By Carla Olivo, Marine Spouse

Welcome to San Antonio, Texas, home to the Alamo, the Spurs, and some of the best Mexican food you’ll ever eat! San Antonio is the seventh most populated city in the United States and the second in Texas. Additionally, it was the fastest growing of the top 10 largest cities in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010. It is also home to six Fortune 500 companies and the South Texas Medical Center, the only medical research and care provider in the South Texas region.  

PCSgrades has put together a list of all the things you need to know before relocating to this culturally diverse and history-rich region. 

Where is San Antonio?

Located in South Central Texas, in Bexar (pronounced Bear) county, San Antonio sits just south of the Texas Hill Country. It is 80 miles from the Texas state capital city of Austin. The two are relatively connected by a series of small towns and it is expected that they will eventually join as a Metroplex. Traveling to Houston or Dallas is more of a journey with trips logging 3 hours and 4 hours respectively.  Coastal destinations range from 2 hours to family-friendly Corpus Christi to almost 5 hours to get to popular college spring-break destination, South Padre Island.

San Antonio and the Hill Country are home to a rich Tex-Mex culture. However, there is also a prominent German influence in the surrounding small yet charming towns of Fredericksburg, Castroville, Boerne (pronounced Burnie) and New Braunfels.

Military Installations

If you’ve received orders to the region, chances are you’re headed to one of the major military installations housed under the name Joint Base San Antonio.

Randolph AFB is headquarters for Air Education and Training Command, Air Force Personnel Center, and Pilot Instructor Training. To learn more about Randolph specifically visit our Area Guide and check out our Randolph base amenities slideshow. 

Lackland AFB is home to the Air Force Cyber Command and Basic Military Training. Originally part of Kelly Field, Lackland was established in 1941 and has played an integral part in Air Force training ever since. Visit our Lackland AFB  Area Guide  for more info and take a look at our base amenities slideshow to see what Lackland has to offer your family. 

Fort Sam Houston is home to the command headquarters of the United States Army North, the United States Army South, the Army Medical Command headquarters and the Navy Regional Recruiting. It is commonly referred to as the “Home of Army Medicine.” Read our Fort Sam Area Guide for a more in-depth look and review amenities like the PX and the Commissary. 

Camp Bullis and Camp Stanley are located just outside the city and Port San Antonio is an industrial/business park and aerospace complex located on the old Kelly Air Force Base airfield. 

RANDOLPH AFB HOUSING

On Base 

There are many options for housing around Joint Base San Antonio. Randolph Family Housing is a gated community managed by Hunt Companies. Three and four bedroom homes range in size from 1500 square feet to just over 2200 sq. ft. All homes offer a list of amenities to include: Randolph’s walkable neighborhoods include easy access to a community center and fitness center, parks, a pool, and playgrounds. Take look at all the amenities Randolph has to offer  here.

Off Base

Those looking to rent or buy off base have their pick in the cities around the installation to include: Schertz, Cibolo, Converse, Universal City, New Braunfels, Alamo Heights, Castle Hills, China Grove, Garden Ridge, Hollywood Park, La Vernia, San Antonio, Seguin, Selma, St. Hedwig, and Windcrest. The median home price for a three bedroom home is $150,900. Some believe San Antonio is a good place to buy as home appreciation is up 28.1% in the last 12 months. If you work with a PCSgrades reviewed realtor, you’ll find there is a rental or mortgage to fit every BAH.

LACKLAND AFB HOUSING

ON BASE

Lackland Family Housing offers move in ready two-, three- and four-bedroom homes in both single-family and townhome styles in seven different neighborhoods. Balfour Beatty Communities owns the family housing and is responsible for maintaining, repairing and managing the community.

OFFBASE

The median home price for a three bedroom home near Lackland is $150,900 and home appreciation is up 28.1% in the last 12 months. Military families reviewing off base neighborhoods in the area recommend those looking to rent or buy start their search about 30 minutes away from base.

To read reviews of local neighborhoods written by your fellow military families, go to PCSgrades.com.

Fort Sam Houston Housing

ON BASE

Managed by Lincoln Military Housing, Fort Sam Housing is comprised of three villages, each with a community center featuring a pool, playground, and resident center.

The villages house ranks E1- O6 and consist of single-family detached homes, quad-plexes, and more. All communities accept cats and dogs with a 2 pet maximum. Deposits are required and breed restrictions might apply.

OFFBASE

The median home price for a three bedroom home near Lackland is $150,900 and home appreciation is up 28.1% in the last 12 months. Military families reviewing off base neighborhoods in the area recommend those looking to rent or buy start their search about 30 minutes away from base.

Check out neighborhood reviews and commute times, at PCSgrades.com.

BAH and Cost of Living

The overall median home cost in the San Antonio area is $172, 400, making it a very attractive place to buy. Developing areas such as Alamo Ranch and  Stone Oak are rising in popularity. But older neighborhoods in surrounding towns like Cibolo, Schertz, or Universal City have a lot to offer at very reasonable prices. The cost of living for a family of 4 in San Antonio is 14% lower than the national average costing roughly $72,000 a year.

The Commute

There are more vehicles than ever on the roads surrounding San Antonio, but depending on what you are used to, it may not seem all that bad. The San Antonio urban area ranked 33rd in the nation for time wasted during peak commute times. The good news is when there are significant delays; drivers have decent alternative routes compared with other cities.

Weather – San Antonio TX

You can expect mild winters and scorching summers in this part of Texas. While tornadoes and wildfires are rare, the biggest threat of severe weather in Alamo City is flooding. When it rains hard in San Antonio, downtown and several other areas are known to flood, making commutes treacherous.  The coldest month is January with an overnight average temperature of 38°F. The highest temps occur in August with daily temperatures into the 100’s.

Customs & Culture

The locals in San Antonio love an excuse to celebrate and much of the local culture is based around events like basketball championships and traditional Mexican holidays. If you are heading to any of the military bases in San Antonio – Get ready to party!

Local Cuisine

San Antonio is a foodie heaven. Home to some of the best Mexican food and Tex-Mex in the United States, locals consider themselves experts on Mexican faire, especially the taco. In San Antonio, there are three times eating tacos is not only acceptable but celebrated; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. San Antonio is the home of the breakfast taco, available all over town at different price points. For the best tacos head to the west side or the south side. Austin has claimed to have the best breakfast tacos but San Antonians say they are wrong. 

Fiesta San Antonio

Fiesta is a 10-day annual celebration in the spring. It started in 1891 as a one-parade event as a way to honor the memory of the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. It has evolved into one of this nation’s premier festivals with an economic impact of more than $284 million for the Alamo City.

San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo

The San Antonio Rodeo has events all year long. The Rodeo is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) and kicks off in February.  In addition to the rodeo, there is Brickfest LIVE! – a LEGO Fan Experience built to inspire, educate, and entertain with LEGO bricks. The Ultimate BMX Stunt Show Experience is an exciting show featuring one of the Best BMX Stunt Show Teams in the Nation!  Brad’s World Reptiles includes some of the most beautiful and exotic animals in the world!

San Antonio Rodeo

AREA ATTRACTIONS

San Antonio is brimming with activities for families and couples, and the downtown area is a great place to start soaking in some of the local flavors

Missions

Perhaps San Antonio’s most famous attraction, the Alamo is the home of the famous 1836 battle and becomes a living history with special demonstrations and events all year long. This beautiful 300-year-old former Spanish mission turned fortress is open year-round and is free everyone to visit. In addition to the Alamo, Missions National Historical Park, a chain of four Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada—feature eight miles of paved cycling and walking the path. Canoes and kayaks can be paddled along sections of the Mission Reach. The visitor center is located at Mission San José.

Parks

Located on the northern side of downtown, San Pedro Springs is the second oldest municipal parks in the nation and is truly an urban oasis. There are 46 acres featuring walking/hiking paths and a pool for summer swimming. 

Hemisphere park is a sprawling park in the middle of downtown housing the Tower of Americas and The Institute of Texan Cultures. Not only does this park have a big, impressive, playground, it also hosts some of the best festivals and celebrations San Antonio such as Fiesta and Luminaria ( a yearly art and light festival).

Brackenridge Park More than 340 acres of woodland, trails and a historic par-72 golf course are sure to please outdoor lovers! Your little ones will love riding a miniature train around the park. Here you will also find the San Antonio Zoo, and  Japanese Tea Gardens.

Dog Parks

In downtown San Antonio, the .65-acre Dog Park at Madison Square Park features a fenced off-leash area, mutt-mitts, a doggie drinking fountain, and benches.

McAllister Park has 1.5 acres set aside for dogs, which include a covered picnic area and walking trail.

Hardberger Park on Blanco Road has 1.8 acres for dogs, including separate areas for small and large dogs and a two-story doghouse.

The west side of Hardberger Park on NW Military Highway features an enclosed 1.5-acre area for dogs, divided into sections for large dogs and small dogs.

Museums

San Antonio is home to some fabulous art and history museums. The McNay Art Museum is housed in a 1920’s mansion and offers American and European art from medieval to contemporary. It also provides beautiful grounds and a huge event every second Thursday all summer long. The San Antonio Museum of Art houses international collections, ancient art, and a contemporary gallery.

For the kids, there is the Witte Museum, dedicated to Texas history, prehistoric to contemporary and featuring the H-E-B Science Treehouse. There is also the impressive new children’s museum the Dosuem. This can easily be an all-day adventure, teaching kids about art and science through interactive exhibits and activities. 

The Pearl

 Just north of San Antonio lies the historic Pearl Brewery. This old can plant is now the hippest destination for San Antonio locals and tourists alike. A foodie heaven, the complex is home to the Culinary Institute of America as well as multiple other local fine food restaurants, Southerleigh, Cured, Supper, Nao, and more. 

Each Saturday and Sunday the Pearl hosts an extensive farmers market offering locally sourced produce, cheeses, and more. Live music and the smell of the food trucks permeate the air, and the event is entirely family friendly. You can even bring your leashed dogs. Also frequently available are free yoga and fitness classes. 

The River Walk

No San Antonio list would be complete without its primary tourist destination, the San Antonio River Walk. Locals sometimes avoid the crowds at the River Walk by choosing some great restaurants downtown off the river such as Schilo’s, a 100-year German Deli, and Mi Tierra, a San Antonio tradition, located in Market Square. However, everyone should experience the River Walk at least once. You can take the family on a boat ride to the River Center Mall for an IMAX show or head to Howl at the Moon Dueling Piano Bar for a night out.   

Riverwalk

DAY TRIPS

CHOKE CANYON STATE PARK

On the shores of a 26,000-acre reservoir about two hours south of San Antonio – boating, fishing, birding, hiking trails, camping, and breeding alligators!

AUSTIN

From sports to live music – Austin has it all! Visit the capitol building and then head out to a University of Texas game. Remember to wear orange and yell “Hook ‘Em.”

Sports not your thing? Head downtown to catch one of the hundreds of musical performances occurring on a nightly basis. Austin is, after all, the “Live Music Capital of the World” and hosts the famed South by Southwest Festival and Austin City Limits. When it comes to music, Austin rules. 

Austin TX

FREDERICKSBURG

A little more than an hour from Joint Base San Antonio is some great German food.  In addition to its German heritage and the National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg has plenty of birding, fishing, bicycling and rock climbing opportunities.  The Fredericksburg area also boasts the second most visited wine area in the U.S., second only to the Sonoma in California.  Visit over 40 wineries in the Hill Country along Highway 290, outside of Fredericksburg.

ENCHANTED ROCK

The pink granite exfoliation dome called Enchanted Rock is about an hour and a half north of San Antonio. The dome rises 425 foot above ground and covers 640 acres. Bring a kite and get ready for some great camping, picnicking and seven miles of hiking trails.

 Have you ever been stationed in the San Antonio area? Fellow Mil-Fams need your help! Leave reviews on your housing, moving company, neighborhood, and more at PCSgrades.com. 

Carla Olivo, Director of Strategic Communications at PCSgrades, has garnered numerous TV industry awards including the Associated Press award for Spot News Reporting, News Writing, Enterprise Reporting, and Documentary Reporting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, a retired USMC Lt. Colonel and their two children. You can follow her on Twitter @olivowriter.