Easily one of the most culturally vibrant cities in Texas, San Antonio is home to the iconic Alamo, along with other centuries-old missions strung along the San Antonio River, the cheesy-yet-magical Riverwalk, and a confluence of strong, diverse cultures interwoven into the urban fabric through food, festivals, museums, and more. It’s also Texas’s second-biggest city, and it’s growing at lightning speed. So, how best to explore all that San Antonio has to offer?
First, it must be said: San Antonio’s public transit options aren’t great, even compared to other Texas cities. Cars are, by far, the most popular means of transportation, and the city isn’t exactly built for bikers and pedestrians—although there are certainly some walkable areas, and downtown is fairly bike-friendly. Of course, it’s entirely possible to get by without a car, especially if you’re confining all your activity to the central parts of the city. Locals and tourists alike use VIA Metropolitan Transit, the city’s bus system, to get around town.
How to Ride VIA Metropolitan Transit
VIA Metropolitan Transit is the main public transport network in San Antonio, and VIVA, the system’s newest service line connects all the popular landmarks and attractions in the heart of the city, including the San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site, the Alamo, and trendy neighborhoods like the Pearl, Downtown, Southtown, and the Broadway Cultural Corridor.
- Routes and Hours: In addition to VIA’s regular bus routes, VIVA has three distinct routes—VIVA centro, VIVA culture, and VIVA missions—that link some of the city’s most-visited destinations, offering frequent, daily service to the Alamo and the missions, Southtown, the Pearl, the South Broadway corridor, and more.
- Fares: VIA fare options are affordable and convenient, and passengers can easily purchases passes, tickets, and Park & Ride Service fare with the VIA goMobile app, at the VIA Online Store or Information Center, or from most H-E-B stores. Local VIA buses are $1.30, while express buses (which use interstate highways) cost $2.60. A day pass is $2.75, and there are a variety of discounts available. For a full list of fares, visit the VIA website.
Gray Line Tours and the City Sightseeing Double Decker
If you want to utilize a tour company to get around, Gray Line Tours and the City Double Decker buses are both great options. Operating since 1910, Gray Line offers a wide selection of tours and custom-made travel arrangements; the company also does numerous day tours from San Antonio that travel to the Hill Country, LBJ Ranch, and some historic German towns.
The City Sightseeing Double Decker tour bus is a fun attraction in and of itself. Hop on and off and see the sights; tours start every 20 minutes with pick-up stops at the Riverwalk, Market Square, the Alamo, Hemisfair Park, and 15 other locations. You can pay on board or purchase a ticket ahead of time for an online discount.
Taxis and Ride-Sharing Apps
Taxis and rideshares are widely available in San Antonio. Lyft and Uber are two of the most popular rideshare apps, though if you’d prefer to use a local rideshare, Leep is a San Antonio-based rideshare company.
Go RIO San Antonio Cruises
When in San Antonio, do as the San Antonians do (or the San Antonian tourists, rather): Ride a riverboat. Go RIO operates a series of colorful barges that ride the river through downtown, while drivers provide narrated tours. You can buy individual tickets or charter a tour if you're traveling with a group.
Bike Rentals: BCycle
If you want to explore the downtown area, riding bikes can be a fun, efficient way to get around. The first-ever bike share company in the state of Texas, SWell Cycle (formerly San Antonio B-cycle), has hundreds of self-serve bikes available at more than 60 stations around the city. Download a SWell Cycle Station Map then buy a 24-Hour Day Pass for $12.99 or pay $3.25 for one trip up to 30 minutes. Make sure to remember that cyclists observe the same traffic regulations as motor vehicles.
Though it’s entirely possible to get around San Antonio without a car, there’s also no denying that the city was made for motor vehicles. Renting a car is always a good option, especially since there’s always plenty of parking everywhere, even downtown—a rarity for such a big city.
Tips for Getting Around San Antonio
San Antonio is home to over 1.5 million people and the roads can be hectic, so learning to navigate the city can be a challenging process. Make things easier on yourself by following these tips:
- Pay extra-careful attention while driving on the freeway. Because of the many convergences of major freeways in San Antonio, if you’re not careful when driving on the highway, you can easily find yourself in an express lane headed somewhere you don’t want to go. Pay close attention to avoid getting lost or making any time-consuming driving mistakes.
- Download a Riverwalk map ahead of time. Chances are if you’re going to San Antonio, you’re going to the Riverwalk. Download a map ahead of time, so you can scout out all the shops, restaurants, and attractions you want to see. The city also offers accessibility maps and guides.
- Ride bikes on the Mission Reach Trail. The best way to see the five Spanish missions in San Antonio is to bike on the Mission Reach Trail: a scenic, 15-mile hike-and-bike trail that runs along the river and connects all the missions. There are plenty of services, like restrooms and water fountains, along the way. Download a San Antonio bike trail map or get one at the San Antonio Visitor’s Center, which is right across the street from the Alamo.
- When in doubt, hoof it. Downtown San Antonio is a treat for walkers. Even if you do use public transportation or a car to get to the city’s tricky-to-reach corners, we highly recommend walking as much as possible once you’re downtown.