With a 15-mile River Walk spanning historic attractions, dining, nightlife and meeting venues, downtown San Antonio was designed around the great outdoors, with walking and strolling the preferred modes of transportation.

For those looking to live it up during down time, the city and surrounding Hill Country deliver with a world of recreation options and activity-oriented attractions, from kayaking and biking to experiencing waterslides and animal encounters, as well as that innately Texan venue—the ranch.

“At dude ranches, immersive experiences like horseback riding, hiking and gathering around a campfire inspire connections between peers and draw attendees closer to nature,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio. “Smaller groups may be able to host their entire meeting at one of several ranches outfitted with amenities including conference space, AV and banquet facilities.”

Back at the Ranch

One venue functioning as both a home on the range and a meetings destination is the Marriott-managed Knibbe Ranch, north of San Antonio, where activities include trail rides, armadillo races, skeet shooting, nature hikes and a large inventory of teambuilding options. 

Whether for an all-day seminar or a Western-themed dinner, the working cattle ranch can accommodate up to 4,200, according to Event Coordinator A.J. Bononcini.

“We have 12,000 square feet of meeting space, and can transform that into a dinner space,” Bononcini said. “Technically we have seating for 1,100 but we can bring in additional seating. If it’s a big group, we’ll stagger their arrival to the ranch so they arrive in waves of 200 to 300. People can kind of plan their own agenda, anything from Texas tailgating to a rodeo.”

As a Marriott facility, Knibbe Ranch draws groups from the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, the Marriott San Antonio Rivercenter and the Marriott San Antonio Riverwalk. However, there are times when the ranch welcomes guests from other properties. 

“If we’re open and it’s off-season, we may be able to accommodate them,” Bononcini said.

Also in the Hill Country neighborhood of ranches is the Mayan Dude Ranch, which in addition to a 3,000-square-foot conference center offers lodge rooms and cottages decked out in Southwestern decor, with rates that include three meals a day, horseback riding and other activities.

“We do cowboy Olympics, BB shooting, roping and games that encourage teambuilding,” said Shea Butler, co-owner of the ranch. “When you come here you’re going to get the cowboy experience. We have that dude ranch flair.”

Still, the group doesn’t need to visit a dude ranch to infuse an event with authentic Texas flavor. 

“For those looking to stay in the city, our convention services team also can work with meeting planners to bring experiences such as line dancing, armadillo racing and interactions with ranch animals including horses and longhorns, to select meeting facilities,” noted Visit San Antonio’s Matej.

If animal interactions are on the wish list, both the San Antonio Zoo and SeaWorld San Antonio offer behind-the-scenes group tours, with the latter inviting teams to trade business casual for wetsuits and hop in the water for hands-on experiences with dolphins, beluga whales and sea lions.