Like other Sunbelt cities, San Antonio has a relatively compact downtown nucleus, encircled by old neighborhoods and commercial areas, which then give way to wide stretches of suburbia. Most visitors will have an easy time finding their way around the downtown area. For the rest of the city, they need only a general understanding of the freeway system and the locations of the major attractions that lie outside the center of town. The rest can be gleaned upon arrival. North of downtown, and not very far away, are the airport, several museums, and many of the best dining spots. To the southeast are the old Spanish missions. SeaWorld is on the far west side, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park is in the far northwest.
I find that the freeways are laid out in a fairly reasonable pattern, and they're easy to use so long as you have a map. But you can avoid the freeways by using the main avenues and streets that crisscross the area. A map would be absolutely essential for this, and you should be aware that there are a few large, enclosed areas of town occupied by military installations, which you have to drive around. San Antonio and the military have a long relationship. Among members of the Army and Air Force, San Antonio is often referred to as Military City, and it is a favorite location for retired military personnel.
By Public Transportation
Bus—VIA Metropolitan Transit Service (www.viainfo.net; tel. 210/362-2020) offers regular bus service for $1.30, with an additional 15¢ charge for transfers. Express buses cost $2.60. You’ll need exact change if you don’t download the VIA goMobile app. You can also pick passes up at a VIA service center. A single day pass is $2.75 for unlimited use; 7-day passes cost $12.
Via has three VIVA routes designed to streamline visits for tourists. The VIVA Culture Route (buses 11, 11a, 11b) travels from downtown to the San Antonio Museum of Art, Japanese Tea Garden, San Antonio Zoo, Witte Museum, Brackenridge Park, and the Botanical Garden; the VIVA Missions (bus 40) goes from downtown to the four historic missions in the south; and the VIVA Centro (bus 301) takes you all around downtown, east side and west side. You can catch all of these VIVA buses at Alamo Plaza. Tip: During large festivals such as Fiesta and the Texas Folklife Festival, VIA offers many Park & Ride lots that allow you to leave your car and take a bus downtown.
RIVER TAXI—GO RIO river-taxi shuttles (www.goriocruises.com; tel. 210/227-4746) stop at locations along the Downtown Reach and Museum Reach sections of the River Walk; they run daily from 10am to 9pm. Tickets ($12 for unlimited rides for one day on either the Downtown Reach or Museum Reach sections, $16 for a dual ticket) are available from boat drivers—just wave from one of the marked stops—or at various hotels along the River Walk.
By Ride-share & Taxi
Uber.com and Lyft.com are both popular in San Antonio. Cabs are available outside the airport, near the Greyhound and Amtrak terminals (only when a train is due, though), and at major downtown hotels, but they’re next to impossible to hail on the street; most of the time, you’ll need to phone for one in advance. The best of the taxi companies in town and also the largest is Yellow Cab (www.yellowcabsa.com; tel. 210/222-2222), which has an excellent record of turning up when promised. There’s also an app for the company, which provides such services as wheelchair-accessible taxis. See this guide for more information about accessibility.
San Antonio has a public bike-share program, SWell Cycle (formerly San Antonio Bcycle and still part of the Bcycle city network), with bikes available throughout the city at B-stations. Get the details, plus B-station locations and bike routes at https://sanantonio.bcycle.com or download the SWell Cycle app. Purchase passes at B-stations for 30-minute rides ($3). A 24-hour pass is $12, and monthly membership is $18 ($100 for entire year).
San Antonio’s weekday rush hour (generally 7:30 to 9am and 4:30 to 6pm Mon–Fri) may not be bad compared with that of Houston or Dallas, but it’s getting worse. The city’s rapid growth means you can expect to find major highway construction or repairs going on anywhere at any given time.
San Antonio Parking—You’ll find plenty of parking lots scattered around the north and east sides of downtown. These run about $5 to $10 per day. Parking meters are not plentiful in the heart of downtown, but you can find some on the streets near the River Walk and on Broadway. The cost is $1.80 per hour (with a 1-hr. time limit) in many downtown spots. Parking is free after 5pm on Tuesdays as a part of the Downtown Tuesday (www.downtowntuesday.com) program. There’s also free on-street parking after 6pm daily and all day Sunday; and $5 parking at select city-run facilities after 5pm on weeknights. A full list of city-owned garages, lots, and meters can be found at www.sanantonio.gov/CCDO/parking/parkingmap. For non-city owned lots and garages, click on www.downtownsanantonio.org/discover. A San Antonio parking app is also available; for more information, check https://sapark.sanantonio.gov.
San Antonio has a compact downtown that is not generally easy to navigate by car. Many of the streets are narrow and one-way, and it can be tough to find a parking spot. Overnight parking at hotels is expensive. Bottom line: If you’re planning to stay downtown for all or part of your stay, it makes sense not to rent a car, or rent one only when you’re ready to do some touring outside the city. (Downtown San Antonio in particular is a treat for walkers, who can stroll from one tourist attraction to another or amble along a beautifully landscaped river.)
If you’re staying on the outskirts or in an area where parking isn’t a problem, it might be convenient to rent a car at the airport, but remember that airports may tack on facility charges or have higher tax rates than city offices. Also be sure to check if there’s an extra charge for returning your car to a different location.
All the national car rental companies operate in San Antonio and have desks at the airports. Companies include Alamo (www.alamo.com; tel. 800/651-1223), Avis (www.avis.com; tel. 800/352-7900), Budget (www.budget.com; tel. 800/218-7992), Dollar (www.dollar.com; tel. 800/800-5252), Enterprise (www.enterprise.com; tel. 855/266-9289), Hertz (www.hertz.com; tel. 800/654-4173), National (www.nationalcar.com; tel. 800/227-7368), and Thrifty (www.thrifty.com; tel. 800/367-2277). Most car rental agencies have a minimum age requirement—usually age 25. Some also have a maximum age limit. If you’re concerned that these limits might affect you, ask about rental requirements at the time of booking to avoid problems later.
Instead of going to the car rental companies directly, we recommend using AutoSlash.com. This nifty website applies every discount code around to your rental, finding you rates you won’t find elsewhere at all of the usual car rental outlets. But the savings don’t end there: Between the time you make your reservation and pick up your car, the company tracks the rental rate, and if it drops, AutoSlash automatically rebooks you at the lower rate. It’s miraculous.
INSURANCE—Make sure you’re insured. Hasty assumptions about your personal auto insurance or a rental agency’s additional coverage could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars, even if you are involved in an accident that is clearly the fault of another driver.
If you already have your own car insurance, you are most likely covered in the United States for loss of or damage to a rental car and liability in case of injury to any other party involved in an accident. Be sure to check your policy before you spend extra money (around $15 or more per day) on the collision damage waiver (CDW) offered by all agencies.
If you use a major credit card (especially gold and platinum cards) to pay for the rental, it may provide some coverage as well. Terms vary widely, so call your credit card company directly before you rent, to learn if you can rely on the card for coverage. If you are uninsured, your credit card may provide primary coverage as long as you decline the rental agency’s insurance. If you already have insurance, your credit card may provide secondary coverage, which basically covers your deductible. However, note that credit cards will not cover liability, which is the cost of injury to an outside party and/or damage to an outside party’s vehicle. If you don’t hold an insurance policy, seriously consider buying the rental company’s additional liability insurance, even if you decline the CDW.
Texas Driving Rules
Texas has a reputation for frontier lawlessness, but in fact has fairly strict driving regulations. See the Texas Department of Transportation’s Safety and Laws section for additional information: www.txdot.gov/driver/laws.html. For current road conditions, check the constantly updated site www.drivetexas.org, or phone tel. 800/452-9292. The Waze Navigation & Live Traffic app can also help with current road conditions and can alert you if you’re exceeding the speed limit.
Speed limit: The maximum speed limit is 70 mph for the most part, but the Texas Transportation Commission is permitted to establish a higher one if a traffic or engineering study determines it to be safe. The only road in the state that has a maximum speed of 85 mph is the 40-mile stretch of Hwy. 130 toll road from Austin to Seguin, just north of San Antonio. If you don’t see a speed limit posted in a busy urban area, you can assume that it’s no higher than 30 mph.
Turning right on a red light: You are allowed to make a right turn on red after stopping at a designated place (including both lanes of dual right turn lanes) unless it is prohibited by a specific sign.
Seat Belts: Seat belts are mandatory for both passengers and drivers. If you’re caught without buckling up, you might have to pay up to $200 in fines.
Messaging: There’s a statewide ban on the use of cell phones for reading or writing text messages or emails while driving. Additionally, the use of handheld cell phones is not allowed under state law for drivers under 18 years of age.
Child safety seats: Children under 8 years old must use a safety seat unless they are taller than 4 ft. 9 in.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.