With summer just around the corner, family fun doesn’t have to involve airline tickets, hotels and extravagant restaurant bills. Kids can have fun on a stay-and-play vacation in San Antonio or find fun things to do on family getaway as close as a drive to the nearby Texas Hill Country.
Stay and Play
On Broadway Street near downtown San Antonio, Kiddie Park has been entertaining young children with pint-sized bumper cars, whirly rides and a carousel for more than 80 years. This summer will see the addition of carnival midway-style games for kids, says manager Brent Conger.
“Most of the parents came here when they were little, so it’s a family tradition. The kids love it,” Conger says. The park’s location just a few blocks from the family-friendly Witte Museum, San Antonio Zoo and Brackenridge Park makes it easy to double or triple up on a day’s fun by combining destinations, he says. At Brackenridge Park, families can ride a miniature train from the zoo to the Witte. Kids who love books can find some that cost as little as a dollar at Half-Price Books near Kiddie Park.
Kids can have fun exploring history at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, where admission is free to Missions San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan and Espada. Plus, kids can leave with a Junior Ranger badge from the National Park Service.
Kids can pick up a free activity guide and answer questions about what they see. “Then they get a cool badge,” says Tom Castanos, the park’s education coordinator. “They can also check out the state’s oldest water-powered grist mill at Mission San Jose.” Picnic grounds are situated near the missions, and free-guided tours are regularly scheduled.
Add a French accent to a local movie outing with this summer’s Family Flicks at the San Antonio Museum of Art. Admission is free to the outdoor movie nights that begin at sundown every second Saturday in June, July and August on the museum’s grounds.
The museum will show French-themed family movies to coincide with the museum’s special exhibit this summer of the works of French artist Henri Matisse, says Nicole McLeod, the museum’s assistant director of education, family and community programs. “We’re introducing kids to world cinema,” she says.
June’s double feature includes the French classic short “The Red Balloon” and the Oscar-nominated animated film “A Cat in Paris,” dubbed in English. In July, the museum will show “Hugo,” about a boy who lives inside a Paris train station.
Admission also is free to classic films shown at 7 p.m. every Thursday at Santikos Bijou in San Antonio, but only children 12 and older are admitted. A parent or legal guardian must accompany kids 12 to 17.
Fun Family Getaways
North of San Antonio, Natural Bridge Caverns offers guided tours through two caves with stalactites, stalagmites and other underground cave formations. Aboveground, older kids can try the Canopy Challenge obstacle course and zip line, while parents can chaperone kids ages 3 to 6 through the miniature Canopy Kids attraction.
In New Braunfels, east of the caverns, generations of teenagers have made the city’s Comal and Guadalupe rivers a favorite spot for floating on inner tubes. For families with young kids, Landa Park has paddleboats for rent and a miniature train.
It’s a full-sized train that carries families on day trips through the Texas Hill Country aboard vintage passenger cars that travel the Austin & Texas Central Railroad from Cedar Park, about 100 miles north of San Antonio. From mid-June through mid-August, the train operated by the Austin Steam Train Association offers three-hour train rides to a restored 1912 train depot in Bertram and back.
Northwest of San Antonio, kids can pick apples each July and August at Love Creek Orchards in the Texas Hill Country town of Medina. “Kids get to see where fruit comes from,” says owner Bryan Hutzler. Even very young children can reach the lower branches of dwarf apple trees on the property. There’s no entrance fee, and families only pay for the fruit that’s picked. Families can bring picnic lunches to dine under shade trees, he says. Or they can try the apple pie at Love Creek Orchards Apple Store and Patio Café.
South of Medina, the Twin Elm Ranch in Bandera presents rodeos every Saturday night from mid-April through mid-July with bull riding, barrel racing and mutton bustin for little kids. Young kids can ride a sheep out of the chute, and they can win a trophy. Admission to the rodeo is $6, and kids 6 and under are free.
In downtown Bandera, Old West-style entertainment ranges from trick ropers to rides on horse-drawn wagons to mock gunfights every Saturday afternoon during summer months.
Several Bandera area guest ranches offer day rides on horses and horse riding lessons, but it’s all about moms and daughters at The Sugar and Spice Ranch. Each June and July, mothers and daughters can spend a week bonding with each other while they ride and care for a horse assigned to each guest.
“We teach total horsemanship,” says owner Leigh McCourt. “In the process, you’re making that mother-daughter connection.” All moms and daughters stay together in a ranch bunkhouse, although gourmet menus and air conditioning make it less than rustic.
“There are the niceties, so you’re not roughing it. Tuesday nights, we teach the kids how to drive a pony cart while the moms are getting a massage,” McCourt says. “People come back year after year, and that’s the biggest compliment.”
Renee Haines is a San Antonio based freelance writer.