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    Discover San Antonio: What to Know Before Your PCS

    San Antonio, Texas, known as “Military City USA,” is home to multiple military bases, the Air Force’s basic training program, and large veteran and military retiree populations. With its continued growth, San Antonio is the nation’s seventh largest city.

    Are you making a PCS move to San Antonio? Get to know the area before you move!

    San Antonio skylineSan Antonio skyline. Photo from iStock.com/Kruck20

    The San Antonio Area

    San Antonio is renowned for its unwavering support for the military community and its historical significance. Your military assignment here also lands you in a culturally rich location, with endless exploration possibilities.

    With big city amenities, such as fine dining, museums, concerts, theater, and professional sports,  paired with the laid back South Texas lifestyle, it’s easy to see why the San Antonio area is one of the top areas for military retirees.

    From Tex-Mex to barbecue, food lovers have a variety of culinary options, along with the food truck scene. Enjoy performances at the historic Majestic Theater, view artwork at the Briscoe and McNay Art Museums, and cheer on the fan-favorite NBA team, the Spurs. Whether you prefer a leisurely walk along the famous River Walk or a hike on one of the local nature trails, there are activities available year-round.

    Experience the spirit of Fiesta San Antonio, a 10-day celebration that's been around since 1891.  The Battle of Flowers parade is a cherished tradition and underscores the city's deep-rooted cultural significance, so much so that Bexar County offices and some schools observe it as a holiday.

    Venture beyond the city limits to explore the beautiful Hill Country to the north or unwind on beaches just a few hours away. With a wealth of attractions ranging from the iconic Alamo to family-friendly destinations like SeaWorld and Fiesta Texas, the South Texas region ensures there's never a dull moment in this area's dynamic blend of Old West charm, Hispanic heritage, and contemporary culture.

    Getting Around San Antonio

    Highways I-35, I-37, U.S. Highway 281, and I-10 intersect the area. The city has two highways that encircle it and are referred to as the “inner loop” (I-410) and “outer loop” (state highway 1604). Be prepared for typical rush hour traffic and ongoing construction as the city continues to expand. 

    The VIA Metropolitan Transit System offers bus service for public transportation. Nevertheless, most local commuters use their own vehicles.

    Downtown San Antonio and the River Walk

    Along the serene San Antonio River, the famous River Walk is a showcase of the city’s vibrant culture and rich history. In fact, the River Walk and nearby Alamo are the top destinations in Texas. If you’ve been through Basic Military Training (BMT) at Lackland Air Force Base, chances are you’re familiar with the allure of the River Walk. For many new airmen, it serves as the quintessential destination for their first taste of freedom during leave.

    However, the River Walk isn’t only for newcomers. Military personnel stationed in the San Antonio area should explore this destination more than once and experience shopping, the many restaurants, river boat tours, and events. The River Walk also serves as a gateway to nearby attractions, including the Alamo, museums, Spanish missions, city parks, and unique neighborhoods.

    From holiday events to festivals to live music performances, the River Walk is a hub of activity year-round, offering something new and exciting to discover.

    There’s so much to do near the River Walk and downtown San Antonio. Here's a highlight of a few of the nearby top attractions.

    iStock-1292013336Photo from iStock.com/f11photo

    The Alamo

    The Alamo Mission, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the site of the ill-fated Battle of the Alamo. Explore exhibits, take a guided tour, and learn the history behind the Battle of the Alamo, a pivotal event during the Texas Revolution that established the independent republic of Texas in 1836.

    Arneson River Theatre

    The Arneson River Theatre is a striking and unique open-air venue, featuring limestone walls and terraced seating. The backdrop for a range of events from concerts to weddings, its innovative design incorporates the natural topography of the riverbank, allowing performers to make grand entrances by boat or via the stone arched bridge.

    La Villita

    The Arneson Theater is adjacent to La Villita, a historic arts village that showcases the city’s cultural heritage and artistic diversity. Originally settled in the 18th century as one of the city’s first neighborhoods, La Villita is now home to a collection of shops, galleries, studios, and restaurants housed in historic buildings dating back to the Spanish colonial era.

    King William District

    San Antonio’s King William Historic District is famous for its charming Victorian-era homes and beautiful tree-lined streets. German immigrants settled here in the mid-19th century and named it after King Wilhelm I of Prussia.

    Stroll through this area to appreciate the blend of architectural styles, such as Colonial Revival, Italianate, Craftsman bungalows, and Victorian mansions, many of which have been beautifully restored.

    The King William District is now home to a thriving arts and cultural scene. Galleries, studios, and boutiques showcase the work of local artists and artisans, while charming cafes, restaurants, and bakeries provide a memorable dining experience.

    Don’t miss: the historic Guenther House and its on-site Guenther House Restaurant; the Steves Homestead, open for tours; and the nearby Blue Star Arts Complex.

    san fernando cathedral in san antonioSan Fernando Cathedral in downtown San Antonio. Photo from iStock.com/m-kojot

    San Fernando Cathedral

    Dating back to 1731, the cathedral is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the U.S. and a city icon. A marble sacrophagus in the cathedral is said to house the remains of the Alamo defenders. 

    While you can visit the cathedral, keep in mind that it is still an active and busy parish church. 

    The Briscoe Museum

    The Briscoe Western Art Museum is located on the River Walk, near the Arneson River Theatre and La Villita. The museum showcases the rich history and culture of the American West with its extensive collection.

    Housed in a historic building that was once the San Antonio Public Library, the Briscoe Museum immerses visitors in cowboy culture, Native American heritage, and pioneer spirit that shaped the American West. The museum’s collection includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, and historical artifacts.

    The Briscoe Museum also features rotating exhibitions, special events, and educational programs.

    Mission Trail

    Experience San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions built in the 1700s on the 12-mile San Antonio Mission Trail. While you can drive from mission to mission, one unique way to experience it is by walking or biking the well maintained trail.

    Starting with the Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), The Mission Trail encompasses the missions of Mission Concepción, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada.

    Mission San Jose in San Antonio, TexasMission San Jose in San Antonio- Photo from iStock.com/kbose

    San Antonio Military Installations

    Several military installations, including the Air Force’s Basic Training and the Medical Education and Training Campus for the Army, Navy, and Air Force, are located in San Antonio. Within just a few hours, you’ll also find Fort Cavazos and NAS Corpus Christi.

    Joint Base San Antonio consists of these installations: Lackland AFB, Randolph AFB, and Fort Sam Houston. The bases are in different sections of the city. Although the combined base is the largest in the Department of Defense, most residents still refer to them by their separate names.

    Below, you’ll find a quick overview of each base. For more comprehensive information, click on the base’s name.

    Fort Sam Houston

    Fort Sam Houston is the command headquarters for U.S. Army North and South, the Army Medical Command, the Army Medical Department Center and School, and other tenant units. Named after the first president of the Republic of Texas, “Fort Sam” is home to the prestigious Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) and the military's only Level 1 Trauma Center. It's the largest military medical training facility in the world and is known as the "Home of the Combat Medic." 

    Located on the northeast side of San Antonio, Texas, Fort Sam Houston lies between I-35 and the Harry Wurzbach Parkway. Fort Sam is southeast of the San Antonio International Airport, and 10 minutes away from the downtown area.

    Randolph AFB

    Randolph AFB is headquarters for the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) and the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC). Randolph earned the nickname “the Showplace of the Air Force” because of its Spanish Colonial Revival Style architecture. The 12th Flying Training Wing is the host unit at Randolph. The base operates parallel runways on either side of the installation and conducts continuous flight training operations.

    Just a short distance from the active flight line stands a unique wing headquarters building, known as “The Taj” due to its resemblance to the Taj Mahal.

    Randolph AFB is located just outside San Antonio on the far northeastern section of Universal City, with the cities of New Braunfels, Converse, Schertz, and Cibolo near the base.

    Randolph_aerial_viewThe United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” fly over the Taj Mahal at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. Photo by Staff Sgt. Cory Bush.

    Lackland AFB

    Spanning approximately 7,000 acres, Lackland AFB is situated on the southwestern border of San Antonio. Nearby cities include Helotes, Atascosa, Hondo, and Elmendorf. 

    Lackland, also known as the “Gateway to the Air Force,” is home to the 37th Training Wing, the largest training wing in the Air Force. The Air Force’s BMT (Basic Military Training) is located here, along with professional, technical, and English language training for the military services, government agencies, and coalition partners from over 100 countries. The 341st Training Squadron at Lackland is also responsible for training all DoD military working dogs and handlers.

    San Antonio Military Housing

    JBSA military housing is privatized and varies from base to base, each with its own distinct neighborhoods and home type and size, including some historic homes. Check in with your base for specific military housing information. 

    Suburbs and nearby towns in San Antonio typically offer larger homes at a lower cost, whether you're renting or buying. The absence of state income tax (and no military pension tax) makes buying a home in the Lone Star State an idea worth considering, but high property taxes are an important factor to consider.

    Start your San Antonio home search here:

    Base Search 

    City Search

    row of homes on streetPhoto from Canva

    San Antonio Family Life


    Like the area itself, schools in San Antonio are diverse. San Antonio-area Independent School Districts handle the administration of the city’s public schools. For further information about these school districts, as well as neighboring county and city school districts, visit the Bexar County website

    From the San Antonio ISD: 

    The San Antonio-area Independent School Districts serve 340,238 students. Extracurricular clubs for all skill levels and interests, Advanced Placement, Dual Credit, Magnets, Trades, Special Needs, Fine Arts and STEM are among the 173 academic and developmental choices that exist within the districts. View more info at San Antonio Go Public.

    Private school tuition in San Antonio falls below the national average. Visit Niche.com and Texas Private School Review for private school ratings.

    To comply with state requirements, homeschoolers in Texas need to provide instruction in designated subjects. For more details, visit the Texas Education Agency.

    Military Spouses in San Antonio

    Military family members seeking employment in the local area are will find a strong job market and opportunities in healthcare, biomedicine, military and defense sectors, tourism and hospitality industries, advanced manufacturing, construction, and oil and gas production.

    Military spouses have the opportunity to engage with several local spouses' clubs and participate in community activities. Spouses of active duty and retired military members from all military branches assigned to or living near JBSA Lackland are invited to join the Lackland AFB spouses’ club. The Randolph AFB spouses’ club welcomes active duty military spouses and offers membership options for retiree spouses and other dependents. The Fort Sam Houston Spouses’ Club is open to spouses of active duty and retired military, adult family members, DoD civilian and contractor spouses, and others.

    texas bluebonnets near AustinBluebonnets in Muleshoe bend near Austin, TX. Photo from iStock.com/kanonsky

    San Antonio Climate

    If you're a fan of warm weather, the San Antonio area is the perfect destination. The climate is mild year-round with a semi-tropical feel, with the hotter months from May to September and a wetter season from April to October. You’ll still want to have a jacket on hand during the winter months, as there can be cold days and freezing weather. 

    To beat the heat, take a dip at spots like Schlitterbahn Water Park and Schumacher Crossing swimming hole or float down the nearby Guadalupe and Comal Rivers. For beach lovers, a couple of hours in the car lands you at Corpus Christi Bay and Padre Island National Seashore. For more inland adventures, consider a weekend getaway to eclectic Austin or historic Fredericksburg.

    In the springtime, the bluebonnet, Texas's state flower, blankets the landscape along roadways and fields. Late spring and summer often bring about thunderstorms, while the winter months may surprise with occasional sleet or ice storms, adding some unpredictability to the weather patterns in San Antonio.

    With its rich history and culture, strong job market, and welcoming community, San Antonio provides an exceptional quality of life for individuals and families alike. Embrace the opportunity to explore all that San Antonio has to offer, and here's to the start of countless adventures in your new home! 

    There is so much more to discover before your PCS move to San Antonio. Dive deeper into our free guide below!

    Military Family Guide to Joint Base San Antonio

    Discover San Antonio

    Jen McDonald


    Jen McDonald

    Jen McDonald is the Content Editor for MilitaryByOwner Advertising. She's a longtime writer, the author of the books You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse and Milspouse Matters: Sharing Strength Through Our Stories. Jen is also the host of the Milspouse Matters podcast, and has written hundreds of articles and essays which have been published in other books and numerous publications. She was a military spouse for 30 years and is the mom of four, including one son in the military. One of her happiest roles now is being a grandmother. She and her veteran Air Force husband have been stationed all around the world from Europe to the Pacific and won’t count how many houses they’ve lived in because that would be too depressing. Her passion is encouraging young military spouses and regularly sharing about topics like military life, parenting, homeschooling...and now grandparenting! See more from Jen at her site, Jen McDonald and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram , and Pinterest.

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