and not have to pay for the little ones. Don’t miss the pond with koi and turtles, a must stop whenever we visit. And the museum has added new sculptures to the grounds, making it fun to roam, explore and talk modern art with your kids.

San Antonio Museum of Art

This display at the SAMA parking lot is a favorite outdoor stop.

On the banks of the river’s Museum Reach, San Antonio Museum of Art (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.

A trail through SAMA’s grounds, a lovely walk looking over the River Walk. By the way, a visit to SAMA fits in really well with a walk on the Museum Reach, so head out and get some exercise in too.

FYI, children 12 and under always receive free general admission to SAMA, and they offer a special program, First Sundays for Families, each month (11:00 A.M.–3:00 P.M. and included with general admission). That program is subject to change/reschedule thanks to COVID-19, so check their website for more info. 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.

Even the Witte’s dinosaur knows you need to mask up.


The Witte Museum

My son’s love of dinosaurs knows no bounds, so the Witte is a spot where I’ve spent countless hours. He’s always excited to go and it was something we missed while it was closed. If you haven’t been to the Witte, GO. Now. Just kidding. Maybe. For a quick look at the Witte and why you and your kids will love it, check out my post from the grand opening, when they unveiled all of the greatness that is the Witte today. As noted above, the Body Adventure pavilion is closed, but there are other activities to keep kids entertained.

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