Where to Stay My absolute favorite place to stay on the main section of the River Walk is the Omni Rio del Mansion. It's a beautiful hotel with lots of Spanish character, a pool and huge rooms. You can find a Groupon for the Wyndham Garden on the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River Walk sometimes, which means even those on a tight budget should be able to enjoy staying the River Walk. I really like the location of this hotel on quiet part of the River Walk and within walking distance of the San Antonio Art Museum. The rooms are nice and there is a small pool outside. My only complaint about his hotel is the lack of good breakfast options.The Omni on the Colonnade has fun themed rooms for the kids but isn't on the River Walk. There are also some amazing destination resorts - the J.W. Marriott and the Westin La Cantera - on the outskirts of town if you plan on spending most of your time at your hotel.
Things to Do First and foremost, get out and enjoy the River Walk! The Museum Reach section is really quiet and scenic and I was very comfortable letting the kids have free reign running all over the place. This is definitely NOT the case in the much more crowded and touristy Paseo del Rio section of the walk. While the Paseo is fun, it is harder to navigate with strollers or roaming toddlers. However, you will find great little shops, restaurants and treats in this area. Passes for the Rio River Taxi are good for 24 hours anywhere on the River Walk. It was so nice to not look at our car for two days, so even though it is quite expensive ($15 per person), I still thought it was worth it. The kids were fascinated by the river lock, so we watched it operate from the bridge above and then also from the boat when we went through the lock. It was one of those moments of homeschooling perfection that I never could have planned, because they spent about an hour doing their own version of locks and damns in the sluice the day before, and then got to see and experience the real thing.
Tour the Alamo for an up close and personal look at a huge piece of Texas and American history.
The San Antonio children's museum, The Doseum, is a new and spacious children's museum with a healthy cafe on-site. Yet, I felt the same way about it that I do about most children's museums, which is that we always enjoy ourselves but I am never blown away. There is so much potential there, but you have to be totally focused on the follow through or the kids are easily distracted and don't get that much out of any one thing. They spent the most time making up stories with me in the spy room and climbing on the rock wall and ropes outside in the playground. My personal opinion is that children's museums are ideal for children under six. I asked both kids if they liked the Witte or the Doseum better and they both said the Witte, but it's a personal call on whether children's museums are right for your family or not.
The San Antonio Zoo is a nice size and beautiful, we can always spend an afternoon enjoying the exhibits. The train that goes around Brackenridge Park can get you to the zoo from the Doseum and the Witte Museum.
The Witte Museum has a beautiful outdoor space with a rock wall and water features, a permanent Texas history exhibit and rotating science/art/history exhibits. We spent a good while inside at the HEB body/health exhibit. The activities that stood out were the stationary bike riding, lifting your own body weight chairs and a competitive dancing game. Then we headed outdoors and pretty much stayed outside for the rest of our visit. Both kids tried out the rock wall climbing as many times as they wanted. I was worried it was going to be really crowded on a Saturday afternoon, but we didn't have a problem with wait times at all. We also spent some time in the water area where you can experiment with different locks and the Archimedes screw. They had a parkour course set up outside with teenage "pros" to help the kids and we could not drag out daughter away from this part! We bought tickets for the special exhibit, Bodies Revealed, which consists of a gajillion glass cases holding real body parts displayed in every which way you can imagine. While my 8 year old enjoyed the exhibit, I would say generally this is best for kids 10+ unless you have a younger child that is particularly interested in human anatomy. My daughter spent about five minutes in there before saying "I don't want to imagine all of this stuff inside of me!" We quickly exited so she could go straight back to parkour.
The San Antonio Museum of Art has large exhibits on Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Chinese art. My son has poured over mythology for years on his own (mainly A Child's Introduction to Greek Mythology by Heather Alexander and National Geographic Kids Treasury of Egyptian Mythology), but my daughter doesn't have the same interest (only The Story of the World Vol. 1), so I went on the hunt for something quick and easy that we all could enjoy. I found a show on Hulu called Kid's Animated History with Pipo and that did the job well enough. It keeps things short and to the point, but also entertaining. I only wish it wasn't quite so simplified in some instances, but the kids liked it. I also made a scavenger hunt for them to do in the museum and they both loved doing this. There is a great kids section in the gift shop and "kid packs" that you can borrow to take with you as you tour. I didn't think they were all that useful, but my daughter loved that she got to hold a copy of some of the things we were looking at as we went along.
Natural Bridge Caverns are about 30 minutes north of San Antonio. The rock formations and underground lakes are beautiful and the 75 minute tour is fun and informative. The kids also really liked playing with the water in the sluice, and we didn't even buy the gem bag to go "mining." There is a ropes course and zip line for more adventurous kids. I have also taken the kids to the drive through Safari here, but the cave tour and grounds seem more worth the money.
If you want to venture outside of the city limits, don't miss Sea World San Antonio and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
Where to Eat The Luxury is on the museum reach section of the River Walk and offers awesome food and scenery in a casual, outdoor setting. I could spend hours in this quirky outdoor spot.
Pearl Brewery is an old brewery complex that has been transformed into an outdoor mall with shops, restaurants and lots of open space. While generally I enjoy these types of places with kids, this one was not especially kid friendly for dinner. We went into three different restaurants to look at the menu and none of them had a kid's menu or any children in them. They all had the vibe that says children and families are not their target market. Now, this can be good or bad, depending on your perspective, but best to know before you go! We ended up eating at Boiler House, where the food was good and they were very accommodating to our special food requests, but we ordered so many different things just to make sure that the kids had enough to try that it ended up more expensive than our usual family dinner out.
La Hacienda de los Barrios is on the northern edge of town on the way back to Austin. It is a beautiful Mexican restaurant with a huge outdoor patio, a small playscape for the kids and delicious food. We would happily go here again.