This list of things to do off the beaten track in San Antonio proves there’s more to this vibrant Texan city than just the Alamo and River Walk. From bizarre museums and underground speakeasies to vaudeville theatres and creepy caves, weird and wonderful attractions abound in the city.

    There is spectacularly gigantic art at its finest, such as a massive mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary and a pair of 40-ft-tall cowboy boots. Escape the summer heat and crowds by heading to lush state parks just outside central San Antonio. Come nightfall, you can support local arts at a French-themed theatre or witness a sunset with millions of bats flying overhead at a notable cave. Experience San Antonio a different way by exploring these interesting places in San Antonio only locals know and love.

    1

    World’s largest Virgin Mary mosaic

    A 40-ft Catholic mural masterpiece

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    In quintessential Texas-style, San Antonio is home to the world’s largest Virgin Mary mosaic. Erected at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Centre in 2004, this massive 3D masterpiece is the work of Jesse Trevino, a local Vietnam vet and artist.

    The mural represents the intertwined Mexican and American history of the region. Designed to look like a votive candle, the vibrant red contrasts starkly against the white mosaic encompassing the Virgin Mary. The mosaic is free to experience, and you can pair a visit here with a stop at the intriguing Guadalupe Cultural Arts Centre.

    Location: 1321 El Paso St, San Antonio, TX 78207, USA

    Phone: +1 210-226-4064

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    2

    Hot Wells Hotel Ruins

    Take a day exploring a bizarre remnant of the city’s history

    The Hot Wells Hotel Ruins lie along the San Antonio River, opposite Padre Park. It provides visitors with a unique view into early San Antonio, as it was once the place to stay for anyone travelling to the city. The hotel faded into obscurity after a series of fires, shutting the hotel down for good in 1997.

    The Hot Wells Hotel Ruins are now managed by a local non-profit, sitting in the centre of a lovely park. Entry is free year-round. See how spas were constructed in the 1930s and learn the mysterious legends about what actually started the fires.

    Location: S Presa St, San Antonio, TX 78214, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 210-912-5868

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    photo by LittleT889 (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    3

    Magic Lantern Museum

    Bringing a little Hollywood to Texas

    The Magic Lantern Museum is an obscure ode to the earliest form of a slide projector – the magic lantern. This device is used to showcase images dating back to the 17th century. Founded by Jack Judson who loved to collect and restore magic lanterns, the private museum houses an astounding collection worth exploring.

    Available by appointment only, tours are led by Jack himself, who shares his enthusiasm and encyclopaedic knowledge of magic lanterns to all who will listen. The Magic Lantern Museum is in the Alamo Heights neighbourhood of San Antonio. We recommend stopping by the Robber Baron Cave, just a few miles away from the museum.

    Location: 1419 Austin Hwy, San Antonio, TX 78209, USA

    Phone: +1 210-805-0011

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    photo by juliegomoll (CC BY 2.0) modified

    4

    World’s Largest Cowboy Boots

    Boots only big enough for Texas

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    San Antonio is home to the World's Largest Cowboy Boots, reinforcing the saying that "Everything is bigger in Texas". Crafted by Texan Bob Wade, who used concrete and fibreglass to make the 40-ft-tall pair of boots look like they are made from ostrich skin.

    The boots have been utilised in a variety of ways, playing host to tailgate parties and even a DJ broadcasting live from atop for the San Antonio Rodeo. Located on the corner of the uber-popular North Star Mall and San Antonio International Airport, you can’t miss this artwork when flying in.

    Location: 60 Northwest Loop 410 #18, San Antonio, TX 78216, USA

    Phone: +1 210-340-6627

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    photo by zombieite (CC BY 2.0) modified

    5

    Bracken Cave

    Home to the largest colony of bats in the world

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    Bracken Cave is an ancient sinkhole that is home to a staggering number of Mexican free-tailed bats, which travel 1,000 miles from Mexico in March. Located in the beautiful hill country northeast of San Antonio, millions of bats emerge every night from the cave right as the sun is setting.

    Thanks to the support from the Bat Conservation International (BCI) group, amphitheatre-style seating is set up close to Bracken Cave. The viewing experience is further enhanced with commentary by bat experts. Visitation is reserved for BCI members – you can purchase the $45 annual membership or find a member who can invite you as a guest.

    Location: 26101 FM3009, San Antonio, Texas 78266, USA

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    photo by Daniel Spiess (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

    6

    McNutt Sculpture Garden

    A tranquil Wild-West inspired outdoor art museum

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    The McNutt Sculpture Garden is an outdoor art gallery with dozens of bronze sculptures depicting iconic figures of the American West. The artwork includes classic images such as Native Americans, settlers, and wildlife such as cougars, lizards, and snakes.

    Part of the Briscoe Western Art Museum, the public outdoor space is a great place to find shade and respite from the brutal Texas sun. Finding the sculpture garden is no easy feat, with a nondescript gate being the only entryway, so you are bound to have some privacy inside.

    Location: 210 W Market St, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA

    Open: Thursday–Monday from 10 am to 5 pm (closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

    Phone: +1 210-299-4499

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    photo by Eden, Janine and Jim (CC BY 2.0) modified

    7

    Robber Baron Cave Preserve

    An underground network of tunnels and mystery

    The Robber Baron Cave Preserve is a hidden gem in San Antonio, hiding just underneath the famous shopping district of Alamo Heights. Over the years, the cave has seen a variety of uses, from a Prohibition-era speakeasy to a hangout spot for rebelling high schoolers.

    Located just 6 miles north of downtown San Antonio, the Robber Baron Cave Preserve is easy to get to and doesn’t have the crowds of the more popular Natural Bridge Caverns. The surface of the preserve and sinkhole are open to the public, though access to the actual cave is limited to Robber Baron Open House days or by invitation only.

    Location: 155 Camellia Way, San Antonio, TX 78209, USA

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    8

    Crownridge Canyon Park

    San Antonio’s under-the-radar green oasis

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    Crownridge Canyon Park is a beautiful open space located 20 miles northwest of San Antonio. Offering peace and tranquillity to all visitors, you get pleasurable walking trails and stunning natural landscape without the crowds of Brackenridge and San Pedro Springs Parks.

    The park has acres of green grass to frolic in, numerous picnic areas for a casual lunch, and an abundance of natural flora and fauna. Time your visit in spring to witness bluebonnets and wildflowers in bloom. Crownridge Canyon also regularly showcases public art displays from the local community, so make sure to bring a camera.

    Location: 7222 Luskey Blvd, San Antonio, TX 78256, USA

    Open: Daily from 7.30 am to 6.30 pm

    Phone: +1 210-207-5320

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    9

    Old Time Wooden Nickel Company

    A bizarre ode to woodworking

    The Old Time Wooden Nickel Company is an active business and a museum, taking you through the art of making wooden nickels. You can't miss the gigantic 2,500-lb wooden nickel sitting out front, with a traditional American Buffalo on one side and a memorial to the US Armed Forces on the other.

    The company was founded by a passionate ex-Air Force officer, who wanted to share his passion for woodworking and support American workers by using only domestically grown wood. In the museum, you can peruse original nickel printing presses, tools, and hundreds of wooden nickels, some dating back to the 1940s.

    Location: 345 Old Austin Rd, San Antonio, TX 78209, USA

    Open: Monday–Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm (closed from Fridays to Sundays)

    Phone: +1 210-822-0552

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    Ryan Thomas McNutt | Contributing Writer

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