Two of the largest cities in Texas, San Antonio and Austin, sit just 80 miles apart at their centers. Some people think that one day, they will grow together to form a giant metro area, similar to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to their north. But despite their proximity, they are very different places to visit.
Let’s take a closer look at both San Antonio and Austin, and what each has to offer as a vacation destination.
San Antonio or Austin for a vacation?
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What is San Antonio, Texas known for?
San Antonio is one of the largest cities in south-central Texas with a rich history and culture. The city is known for its beautiful riverwalk, which winds through the downtown area and is lined with cafes, restaurants, and shops.
San Antonio is also home to the Alamo, a mission-turned-fort where Texans famously defended themselves against the Mexican army in 1836. Today, the Alamo is a popular tourist destination and attracts thousands of visitors every year to explore its fascinating history and the nearby Rivercenter Mall and Tower of the Americas.
In addition to its historical landmarks, San Antonio is also known for its quintessential southern food. The city’s Tex-Mex cuisine is world-famous, and visitors can find everything from enchiladas to quesadillas on menus across the city.
Whether you’re looking to explore its history or sample its cuisine, San Antonio has something to offer everyone.
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What is Austin known for?
Austin, Texas is known for its vibrant music scene (Live Music Capital of the World), its delicious food, and its friendly people. The city has a long history of providing a home for up-and-coming bands, and it continues to be a hotbed of musical talent.
Austin is also well-known for its barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine, and there are plenty of great places to eat no matter what your budget. And finally, the people of Austin are famous for their hospitality.
No matter where you go in the city, you’re sure to find friendly faces and helpful advice. Whether you’re looking for a great place to see live music or just want to enjoy some good food and good company, Austin is the perfect place to be.
The Vibe ✌️
San Antonio has a “Fiesta” vibe, plain and simple.
Texas was under Spanish control from 1690 to 1821, when it became part of the Mexican Empire, in which it remained until the Texas Revolution in 1836.
Originally settled in 1718 as a Spanish Mission and outpost, San Antonio’s cultural history is still evident today, with the largest Hispanic population in the United States.
San Antonio offers all of the diverse attractions of any major city, with several colleges and universities, amusement parks, museums, and historical sites.
It also boasts sports attractions at the college, minor league, and professional levels.
Austin, on the other hand, has a much more trendy feel. Music takes the lead as the prominent cultural element, with its official motto being the “Live Music Capital of the World.”
Another motto of Austin is “Keep Austin Weird“, which expresses the desire of the locals to maintain the prosperity of local, independent businesses, as well as preserve the natural and cultural landscape, and the eccentric diversity those things foster.
As the State Capitol of Texas, it is home to many government employees, as well as one of the largest universities in the United States, the University of Texas.
All along the RiverWalk (more on that later) and beyond, are eateries for any mood.
There are, of course, plenty of Mexican and BBQ restaurants, but there are also fun restaurants like Dave and Busters (which is also an adults-only arcade) and The Hard Rock Cafe.
After dinner, you have the choice of just about any style of bar or club you can think of.
There are places for beer lovers, dive bars, dance clubs, laid back speak-easy style hideouts, as well as live music, live theater, and even vaudeville shows.
Live music venues are in abundance in Austin. A wide range of musical styles can be found just about any day of the week.
Throw into the mix several clubs with live DJs, a few local breweries and wineries, along with themed bars, and pool halls, and there really is something for everyone.
There are bars where big names have played, like Antone’s where BB King and Sri caption have both performed, jazz and blues clubs, and a real 1920’s speakeasy.
This speakeasy, The Midnight Cowboy, uses a hidden door, that you must ring a bell to enter, and is filled by reservation only, due to the obviously limited space.
Best Attractions and Activities to do in San Antonio
At the top of the list of things to see in San Antonio is The Alamo.
Near the center of the city stands what is left of the chapel from the Spanish Alamo Mission.
From February 23 through March 6 of 1836, fewer than 100 Texan troops fought roughly 1500 soldiers from the Mexican Army, killing from 200 to 300 of them.
One of the last, though possibly bloodiest battles of the Texas Revolution, the Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal moment in the events that eventually lead to Texas’ Independence.
Today, the Alamo is open to the public for tours. Admission is free but reservations are required.
Seaworld and Fiesta Texas
Other big attractions are Seaworld and Fiesta Texas.
Seaworld is just what it sounds, an ocean-themed amusement park. There are trained Orca whales that put on amazing performances, as well as dolphins, sea lions, and otters.
There are also opportunities to have hands-on experiences with the animals. SeaWorld is an educational and fun day for the whole family.
Fiesta Texas, part of the Six Flags family of amusement parks, has something for everyone. From little kid roller coasters to the big thrill rides, and a few water rides and short presentations in between, this park is sure to please.
San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio is probably best known for the Riverwalk.
As a creative way to address the fact that there was a river running through downtown San Antonio, architect Robert H. H. Human designed the Riverwalk to help protect the city from flooding while adding beauty and aesthetics.
The total length of the Riverwalk in 2022 is 15 miles, with 5 of that circling the center of downtown.
Set down below street level, the businesses lining it have renovated basement levels for access. There are also footpaths and wheelchair ramps located all along it for easy access.
The entire length is designated as a city park, and the banks are lined with restaurants and shops. There are boat tours daily, and river parades for special occasions. During Christmastime, the Riverwalk is lit up with twinkling lights.
Spend a day at the Brackenridge Park
When visiting San Antonio, Texas, be sure to add Brackenridge Park to your list of places to see.
If you want to relax in midst of a splendid natural setting with old rustic stone bridges with a postcard-perfect ambiance then Brackenridge Park is a perfect place to spend a great time with your family.
This historic park offers something for everyone, from hiking and biking trails to a scenic train ride. And with its convenient location in the heart of the city, it’s easy to get to no matter where you’re staying.
One of the best things about Brackenridge Park is its variety. Whether you want to explore nature or just take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, this park has something for you.
There are plenty of trees and open space for a relaxing walk or picnic, and the river provides a beautiful backdrop for photographs.
And don’t forget about the miniature train! The Brackenridge Eagle miniature train has been providing visitors with a unique perspective of the park since 1950. Whether you’re 5 or 85, a ride on the historic train is sure to be a highlight of your visit to Brackenridge Park.
San Fernando Cathedral
This architectural masterpiece and historically significant cathedral is hard to miss on your vacation to San Antonio.
San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States, and its history is truly fascinating.
Built in 1756, the cathedral was the site of many important events in Texas history, including the Battle of the Alamo.
Today, it remains an active parish, and its beautiful architecture is a must-see for any visitor to San Antonio.
The cathedral is also home to a museum, which chronicles the history of the building and its role in the development of San Antonio.
Whether you’re a history buff or simply looking for a beautiful place to explore, San Fernando Cathedral is definitely worth a visit.
Best Attractions and Activities to do in Austin
A trip to Austin would not be complete without a trip to the Capitol building.
Constructed of native Texas granite, It was at one time the tallest Capitol building of any state.
Daily tours are available, allowing residents and visitors a first-person glance at where Texas laws are written.
Austin has a plethora of bus tours, for all kinds of things. From brunch to booze, there’s one for everybody. You can take a sightseeing bus tour, a brewery bus tour, and a music venue tour, even a haunted Austin tour, just to name a few.
South Congress Avenue is where you should go if you’re planning to do a little shopping while you’re there.
A myriad of small independent and unique shops line the streets, offering something to match any style.
Watch thousands of Bats fly across the sky at South Congress Street Bridge
The bottom side of the South Congress Street bridge is home to almost 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats, one of the largest urban bat colonies in America.
March through September of each year is when people come from all over the world to see their amazing natural display.
Every night around sunset, the bats come out to feed, consuming 20-30 tons of insects per evening.
While they feed the circle around them through each other, and in the process produce a beautiful aerial show that draws spectators from all over the world.
Located just west of downtown Austin, Mount Bonnell offers stunning views of the cityscape, Lake Austin, and the surrounding hills. If you are looking to get away from the bustling vibe of city life then Mount Bonnell offers a rejuvenating respite.
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You enjoy a short hike to the top of the mountain, where you can enjoy the panoramic views of the area.
In the evening you can catch the spectacular views of the sunset or watch the stars at night.
Don’t be surprised when you spot a deer, fox, or even a coyote as Mount Bonnell is home to a variety of wildlife and bird species.
Enjoy Live Music at the Sixth Street
How can we not talk about live music when talking about the “Live Music Capital of the World”?
Live music is one of the big reasons why I love Austin so much and you will have plenty of it on Sixth Street.
The National Register of Historic Place put extensive time and effort to restore the glory of the Live Music Capital from its grungy reputation and turned it into a hub of live music since the 1970s.
Today you can discover Austin’s up-and-coming talent with some great also performing from time to time at iconic venues like the Mohawk and the Parish.
Apart from the live music, Sixth Street is also known for its lively nightlife scene with some of the best restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and cafes to satisfy your hunger after a night of music and dancing.
San Antonio or Austin for a Weekend Trip?
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway in Texas, you can’t go wrong with either San Antonio or Austin. Both cities offer a unique blend of history, culture, and fun.
However, depending on your interests, one city might be a better choice than the other.
If you’re interested in history and art, then San Antonio is the place for you. The city is home to the Alamo, as well as numerous other historical sites. In addition, San Antonio boasts a thriving arts scene, with dozens of galleries and museums to explore.
If you’re more interested in nightlife and live music, then Austin is the city for you. The “live music capital of the world,” Austin is home to hundreds of bars and clubs, as well as some of the best live music venues in the country.
No matter what your interests are, you’re sure to find something to love in either San Antonio or Austin.
Personally speaking, I enjoy visiting both San Antonio and Austin, but if I had to choose just one city to visit for a weekend, I would choose Austin over San Antonio. And if you ask me why? Because I love the vibrancy of the city and the fact that there is always something going on.
There is a perfect blend of culture, music, and food, and the people are friendly and welcoming.
And if live music and late night-parties aren’t up your alley, then there are also plenty of things to do away from bustling city life, such as hiking and swimming in the nearby hills or swimming in one of many amazing natural springs.
So, which is better for a Texas Vacation? San Antonio or Austin?
If you are looking for a family-friendly place to go with plenty of things to entertain any age group or a group with varying ages (think family time), San Antonio is probably the better choice. The big city feels with plenty of attractions like SeaWorld and Fiesta Texas ensures fun times for the whole family.
The things to do in Austin tend to be a little more geared toward the adult crowd, and not as kid-friendly as those in San Antonio. So Austin, then is better for those looking to have some grown-up time, whether you decide to leave the kids with grandma, or just don’t have any.
Either way, both cities offer an amazing array of things to do, from important historical monuments to places that facilitate silly shenanigans–and everything in between.
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