Sports-loving San Antonio may be best known for the Alamo fort, River Walk and cool Pearl District. But it does quirky attractions equally well – everything from record-breaking bat migrations to ghost encounters and glitter-filled egg fights.
The second-largest city in Texas, San Antonio has all the fine-art museums, amusement parks, historical spots and shopping you’d expect of a major destination trying to lure tourists. Look harder, though, and you’ll find far more eccentric, eclectic, fun-filled outings. It’s famously haunted, and ghost tours are easy to find; so too are epic food portions from which you’ll need a week to recover, plus twilight bat spectacles, yoga classes in beautiful botanic gardens, giant coins or joyous fiesta fights with confetti-filled eggs.
Talk about close quarters: an estimated 20m Mexican free-tailed bats travel around 1,000mi (1,610km) to live and breed inside Bracken Cave, just northeast of the city, between March and October – easily the largest bat colony on earth. The sight of them erupting out en masse at twilight is spellbinding, but book ahead to enjoy it: Bat Conservation International allows viewings only on certain summer nights. Check the BCI website for dates.
Once the wackiest museum in San Antonio, the Old Time Wooden Nickel Co. had a gallery playing on the old American adage: “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” The museum is now online only, but still hanging outside the current company’s production base is a 13ft-wide (4m) nickel – reckoned to be the largest in the world – built by late owner and former Air Force man Herb Hornung.
Along with floating flower parades and parties aplenty, the annual 10-day Fiesta San Antonio held in April sees revelers delightedly cracking eggs atop one another’s heads. These are, in fact, cascarones: brightly daubed eggshells, drained and then re-filled with confetti. They’re ubiquitous at the festival, which commemorates both the Battle of the Alamo and the brief 1836 Battle of San Jacinto, whose conclusion saw Texas liberated from Mexican rule.
It’s no secret that Texans favor large portions. Large, or absolutely gigantic. An ultimate example are the 42in (107cm) pizzas at award-winning Big Lou’s Pizza, with more-restrained 37in (94cm) and 20in (51cm) alternatives available for those on a diet. Once you’ve polished off your pepperoni or margherita, take a taxi back to the center and Lulu’s Bakery & Café where, as reward for such a colossal journey, you can order the delicious 3lb (1.3kg) cinnamon roll. After that? Collapse.
Thought to be among the most haunted places in the United States, Victoria’s Black Swan Inn is a two-story, 19th-century plantation home beside Salado Creek. On certain dates, you can join paranormal investigators in a search for the many spirits frequently encountered here, including one wandering woman clad in a beautiful, bejeweled white gown. Should more spookery be in order, Alamo City Ghost Tours runs wider outings, and promises grisly stories of executions and murder amid the downtown streets and alleys.
Within the 33 acres (13ha) of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, you’ll find exotic plants in kaleidoscopic colors, old log cabins, potager gardens, river walks, a great greenhouse and… yogis. Each week, in the morning and at dusk, guided yoga and tai chi classes take place. Arguably most relaxing are the 50-minute intentional flow seminars given as the sun sets, which are preceded by a short meditative walk. Register online as far ahead as possible to take part.
These recommendations were updated on May 6, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.