SA Treasure Hunt: A Guide to the City’s Best-Kept Secrets

In an increasingly digital age, our inboxes and Facebook feeds are constantly saturated with new information. From Google’s vast archival library to ridiculously niche sites and blogs, the world is quite literally at our fingertips.

And while this abundant supply of information can find you anything from inflatable Thanksgiving food to pet wigs, one of the most practical online realms is the travel information industry. With Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, anyone can be an urban explorer, and the best of any given city is always ready to be discovered.

However, we’ve come to notice something about the Internet’s picture of San Antonio: it usually starts with the River Walk and ends with the Alamo, occasionally stretching out to acknowledge Fiesta Texas or Sea World.

So, we’re here to set the record straight: San Antonio is far from its stereotypical Riverwalk-centric image. There are plenty of local hotspots that lure tourists and residents outside of the box! From offbeat museums to underground speakeasies to the largest Virgin Mary mosaic in the world, here are some of San Antonio’s weird and wonderful attractions off the beaten path.

Bracken Cave

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Is anything more awe-inspiring than a Texas sunset in the Hill Country? Throw a few million Mexican free-tailed bats into the equation, and you’ve got a serious spectacle! From March to October, a staggering company of these nocturnal creatures fills the dusty twilight skies over Bracken Cave. This ancient sinkhole acts as a summer home for the bats, who travel approximately 1,000 miles to dazzle locals and visitors alike. Thanks to Bat Conservation International and Natural Bridge Caverns, you can get a front-row seat to the show.

The Old Time Wooden Nickel Company

As the old American adage so aptly states: "Don't take any wooden nickels." We’re here to strongly recommend breaking that rule at the Old Time Wooden Nickel Company’s museum in Central San Antonio! A currency created in the 1930’s, this surprisingly interesting currency has quite a history. Visit the museum to learn more, as well as get a peek at the world’s largest wooden nickel—just under 14 feet wide!

Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum

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In case the title doesn’t say it all, this delightfully niche museum showcases the unlikely intersection between art and plumbing. Founded by none other than Barney Smith himself, the Toilet Seat Art Museum in Alamo Heights is one master plumber’s mission to beautify this classically discarded fixture. Constantly adding to his collection, Barney’s unique masterpieces range from eye-catching to demure to whimsical. Head to the museum to see for yourself!

Re-Discovered Propaganda Posters

For the World War II history buffs in the audience, one particular section of the Central Library (Downtown San Antonio) may be of unique interest. The Texana and Genealogy Department boasts a rediscovered collection of vintage World War I lithographs. Almost lost amongst various archives for over 70 years, several of these propaganda posters are available to public eyes on the 6th floor!

Hot Wells Hotel & Spa Ruins

In case you thought Hot Wells was just the arbitrary name of a South San Antonio neighborhood...think again. This area was originally built around The Hot Wells Hotel and Spa, a popular upscale tourist destination in the 1900’s (frequented by famous patrons like Teddy Roosevelt and Charlie Chaplin). However, the hotel seemed fated for obscurity: it burned to the ground twice in its lifetime, leaving current-day visitors only a pile of fascinating ruins. One of the creepier facts about Hot Wells: The resort apparently shared its artesian pipeline with the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum. (To read about more SA neighborhood histories, click here.)

Leon Valley’s Huebner-Onion Homestead

With a name like “Huebner-Onion Homestead”, the only thing you’d expect to plague this historic spot in West San Antonio is halitosis. However, local lore has other ideas: apparently, the restless ghost of Joseph Huebner walks the premises. The old story claims that Huebner’s untimely death was caused by a simple mix-up: he accidentally poured himself a glass of kerosene instead of whiskey. While the ghost doesn’t plague daytime visitors, this old homestead and stagecoach stop is worth a visit.

The Magic Lantern Castle Museum

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While a name like “Magic Lantern Castle Museum,” may have you envisioning King Arthur themes, this obscure museum in Central San Antonio is actually a bit more Hollywood than Round Table. The "Magic Lantern" was the name for the earliest form of slide projector, a device that dates back to the 17th century (when the advent of images on a screen was indeed seen as “magical”). A combination of photography, glass painting, and cloth drapes, this early projection device can be seen in its glory right here in San Antonio!

The Stinson Airport + Texas Air Museum

During a time when aviation was almost exclusively a “boy’s club,” Marjorie Stinson became the first female airmail pilot in the United States...when she was just 19 years old! She later taught at the Stinson School of Flying, which was established by her mother! Now, with over a century of operation under its belt, the Stinson Airport in South San Antonio is the second oldest continually operating airport in the country. The airport hosts helicopter tours, flight training, and tours of the on-site Texas Air Museum.

The Largest Virgin Mary Mosaic in the World

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Devout Catholics and candle enthusiasts alike are sure to be awestruck by this large-scale replica of a Virgin of Guadalupe candle in Central East San Antonio. More than just a mural, this 40-foot masterpiece protrudes from the wall, offering a three-dimensional effect that makes you feel like you might be on the set of a knockoff movie called “Honey I Shrunk the Texan.”

DoSeum’s Redo Recess Night

San Antonio’s award-winning Children’s Museum (located in Central San Antonio) isn’t just for kids anymore. The DoSeum’s “Redo ” nights invite adults (21+) to explore the whimsy and wonder of the massive playscape, cocktail in hand! This month, the museum is hosting a 1990’s-themed evening of fun. “Grab your favorite mixtapes, Nintendo games, and neon windbreakers because The DoSeum is ready to party 90’s style!” In line with their “Summer of Tech” theme, the evening will feature plenty of digitized fun. 

Robber Baron Cave

Image Courtesy of Flickr User Cobaltski

Alamo Heights may be famous for its shopping and charming streets, but what lies underneath? Head to Central San Antonio (south of 410 on Nacogdoches Road) and you’ll find Robber Baron Cave, a massive network of passages and tunnels. Now a tourist attraction, this cave has seen a variety of uses, from a Prohibition-era speakeasy to a 1950’s high school hangout spot.

Turtle Races at Little Woodrow’s Bar

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a...turtle? This time, the crowds are cheering for these slow-moving reptiles as they race across Little Woodrow’s bar every Thursday night. The competitions start at 9, 10 and 11 PM!

Scobee Planetarium

According to George Strait, “the stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas.” Well, according to the Scobee Planetarium, the dazzling Texas sky can be big and bright at any time of day! The Scobee Planetarium and Challenger Learning Center Education Center (Central San Antonio) is full of fascinating space-themed wonder for kids and adults alike, from simulators to star parties. Visitors are invited to explore Mission Control, the Orion Launch Vehicle, and way more.

Hogwild Records Tapes & CD's

We began this article discussing the increasingly digitized why not end it with a more old-school attraction? Hogwild Records Tapes & CD’s in Central San Antonio is a well-loved tribute to simpler days, dang good music, and physical copies of your favorite tunes. Music lovers frequent this low-key music store for both rare and new release records.

Are you still exploring San Antonio? We’d love to show you around! Whether you’re new to the area or just looking to relocate, let us give you the insider details. Download our exclusive Buyer’s Guide here, and contact an agent today to get started!