Texas History and Latin American Arts

Centuries of art and culture are on display at these San Antonio museums.


San Antonio boasts a strong visual arts tradition. In addition to several top-flight museums, the city also hosts a monthly art walk that merges opportunities for San Antonio’s up-and-coming visual artists with its love for festivals. Check out these great art spots on your San Antonio vacation.

San Antonio Museum of Art

The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) is housed within the historic Lone Star Brewery just north of downtown. Thanks in large part to former vice president Nelson Rockefeller, the museum contains one of the nation’s largest, most important and most impressive Latin American arts collections. The collection features pieces dating back as far as 3,000 years, including folk art, pre-Columbian pieces and representative works from many key 20th-century Latin-American artists.

The museum also features American, Asian and European collections, as well as contemporary and Western antiquities. In May 2009, the museum’s breathtaking River Landing opened, a key component of the San Antonio River Improvement Project (known as the Museum Reach), establishing a riverfront attraction north of the original River Walk.

Admission is free every Tuesday evening from 4 to 9 p.m.; activities often include mediation classes, sketching in the galleries, films, lectures and more. The first Sunday of every month is for families, with special family art activities highlighting different exhibitions and parts of SAMA's collection. 200 West Jones Ave., tel. 210-978-8100.

McNay Art Museum

The McNay Art Museum is known to locals for its spectacular grounds as well as for its collection. In fact, a number of brides and 15-year-old girls celebrating quinceañeras have photos taken on the grounds, and it’s not unusual to see photographers and limos on the property. The museum itself, located several miles northeast of downtown near Alamo Heights, features a solid collection of 19th century, 20th century and contemporary works that include Gauguin, van Gogh, Hopper, O’Keefe, Picasso, Pollock and Renoir.

The museum nearly doubled in size in 2008, thanks to the addition of the gleaming Jane & Arthur Stieren Center. While decidedly modern, the Stieren Center was intended to complement the Spanish colonial mansion that became the original home of the museum in 1954. 6000 North New Braunfels, tel. 210-824-5368.

Museo Alameda

The Museo Alameda, which opened in 2007 at the northeast corner of Market Square, is one of downtown’s most striking buildings, and is helping to further San Antonio as a center for Latin American art. Though it has no permanent collection of its own, its affiliation with the Smithsonian and its 20,000 square feet of exhibition space makes it a destination for a number of touring Latino collections, and guest curators also work with the Museo Alameda to bring exhibits that showcase performing and visual artists. 101 South Santa Rosa, tel. 210-299-4300.

Institute of Texan Cultures

The Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC), located in HemisFair Park across from the Alamodome, is one of the city’s most identifiable buildings. Built in 1968 (originally for the HemisFair the park is named for), the ITC tells the story of Texas in its permanent collection. In addition, the museum has a rotating group of exhibits that further explore the cultures and history of the Lone Star State.

Besides the massive indoor space, the ITC grounds includes an outdoor area, labeled The Back 40, that includes a collection of buildings typical of 19th-century Texas—a log house, a barn, an adobe house, a one-room schoolhouse and an army fort barracks. Note: Closed for three days in June leading up to the ITC’s annual Texas Folklife Festival. 851 Durango Blvd., tel. 210-458-2330. [Read more about the Texas Folklife Festival in our San Antonio Attractions article.]

First Friday

The busiest day of the month for art in San Antonio, however, has nothing to do with its museums—it’s First Friday, when Southtown comes alive with art exhibits, performances and a festival atmosphere that attracts a diverse cross-section of San Antonians. The Blue Star Arts Complex serves as the hub for much of the art-viewing activity, and La Tuna Grill, a restaurant and ice house featuring an expanse of outdoor picnic tables, serves as headquarters for those looking to make plans for later in the evening.

Destinations: San Antonio

Themes: Art and Museums

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums

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