One of my goals for 2023 was to go on a leisure trip with my five-year-old son. The goal seemed straightforward, but choosing a destination was stressing me out. For the record, making choices when I have endless options is not my ministry.
To help streamline my decision, I thought about what the most important aspects of a trip were for me. Child-friendly restaurants, an abundance of activities, and sightseeing are a few things that were at the top of my list. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that San Antonio provides all of that. I decided to take a three-day trip out there and it was one of the best I’ve ever gone on with my mini.
We stayed at the Marriott Rivercenter, which was a central location and in walking distance of many attractions. The room we stayed in was a queen suite and it was modern, spacious and toddler approved. Most importantly, there was enough space for me, my son, and his many Legos.
Now on to the family-friendly activities we got up to during our time in the seventh largest city in the United States.
A Family-Friendly Art Gallery
The first place we went to on our adventure in San Antonio was Hopscotch, an immersive art experience with exhibitions by local and international artists. After Googling the art gallery, I was concerned about how child-friendly it would be because sometimes art galleries and rambunctious boys don’t mesh.
Hopscotch is absolutely child-friendly and I liked that the experiences were ones we could both enjoy. We started with the glow-in-the-dark ball pit, something most kids and adults can indulge in. Aside from having one of the balls bounce off my nose courtesy of my son, it was a good time.
One of our favorite exhibitions was laser graffiti by an artist named Todd Moyer. It was an interactive experience where you could use can-shaped lasers to spray on the walls.
There was also a gaze, which was like a glow in the dark maze full of mirrors. Shout out to the DJ who was playing Whitney Houston’s’ Dance With Somebody so I could two-step through the space.
I found the exhibits to be engaging, creative, and also pretty inspiring.
An Inclusive Theme Park
On day two, we visited Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first theme park designed with special needs people in mind. This was hands-down one of my favorite attractions in San Antonio because of how thoughtful and inclusive it is.
The park was created in 2010, so it’s been around for some time. I was curious to learn how they would make it more inclusive since then and they did so in more ways than I could have thought about.
For instance, the theme park has a playground with wheelchair swings, as well as a carousel that accommodates wheelchairs and a ferris wheel that does too. I appreciated the sensory elements included in the playground, executed by the different levels and textures kids could engage with. It’s incredible for children who are autistic or have sensory challenges.
At the theme park, there was a fun place called sensory village, which had five main attractions. There was a village market grocery store, exploration station for arts and crafts, shadow room with interactive displays, among other spots. My son’s favorite activity was the train ride, which took us around the entire park. He’s obsessed with trains, so he loved the experience. I must add that many of the staff were special needs individuals and that was beautiful to see.
Overall, I think it’s a good theme park for both special needs families and people who are able-bodied/neurotypical. There are things for everyone to do and it isn’t as overwhelming as traditional theme parks. In full transparency, a downside to some may be that you could probably do the entire park in two hours.
Eclectic Food Choices
The food in San Antonio was pretty good, and we tried lots of it.The options for fare were eclectic, ranging from Mexican to Caribbean or some old-fashioned BBQ. Find a few of the restaurants I ate at and my thoughts below.
The first restaurant we ate at was Boudros, a bistro on the San Antonio River Walk. The latter is a popular and lively attraction with shops and restaurants.
I would say this was more of a date night type of restaurant versus one for a family with young kids. The menu also doesn’t have much for children, so I ended up ordering grilled chicken and fries for my son. I, on the other hand, had seared scallops, grilled lobster tail, and mashed potatoes. The food was flavorful and filling, but the portions were relatively small. If you’re a big eater, order starters for sure.
We checked out Mi Roti, a food place established by Chef Nicola Blaque, located at the Pearl. Blaque’s goal is to modernize Caribbean food and I think Mi Roti does that well. If you enjoy spicy food, you’ve got to hit up this spot–my mouth was on fire. I personally couldn’t handle the spice level but the foods were flavorful and I loved the menu options. You could opt for a jerk chicken salad, a roti wrap with protein, rice and toppings, or get some jerk chicken and roti (my order) if you’re a simple girl like me. They also have vegetarian options for people on that food journey.
If you’re interested in high-end Mexican food, Cuishe is another food option. Like Boudros, it’s not the best restaurant to take children to as there aren’t many child-friendly options on the menu. The standout for me were the drinks. Divine! My favorite beverage was the D.F., a sweet and fruity cocktail with altos tequila, mezcal, mango, passionfruit, grapefruit, and orange liqueur. I tried octopus for the second time at Cuishe, and that’ll be the last. My son tried some too, surprisingly. He thought it was a hit! The servers were also warm and friendly.
County Line BBQ
I couldn’t go to Texas and not try BBQ, so we visited County Line BBQ, located along the San Antonio River Walk. The interior made me feel like I went into a time machine and entered a historic Texas diner. I enjoyed the food, which happened to be some classic BBQ ribs with the greens of the day—collard greens. Nothing adventurous, but it was a satisfying meal. I almost never get dessert but decided to try their peach cobbler. As usual, I ate the crust and ditched the filling. I’d give the dessert a thumbs up and would recommend.
My favorite restaurant and the last we went to was Southerleigh, also located at the Pearl. Almost everything I tasted was good and the hospitality was top-tier. It doubles as a fine food restaurant and brewery, which I thought was cool. In terms of the food, I had the duck rolls (A little too salty for me, but I have a British palette), mushroom soup (which was rich and creamy) as well as the cracker crusted gulf red fish. I would order everything but the duck rolls again.
Their drinks were also delicious and I liked the range they had, from sangrias to frozen drinks and cocktails. Do yourself a favor and try the Winey Cucumber if you ever visit. It was a refreshing light drink made with sauvignon blanc, cucumber and wine. The Black Pearl, a frozen concoction, was also delightfully juicy as well.
You typically can’t go wrong when you take kids to traditional places like Legoland and other Disney attractions. My son has been wanting to go for some time and he loves Legos so I was excited to take him. I thought it would be a snooze fest for me, but I was just as excited as he was once I got in. We went on a ride called Kingdom Quest first, where we got to take down the bad guys and rescue the princess. Afterwards, we headed over to a huge playroom with another ride, interactive activities, and of course, Legos. I loved watching parents and kids building things together and testing Lego race cars they built on the giant speed ramp.
Sea Life, an aquarium, was next door to Legoland so we went there immediately after. It was just the typical stuff like fish and sharks, but not many interactive things to do there.
On our last day, we went to see Lighthouse Immersive Disney Animation. I must confess, I enjoyed that more than my son. It was a compilation of some of Disney’s most popular films including Aladdin, The Lion King, The Princess and the Frog, Moana, and much more. I appreciated the bubbles that fell from the roof every so often to get the kids excited and make it more interactive. Once the show was finished, my son asked where the play part of the show was. Safe to say he wasn’t as impressed as me.
Sightseeing with kids can be dreadful when they’re complaining, throwing tantrums, or just straight up bored. Luckily, San Antonio has sightseeing attractions with all these things in mind whether that’s intentional or coincidental.
We went to visit the Pearl, a community which used to be a brewery back in 1883. The location has San Antonio’s first food hall, which is where Mi Roti (the restaurant I mentioned earlier) is located, as well as hotels, an amphitheater, weekend farmers markets, and shopping. A little addition that parents may appreciate is a patch in the middle of the Pearl with artificial grass, chairs and tables for families to relax. Kids were running around playing soccer while parents relaxed. It’s a beautiful spot where families can go on the weekend.
Go Rio Cruise
I was scared of going on the boat ride with Go Rio Cruise because motion sickness usually won’t let me be great. Luckily, it was a smooth ride and I wasn’t sick. A downside? We waited in an hour-long line that I almost gave up on but my son was adamant about. I gave in because I didn’t have the energy for the brewing tantrum. It was worthwhile because I learned tons about San Antonio and the River Walk during the 35-minute boat ride. The tour guide did an excellent job storytelling and threw in a few jokes here and there for a “ki ki.” A fact I found interesting was that a bridge we passed had a gate to prevent the flood that happened in 1921, which killed 50 people, from happening again.
Kids museums will zap all of the energy out of you, making it a good activity for the most part. We went to The DoSeum, a space where children can explore and play. It had two floors and tons of activities for the kids to immerse themselves in for hours. Since we went around Easter, they had an egg decorating class, which we participated in. The egg almost made it back home with us to Florida, except it cracked on the final flight. RIP to that egg.
I would definitely go back to San Antonio and so would my son, who said it was the “best trip ever.” Next time, I’d like to see fewer tourist sites and immerse myself in local areas to get a better feel of the city. If you decide to go and need ideas in terms of things to do, the Visit San Antonio website has even more must-see suggestions.