The museums in San Antonio are world-class and diverse. From classic paintings and meaningful modern art to exciting children’s museums to UNESCO historical sites, you can learn so much from the museums of San Antonio. So on your next trip, consider adding a couple of these superb museums to your bucket list of things to do in San Antonio.
Planning a longer trip to San Antonio? Check out one of these jaw-droppingly beautiful day trips from San Antonio.
PLANNING YOUR MUSEUM VISITS IN SAN ANTONIO
San Antonio River Walk: Before diving into the San Antonio museums you need to visit, we must explain how to best plan your visit. Museums are an important part of the city of San Antonio. And most of these museums are found sitting next to each other within walking distance. So you can easily pop in and out of them between other San Antonio tourist attractions. The best way to do this is to base your San Antonio vacation near the San Antonio River Walk. This lively tourism area has several museums within walking distance and offers other fun and exciting points of interest.
This River Walk is 15.2 miles long and is comprised of 3 sections.
One of these sections is the Museum Reach. Here, 4 miles (almost one-third!) of the length is dedicated to some of the city’s extensive museums. While not every museum, historical site, and cultural center in this list is a part of the River Walk, knowing this fact helps us understand how important cultural history is to this unique city. And it helps you know where to base yourself out of for museum-hopping.
Booking your reservations: With the current situation, it’s important to check online to reserve your spot in some of the more popular museums. And some places, like the Alamo, require a reservation ahead of time online. They are currently not doing reservations on the spot.
Enjoy this list of the best museums of San Antonio, so you can choose the best for your next trip.
THE FREE MUSEUMS IN SAN ANTONIO
Right off the bat, let’s start with a quick list of all the free San Antonio museums. Some are always free and others only on certain days. So if you want to plan out your museum-hopping experience in a way that maximizes your budget, here’s a quick list:
- The Alamo – but, make a reservation ahead of time here.
- Artpace San Antonio – always free.
- Bexar Heritage Center – always free.
- Briscoe – Free Tuesdays, but check before you go.
- DoSeum – Free on Family Nights, the first Monday of each month.
- Holocause Memorial Museum of San Antonio – Always free.
- McNay Art Museum – Free every Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
- Ruby City – Always free.
- San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum – Always free.
- San Antonio Art League and Museum – Always free.
- San Antonio Fire Museum – Free Tuesdays noon to 4:00 p.m.
- San Antonio Museum of Art – Free Tuesdays from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., only for Bexar County residents.
- Witte Museum – Free Tuesday from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., free admission for members.
- Villa Finale – grounds free, but you must pay to go inside.
THE TOP MUSEUMS IN SAN ANTONIO
We have divided this list into museums, cultural centers, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. While there are SO many museums in San Antonio, I know you can’t see them all. So to make it a little bit easier, the ones with the ★ are our personal favorite ones!
1. McNay Art Museum ★
The first on our list of San Antonio museums is the McNay. The McNay was the first modern art museum in Texas. It displays works from European and American masters, from Medieval to contemporary. The museum itself is a historical art piece, nestled into a massive, 45,000 square foot mansion built in 1929.
The McNay collection features American art in painting and sculpture. Their varied collection showcases abstract art and realistic art. One of their most prominent artists is the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. They also host a collection of Theatre art, which shows costume, stage, curtain, and program design. Many exhibits will explain what the art was used for, like “Scene design for the King’s bedroom in Act III of Le Rossignol (The Nightingale)”. This added a really interesting feature that brought the art to life.
Tickets are $20 for an adult and $10 for teenagers, and seniors and college students pay $15. Children are free from ages 0 to 12. Tickets here can be purchased at any time and can be redeemed at any time. So, if your plans change, you will still be able to visit the McNay Art Museum another day.
2. Briscoe Western Art Museum ★
The Briscoe Western Art Museum is another excellent place to see some important modern and historical artwork. This museum focuses on the culture of the American West. So, you will see permanent exhibits that include Native American art, like Apache baskets from the late 1800s.
The McNutt Sculpture Garden is located at the Briscoe Western Art Museum, too. This gorgeous outdoor space is a lovely place to take a stroll and examine the sculptures presented by various Western artists.
The Museum also hosts a number of excellent events. Their signature event, the Night of Artists, is a public auction and sale of almost three hundred new works by today’s artists. This event is held in March.
3. The DoSeum
The DoSeum is a children’s museum (and also the city’s newest museum) located in downtown San Antonio. At the DoSeum, children can explore a range of immersive experiences, from a Spy Academy, to a “little town”. There are also a number of important interactive exhibits that let children experience phenomena for themselves. For example, the Innovation Station allows children to create and build whatever they can imagine with real tools and materials. The Force Course lets them experience the scientific principles of forces and motion with pulleys, wheels, wedges, levers, and more. Sensations Studios brings the senses and science together in an artful and educational way.
The DoSeum has free admission for everyone on Free Family Nights, which happens on the first Monday of every month. Otherwise, admission is $14 per person.
4. Artpace San Antonio ★
Artpace San Antonio is all about the creation of new art by local Texans, Americans, and international artists. They even feature an artist in residence from each of these areas. From paintings to tapestries, to thought-provoking, larger-than-life material installments, you can find it here.
Public events are held at Artspace, too, like the Reading Red Book Club, which is not just for members. Keep in mind, some of these meetings are held virtually to remain socially distant. To participate, read the book at home, and tune in for a meaningful discussion from anywhere in the world.
Artpace is always free and open to anyone, and parking is always free, too.
5. Ruby City
This 14,000 square foot contemporary art center is also always free and open to the public. Ruby City was built after founder and art collector Linda Pace drew its concept after dreaming of a bright red building. Now, it displays modern art by local and international artists.
Ruby City’s art collection features small and large sculptures, photograph series, paintings, sketches, and more. Take your time walking through Ruby City, and allow yourself to take in the meaning behind the art. Be sure to experience the exhibitions, too, like Waking Dream, before they are gone.
6. Witte Museum ★
The Witte Museum is another beautiful venue on the San Antonio River Walk. Free general admission is not available at this natural science and cultural center, except for members and on Free Tuesday, which occurs from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on that day.
What are the permanent exhibits at the Witte Museum? One is the H-E-B Body Adventure. This interactive exhibit allows you to cycle through San Antonio, examine real human specimens, and overall learn how the body works. Another exhibit, the South Texas Heritage Center, features historical Texan artifacts. The People of the Pecos Gallery uncovers the history of the ancient peoples of the southern United States.
7. San Antonio Museum of Art ★
Another one of the great museums of San Antonio is their Museum of Art. They also have Free Tuesdays from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., but only for Bexar County residents.
Their collections of art from around the world feature African, European, Asian, Oceanic, Ancient Mediterranean, Islamic, and Latin American art. My favorite exhibit features historically important works, like that of the Maya Royals and the varied installments of Wendy Red Star.
The San Antonio Museum of Art also hosts many special events and educational programs. For instance, your child can attend a virtual educational playdate, and families will love Touch Free Family Days. There is also a Museum Market, where you can buy homemade items from local artisans. The market has free general admission.
8. Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio
While other museums in San Antonio may deliver a light day of learning, the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio is serious and extremely important. There is free general admission here, though a donation of $1-$3 is recommended, and helps the museum continue its work. After all, places like this help us remember the 6 million innocent people who were murdered in the Holocaust, as well as the dangers of both hatred and apathy.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum has one main permanent exhibit, which shows the propaganda that permeated the Nazi rise to power. Through photographs and other real artifacts, you see the real devastation that occurred in the years following. There is also a small exhibit for the Holocaust survivors that settled in San Antonio, and special exhibits that explore the American response to the Holocaust and other stories of individuals involved.
9. San Antonio Fire Museum
The San Antonio Fire Museum also participates in Free Tuesday for all, from noon until 4:00 p.m. Here, you’ll be able to see antique fire trucks and other equipment, documents, photos, and artifacts. Kids love to come here, because a real fire truck is there for them to climb in and dress up in firefighter gear. There are also fire prevention puppet shows available by email appointment, which puts a very fun spin on some serious learning.
11. The Alamo ★
If you’re planning a trip to San Antonio, undeniably you’ll want to visit the Alamo. This preserved historical site is the actual place where the battle of the Alamo happened in 1836. But, the museum uncovers much more. In fact, the Alamo has over 300 years of history laid out on the grounds, from the Age of Exploration starting in 1519 to the historical preservation starting in 1870 until now.
The Alamo offers free admission, though reservations are required to enter the Alamo Church. Otherwise, you’re free to walk the grounds and courtyards, see the cannon exhibit, and talk with live interpreters at the living history encampment.
12. UTSA Institute of Texas Cultures
The Institute of Texas Cultures is one of the best places to learn about the cultural history of San Antonio and all of Texas. This location is not only a museum but also a Smithsonian Affiliate and extension of the University of Texas San Antonio. They have exhibits and special events, as well as outreach programs for schools and large groups. As an Institute, they also have teacher-training workshops for local and visiting educators.
The venue opened in 1968 as a part of the World’s Fair, so visiting the UTSA Institute is like visiting a part of history. It’s also enormous, with 182,000 total square feet. Just under half of this size is dedicated to the exhibits.
Note: This museum is closed for a portion of the winter, so make sure to check hours of operation and admission information before planning your trip.
13. The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum
You probably wouldn’t think of a museum as one of the best places for a burger in San Antonio, but the Buckhorn is where you can find both a good time and an educational time. You’ll even get to visit two museums while you’re here- the Buckhorn and the Texas Ranger Museum. Above all, the Buckhorn is an immersive place to experience Texas history in a fun way. You will see an exotic animal collection, and a Ripley’s-esque Carnival of Curiosities. The Texas Ranger Museum showcases a century of ranger history, originally collected in 1973.
The Saloon opened over 130 years ago, survived Prohibition, and was set up as a tourist attraction in the 1950s. It still has many original furnishings, so you can feel like a real cowboy while you sip your brew or Prickly Pear Margarita.
14. Guinness World Records Museum- San Antonio
There are three Guinness World Records Museums in the world, and one of them is in San Antonio. It is also a part of the Ripley’s complex, and just a two-minute walk from the Alamo. All told, the gallery is over 10,000 square feet and shows off hundreds of exhibits. It also has interactive exhibits, where you can try to set your own world records. Often, this happens through participation in a live show, where Guinness World Record employees help you make history. Of all of the Guinness World Record Museums, this is the only one that offers this exciting experience. See ticket information here.
15. Texas Air Museum
The next on our list of San Antonio museums is a Texas hidden gem. The Texas Air Museum is at Stinson Field, the second oldest airport in the United States. Come to see a collection of vintage aircraft from the very beginnings of aviation to World War II. You can even climb inside some of these aircraft, and experience how small some of these planes were for pilots. They also have historic weapons and other vehicles on display, as well as the plane owned by one of America’s first female pilots.
16. San Antonio Art League & Museum
The San Antonio Art League and Museum always has free general admission. As one of the best art museums in San Antonio, you’ll be able to see an extensive collection of Texan artwork dating from current works to paintings all the way back to the 1920s.
This art museum is located about a mile south of the River Walk, within the King William Historic District. When you visit, you’ll enter a carriage house built in 1896 that now houses hundreds of works. If you’re a local artist yourself, you can enter your work during the SAALM open call for entry. This tradition is an extension of the wildflower painting competitions that brought forth the artwork on display from the 20s.
17. Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens
Another beautiful site in the King William District, Villa Finale is now an art museum met with a historical site. The grounds are free and open to the public, so you can enjoy walking through its natural beauty. Inside, you will see a home restored to its original glory by Walter Nold Mathis, who would go on to restore other historical homes in the district. He also collected over 12,000 artworks that are now donated and on display at the house.
Admission to the interior Villa Finale is $10 per person. And, this is another location that may close on certain winter days. So, check ahead before planning a day at Villa Finale.
18. Edward Steves Homestead House Museum
If you are visiting the King William District, head to another excellently preserved historical home at the Edward Steves Homestead. This intricately beautiful three-story mansion is a picture of 19th century Texas life and is made of local limestone. There are outbuildings to explore too, like the one-story River House, a servant’s quarters- turned visitor’s center, and the Steves carriage house. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time as you stroll the lovely gardens.
19. Texas Selfie Museum
Possibly the most unexpected and modern of all the museums of San Antonio, the Texas Selfie Museum is really more of a photography studio. It’s also (obviously) one of the best places for influencers or anyone that wants cool photos from their San Antonio vacation. After all, with over 25 unique areas to snap photos, you’ll produce enough content in one day for months of cool posts.
There are a few important things to know when you visit the Selfie Museum. First, you should buy your tickets online. Second, you won’t have all day to explore. Your tickets will buy you an hour of selfie time, and you will need to leave by the end of your reservation. Small dogs can come along with you on the first Monday of every month.
20. Casa Navarro State Historic Site
The Casa Navarro State Historic Site is located on Laredo St, just a few blocks away from the UTSA Downtown Campus. It showcases the home and life of Jose Antonio Navarro, a Texas patriot who fought for Tejano rights in the 1950s. His home is beautiful, and striking against the modern buildings that surround it. You will also be able to visit a kitchen built in the 1830s and a mercantile also from the 1850s. This site is a National Historic Landmark. Admission is not free, but still very cost-effective at only $4 for an adult.
It’s worth noting that the Casa Navarro State Historic Site hosts a few cultural events as well. For example, they have hosted webinars that discuss Chicano art and local artists, conversations with historical authors, and more.
21. Bexar Heritage Center
Bexar Heritage Center is another location that always has free admission available to the public. However, they are only open on weekdays from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
At the Bexar Heritage Center, exhibits focus on Bexar County, the county in which San Antonio rests. It begins at the very base, exploring the geographical features on which everything is built. Then, it walks visitors through Bexar County’s history dating back 10,000 years. Examples of how Spain influenced this land centuries ago, the government’s history in the county, the railroad, and more are all featured in this simple yet valuable museum.
22. San Antonio African American Community Archive & Museum
The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (or SAAACAM) is completely dedicated to the history of San Antonio’s African American history and culture. They have many in-person exhibits, as well as exhibits you can visit any time on any internet device. For instance, you can see where African Americans have been buried in San Antonio, and learn about the education system for African Americans in this city. There are also a few exhibits that explore the black cowboys of the Wild West and the Buffalo Soldiers.
A digital archive of oral histories is also available at SAAACAM, as well as a collection of photographs and supporting documents, all dedicated to preserving the history of the black community in and near San Antonio
22. San Antonio Wax Museum
Wax museums are not really our type of go-to attraction, but perhaps if you are really into wax figures then this spot may provide a fun afternoon. Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks has over 200 life-like wax figures that look just some famous actors, singers, or other celebrities. It’s also a part of Ripley’s San Antonio, which features a collection of all things “odd”, but also true. Beware that this spot doesn’t have the best reviews.
Cost: To visit only the wax museum, adult admission is $25 per person. To combine it with the Ripley’s Odditorium, admission is $30 per person.
SAN ANTONIO CULTURAL CENTERS
23. Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center ★
The Guadalupe Cultural Center serves to preserve, promote and teach appreciation for Chicano/Latinx art, history, and culture. This multi-faceted center is located in San Antonio’s oldest neighborhood, King William District. The center has two theaters, a museum gallery that exhibits original works by local Texas artists as well as traveling exhibitions from other institutions. There is also a classroom that provides space for art education classes taught by professional artists along with workshops, seminars, and festivals.
In October 2021, they just launched a bookstore for Latinx art, history, and culture. How exciting to see more Latinx representation in Texas bookstores!
24. Carver Community Cultural Center ★
The Carver Community Cultural Center has been around since 1918 when it was built to support the Black American community. Throughout the years, many amazing Black artists have performed here, like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong! In 1973, the city attempted to tear down the building, which had been neglected. But, the community banded together and literally stood in front of the bulldozers, saving the building for generations to come. Incredible!
Today at the Carver Community Cultural Center, you can see nationally acclaimed, unique performances in jazz, Latin jazz, dance, and more. They also host performing arts camps where children are taught by professional instructors.
25. Centro de Artes ★
Another excellent San Antonio art gallery, Centro de Artes is an extension of the City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture. This two-story exhibit center is near Market Square or San Antonio’s Zona Cultural. Past exhibitions have included those focused on the early Chicano explorers, and the cultural legacy of Dia de Los Muertos. All of their exhibits tell the story of the Latinx experience.
In a great location, Centro de Artos is open every day of the week but Monday. It is also one of the most important free things to do in San Antonio and is completely open to the public.
Please note: The gallery re-opens on January 25, 2022.
26. Centro Cultural Aztlan ★
Similar to Centros de Artes, Centro Cultural Aztlan also focuses on preserving and highlighting local Chicano history and Latinx culture! It’s so amazing to see not one or two but several of these spaces in San Antonio! Another reason to love it. And Centro Cultural Aztlan has been around since 1977!
Their Galeria Expresion is a professional gallery within a large, 2,500 square foot space. In total, they show over three hundred and fifty visual artists’ works a year. These artists may be completely established, just emerging, or even children. Not all are visual artists, as some present written work or music. Also, Centro Cultural Aztlan hosts wonderful events each year, from fundraising nights to virtual workshops, making this one of the best things to do in San Antonio
27. Aztec Theatre
A visit to the Aztec Theatre, in the heart of downtown, is one of the top things to do in San Antonio at night. The venue is not only a theater but also a nod to Meso-American artwork. You will be able to tell from the moment you see it. As you walk in, you won’t be able to miss the amazing lobby, with a chandelier two stories tall and twelve feet wide. The gorgeous architecture only continues from there.
See shows here like David Bisbal Gira En Tus Planes 2020, or Mon Lafete’s 2021 US Tour. Consider booking a premium seating package for access to a dedicated concierge and VIP Lounge access.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
28. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park ★
While most National Parks tend to include a single location, San Antonio Missions National Park actually includes four different missions, each built during the colonization period of the early 1700s. Each mission is two to three miles away from the next, so plan to visit this National Park in a vehicle. Each one of these missions still holds mass. When visiting San Antonio Missions National Park, you will visit:
- Mission Concepcion, which was founded in 1731.
- Mission San Jose, the beautiful church that houses the Rose Window. This window was constructed in 1775. According to legend, its stained glass was made in honor of the artist’s lost love.
- Mission San Juan, located along the Yanaguana Trail. This trail is a stretch of the San Antonio River. There is also a farm here.
- Mission Espada, which was founded in 1720. Now, you can stroll through a lush Prayer Garden, or rent the church as an event venue.
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About the Writer & Researcher: Erin Stob
Erin grew up and currently lives in the woods of Wisconsin. She is passionate about holistic, outdoor living, and strives to share her experience through her writing.
About the Co-Writer & Editor: Dominican Abroad
Gerry has a strong love for San Antonio. Ever since visiting she has not stopped gushing about the city and its rich cultural heritage. She helped curate and edit this post written by our traveler: Erin Stob. At Dominican Abroad, we believe in intentional and informed travel experiences. That means we (1) practice being mindful of the cultures and natural spaces in the destinations we explore and (2) are keen on informing our travelers of essential tips, local insights, and hidden gems.
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