Brackenridge Park has so many things to do. You could spend an entire day inside the park without seeing everything it has to offer. There is something for everyone at Brackenridge Park, including visitors, long time residents, kids, parents, students, artists, nature lovers, runners, and man’s best friend.
Brackenridge Park may be the most significant archeological site in Texas (according to the parks website). It was George Washington Brackenridge, who donated the park to the city of San Antonio in the late 1800’s. That’s a pretty cool piece of historical information, or maybe it’s just the name that’s cool. Either way, some of the best things to do in San Antonio are around Brackenridge Park. I’ve been through the park a few times, and do not feel completely qualified to share the details of all its attractions, but I’m doing it nonetheless.
- Dog friendly
- Hiking trails
- Miniature train
- Kiddie park
- Pavilions (3)
- Botanical Garden
- Japanese Tea Garden
- San Antonio Zoo
- Public restrooms
- Witte Museum
- Golf course
How to get There
As you can see, the opportunities at Brackenridge Park are abundant. You will find the park along the east side of US-281, just north of downtown San Antonio. Use either the Hildebrand Avenue, or Mulberry Avenue exits to reach the park from US-281. Brackenridge Park is open daily from 5am – 11pm. Parking lots near the Zoo, and Japanese Tea Garden, fill up very quickly. Drive around the park, and you will notice other areas to park. I usually choose a spot next to the river, on the east side of the park.
The San Antonio River
I have followed the San Antonio River through San Antonio, and have seen it prospering in every season. I often ask questions, and I’ve had a couple regarding the San Antonio River. How does the San Antonio River work? Where does the San Antonio River get its water? It took a bit of research, but the information I found was truly amazing.
Inside Brackenridge Park you will find the northern section of the San Antonio River. Most people enjoy visiting the Riverwalk downtown, or along Mission Reach. However, the northern section is equally important, and historically significant. The San Antonio Springs used to fill the San Antonio River many years ago. During the mid 1900’s the springs dried up, and the wells inside Brackenridge Park took upon the burden of filling the river.
Eventually, San Antonio pioneered the idea of using recycled water to fill the river. Most of the wells no longer fill the river today, except for one inside the zoo. Many of the springs are dry, although I noticed the Head of the River (also known as The Blue Hole), near the University of the Incarnate Word, was still active this summer. However, most of the water flowing down the San Antonio River today is treated waste water. Amazing!
Approximately 100 years ago, there was a devastating flood in downtown San Antonio. Vehicles washed away, people lost their lives, and finally a decision was made to make future preparations. The Olmos Dam was built to protect the downtown area from flooding. The dam is located just north of Brackenridge Park, and prevents Olmos Creek (and entire basin) from providing too much water drainage. Interestingly, there is also an underground tunnel known as the San Antonio River Tunnel. Its job is to divert water underneath the city, preventing flooding as well.
There is A LOT going on above and below the San Antonio River! Checkout the Edwards Aquifer Website, if you are interested in learning more about the history of the San Antonio River, San Antonio Springs, waste water recycling, and River Tunnel.
Dog Friendly Hiking
Brackenridge Park has nearly two miles of dog friendly hiking trails. The majority of the park is filled with other attractions. Some of the things to do are dog friendly, but others are not. Most of the hiking trails are on the east side of the park between the San Antonio River, and Broadway Street.
The trails are concrete, gravel, or asphalt, and they are handicap accessible. Many trails are also well shaded, and extend through wooded areas. You may hike with your dog along the river, through the woods, down the street, or through the grass.
Abbey has been pretty much everywhere inside this park. Naturally, she prefers any of the areas where squirrels are present. On our last visit we tracked 5,725 steps by making a fairly large circle around the park. She saw two cats, 18 ducks, 7 squirrels, two dudes fishing, one guy sleeping on a bench, and a group of moms exercising with babies at the pavilion.
The Kiddie Park is just south of the zoo, and just west of the river. It’s basically a kid sized theme park for those ages 1-12. You will find carousel rides, flying saucers, and helicopter rides (not the kind requiring a pilot) with no height or weight limits. It also contains classic carnival games, and face painting. Reservations must be made in advance if you are hosting a party. Check their website for prices and hours because those vary, and change throughout the year. The Kiddie Park is closed during summer months.
The San Antonio Botanical Garden is east of Brackenridge Park, and connected by Mahncke Park. The Botanical Garden takes pride in education regarding the value of plants, and our connection with them. Since 1980, many have considered the garden a-must-see attraction in San Antonio.
View native plants, birds, and exhibits as you walk through 38 acres full of various colors and textures. The garden is open daily from 9am – 5pm. Service dogs are permitted in the garden. All other dogs are not, however, the garden is dog friendly during Dog Day Weekend events. The price of admission is $12 for adults, and $9 for children.
Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden is a free, dog friendly thing to do in San Antonio. It is one of eight well known tea gardens in the U.S., and you can find it on the west side of Brackenridge Park. The tea garden is open daily from 7am – 7pm, and the busiest time of day is around 5pm.
The tea garden is filled with stairs, and inclines. This would not be a good place to bring a stroller. The tea garden includes a variety of plant life, a pond, and waterfall. What used to be a rock quarry has become a pleasant oasis attracting many visitors daily. Take in the scenery, visit the old kiln, get a unique photo, or taste the tea.
The Japanese Tea Garden may be one of the best, free things to do in San Antonio. We shared more information in our article about the tea garden.
San Antonio Zoo
The San Antonio Zoo seeks to inspire us to love, and interact with animals and their habitats. You can find the zoo on the north side of Brackenridge Park, and it is open from 10am – 5pm daily. At the zoo you may be able to ride a train, or carousel, and interact with butterflies, birds, or giraffes.
Due to federal regulations the zoo is not dog friendly. However, service dogs are allowed, and must check in at the gate. Animal interactions are not guaranteed, but you might see bears, lions, hippos, or crocodiles. An annual pass for $32 is your most cost effective option. However, a normal day pass for an adult is $20, and $17 for children.
The zoo will allow you to bring your own drinking water. If you have any children under three years old they will get in free. You may also bring baby food and strollers inside the zoo.
There are two museums at Brackenridge Park, the most notable being the Witte Museum. Its immaculate appearance is hard to miss on the northeast side of the park. The museum claims that it is the place where nature, science, and culture meet. Current exhibits include dinosaurs, pre-historic cultures, Texas ecosystems, past roadways, and ancient artifacts. Inside the museum you can witness “anything” that happened in Texas.
Outside the museum you can walk along the San Antonio River, picnic, discover plant life, or come face to face with a dinosaur replica. The Witte Museum opens at 10am everyday, except for Sunday which is noon instead. It closes at 5pm everyday, except for Thursday which is 8pm instead. Adult admission is $14, and $10 for children everyday, except for Tuesday evenings (3pm – 8pm) because of free Tuesday. Hurray!
On the southeast side of the park you will find the DoSeum, which is known as San Antonio’s museum for kids. The Doseum takes pride in discovery, interest, and joyful learning. There are several exhibits which promote learning through interactive experiences. They call this “hands on exploration”.
General admission is $14, but keep an eye on their website for Free Family Nights. The museum often closes by 5pm, but opens between 9am and noon during the week. It is specifically designed for children who are 10 and younger. Expect school traffic in the museum during weekdays. Bring a change of clothes because there are wet activities. What child refuses the opportunity to get wet, and dirty?
Things to do Near Brackenridge Park
Still looking for more things to do in San Antonio? I can confidently direct you to several other places near Brackenridge Park. Ready? Here we go…
The Head of the River
Across the street to the north you will find The Blue Hole. This active spring is also known as the Head of the River, and you can see it near the University of the Incarnate Word. The University also has the only nature preserve near the heart of the city. I found it to be rather spooky, and you can get more details in our article about Headwaters Sanctuary.
North of the University you will notice Olmos Dam, which is what I like to call the guardian of San Antonio. It is in the Olmos Basin with Olmos Park, and the Olmos Creek which drains into the San Antonio River. The Olmos Basin has quite a history.
Shopping, Eating, and Entertainment
Continue north of the dam and you will arrive at the Alamo Quarry, in Alamo Heights. The revitalized quarry is now a major shopping area filled with restaurants, stores, and a movie theatre.
Directly south of Brackenridge Park you will easily find its golf course. This is one of eight amazing courses which shaped the history of golf in San Antonio. This is the original home of the first Texas Open.
South of the golf course you will enter the Historic Pearl, formerly known as the Pearl Brewery until 2001. The Pearl is another completely revitalized area in San Antonio, and is a popular hangout for residents. With its contemporary apartments, shops, restaurants, and (year round) farmers market, its popularity is no surprise. Parking is free, and easy at the Pearl, plus you can access the San Antonio Riverwalk on the west side. Visiting the Historic Pearl is one of the best things to do in San Antonio. The Pearl is definitely dog friendly, and we frequently visit with our girl, Abbey.
Downtown San Antonio
If you continue any further south you will find yourself in downtown San Antonio. There you will find the most popular section of the San Antonio Riverwalk, along with its river boats and restaurants. There are many things to do along the San Antonio River, some of which are dog friendly. Take a relaxing ride along the river, checkout the historical sites at street level, or climb up the Tower of the Americas inside Hemisfair Park, and find the best view in the city.
The amount of things to do in San Antonio are nearly uncountable. Share your experience with us below! If you have any questions, or this content has been helpful to you, let us know that as well.
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I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.