San Antonio is one of Texas’s top destinations, drawing over 40 million visitors annually with its vibrant blend of history, culture, nature, and modern attractions. While some of the city’s star sites like the Alamo do charge admission fees, there are still plenty of free things to do and experience across this sprawling city for budget-conscious travelers looking for free things to do in San Antonio. From scenic walking trails to kid-friendly parks and museums to serene botanical gardens, San Antonio offers an array of free activities to enjoy.
10 Free Things To Do In San Antonio 2023
To help visitors stretch their vacation budgets, here are the top 10 free things to do in San Antonio to make the most out of your 2023 trip:
Soak In the Stunning San Antonio River Walk
The iconically beautiful San Antonio River Walk is the number one free attraction in the city. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll for 15 miles along the lush, pedestrian-only waterway that winds through downtown along the banks of the San Antonio River. Lined with lively restaurants, bars, shops and hotels behind stone archways, the charming cobblestone paths and romantic lights strung across the water make the River Walk especially idyllic at night.
During the day, you’ll also find vibrant plazas, historic sites, and museums to duck into along your riverside walk, like the Alamo, La Villita Historic Village or the San Antonio Museum of Art. The River Walk is the vibrant heart of the city – and it won’t cost you a cent to take it all in.
Explore Hemisfair Park & Yanaguana Garden
Hemisfair Park offers a gorgeous green urban oasis right in downtown San Antonio. It sprawls across 95 acres that once hosted the 1968 World’s Fair, now converted into a beautiful recreational playground centered around the serene Yanaguana Garden. This 4-acre children’s area features splash pads, a mini-waterfall, interactive art installations, a sandy beach play zone and a magically-lit tree grove – all free to enjoy.
Visitors of all ages can also access other sections of Hemisfair Park like the grassy promenades or winding walking paths for picnicking, games, fitness classes and unobstructed views of the Tower of the Americas. The park often hosts community events and festivals too.
Tour the Historic San Antonio Missions
A cluster of four 18th-century Spanish frontier missions can be found just a quick drive south of downtown San Antonio: Missions Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the National Park Service, these beautifully preserved landmarks allow visitors to experience San Antonio’s colonial past first-hand for free.
Wandering through the towering stone churches, humble friars’ quarters and tranquil courtyards lined with archways provide a glimpse into the city’s 300-year history. You can view the missions independently or join a free park ranger tour.
Stroll Through the San Antonio Botanical Gardens
Towering palms, vibrant tropical blooms and serene koi ponds make the 38-acre San Antonio Botanical Gardens an urban oasis just north of downtown. This lush landscape features multiple garden spaces like the formal Sunken Garden theater, water-wise Texas Native Trail and dramatic East Orient-inspired Jingu House.
The Lucille Halsell Conservatory, situated on-site, shelters a collection of over 33,000 rare plants. Entry to the full gardens does come at a cost, but visitors can explore parts of the outdoor gardens and trailing paths for free. It’s especially lovely around spring and summer when everything is in colorful bloom.
Visit the Witte Museum & H-E-B Body Adventure
Families traveling with kids will love spending a full day at the Witte Museum just north of downtown. Dedicated to sharing cultural heritage and science education, the Witte features interactive exhibits focused on natural history, science, archaeology and South Texas regional culture – spanning dinosaur fossils and live animal habitats to recreations of San Antonio’s early settler days.
While general admission tickets are required for the main building, the Witte’s large H-E-B Body Adventure section is actually free and open to the public. This 7,000 sq ft space lets kids explore the human body from head to toe with larger-than-life elements.
Take In the Pearl Brewery District
The vibrant Pearl neighborhood north of downtown stands on the repurposed grounds of San Antonio’s historic Pearl Brewery. The sprawling hotel and retail complex integrates the brewery’s original nineteenth-century industrial buildings with striking modern architecture. Visitors can explore the bustling plazas, green spaces, local boutiques and diverse dining for free.
Don’t miss the beautiful Hotel Emma, named for Pearl’s founder Emma Koehler. The luxury hotel lobby and charming library with soaring ceilings, rich wood floors and plush seating welcome visitors to relax for a bit too. On weekends, the Pearl also hosts a free farmers market.
Visit the Spanish Governor’s Palace
Downtown’s picturesque Spanish Governor’s Palace provides a glimpse into San Antonio’s past as an 18th-century Spanish colonial capital. This National Historic Landmark site built in 1749 overlooks Military Plaza as the only remaining structure from the original Presidio San Antonio de Bexar fort housing the captain of the Spanish militia.
Visitors today can take a free self-guided tour of the restored two-story limestone residence, office, chapel and courtyard to admire the simple yet elegant architectural details. Exhibits also showcase artifacts found onsite during excavations. Don’t miss the intricate carving around the main doorway.
Play at One of SA’s Top Parks
San Antonio boasts over 237 public parks, offering plenty of spaces to let kids play or host picnics without spending a dime. Top-rated free parks include Brackenridge Park along the San Antonio River north of downtown, with jungle gym playgrounds set amidst lush gardens. You’ll also find the San Antonio Zoo, Witte Museum and Botanical Gardens on the grounds here.
Historic Travis Park in the city center offers a pretty central lawn ringed by tall shade trees, while HemisFair and Yanaguana Gardens downtown provide playgrounds and splash pads. Fun features like a mini-train ride and geo-caching adventure at Friedrich Wilderness Park or Bark Park at McAllister Park will thrill kids too.
See 300 Years of San Antonio History at La Villita
Nestled just south of the Alamo, La Villita’s cobblestone paths winding between preserved adobe settler homes and studios creates a “little village” that transports visitors straight back to San Antonio’s 18th-century origins. Originally part of the Spanish Mission San Antonio Valero settlement, this arts village today houses galleries, craft shops and restaurants within its historic-registered buildings.
Visitors can take self-guided walking tours around La Villita’s plazas and gardens free of charge while soaking in all the charm, texture and architecture from one of America’s oldest neighborhoods. Make sure to see the Arneson River Theatre on the River Walk below too – its stage backing opens directly into La Villita.
Catch a Show at Arneson River Theatre
The Arneson River Theater stage itself hosts 350+ free events every year like jazz nights, dance performances, and musical acts against a backdrop of the San Antonio River flowing by. Throughout the spring and summer months, you can often catch improv comedy acts or youth orchestral performances on weeknights too.
Movies are also screened here on a 30-foot projection screen – the only outdoor cinema space along the iconic River Walk. Visitors will feel like stars themselves sitting in the limestone seats steps from the water. Bring a blanket and snack to make a riverfront evening of it.
What are the best free things to do in San Antonio with kids?
Top free kid-friendly activities include Yanaguana Garden playground and splash pads at HemisFair Park downtown, Witte Museum’s H-E-B Body Adventure exhibit, the trails and gardens at San Antonio Botanical Gardens, and playgrounds at parks like Brackenridge Park.
What free museums are there in San Antonio?
While the Witte Museum and San Antonio Museum of Art do charge admission, visitors can access the Spanish Governor’s Palace history exhibits, San Antonio Botanical Gardens Conservatory, and Institute of Texan Cultures galleries for free.
What free events happen in San Antonio?
The city hosts over 50 free festivals annually, especially focused on local culture. Visitors can also catch music, dance, improv comedy and movie screenings for free at the Arneson River Theatre.
Is the River Walk free in San Antonio?
Yes! Strolling along the 15 miles of San Antonio River Walk pathways downtown and accessing any of its plazas or riverfront shops does not cost a thing.
What is there to do for free at the Pearl Brewery?
The vibrant Pearl neighborhood offers parks, green spaces, boutique shopping and dining that are all free to enjoy. Don’t miss the Hotel Emma lobby and farmers market on weekends.