San Antonio Riverwalk
A Top Texas Tourist Destination for Dining and Fun, the San Antonio Riverwalk is a great place to take a break from the Texas heat and enjoy fine dining, your favorite beverage, and fun time.
Known for its Tex-Mex dining, margaritas, and tourist-filled boat tours, the original San Antonio Riverwalk meanders about one and a half miles throughout the city’s downtown. Visitors can stroll down riverside pathways to check out theaters, shops, night clubs, hotels, bars, and historic buildings.
Boat tours offer a relaxed way to explore the original Riverwalk while learning about the site’s history. The Riverwalk’s charm has been a part of special celebrations such as the NBA San Antonio Spurs’ river parade and even Hollywood films such as Sandra Bullock’s Miss Congeniality. The culturally rich Riverwalk – with it’s the festive ambiance and striking views – has been the city’s gem since it’s opening in 1941.
The San Antonio River
The San Antonio River runs right through the heart of Texas City. Many years ago, the enlightened city leaders preserved the area along the river. By adding additional channels and branches the river now runs in a complete loop in the downtown area.
The main tourist area is in a section called Riverbend, or the South Bank, with dozens of restaurants flanking both sides of the river. The river is in a controlled channel, where the water is only three to four feet deep.
This is necessary, as the walkways lining both sides of the river have no guard rails in this area, and many people do end up in the river from unwise choices. It is best to sensible and dry.
The walkway that leads to the east and north is less crowded and is perfect for strolling or a morning jog amid the flowers, cactus, and historic buildings of downtown.
The Riverbend area is fed by the main river through multiple floodgates. On the other side is the main river, which is up to 20 feet deep. The walkway continues for several miles, with less traffic and fewer hotels and restaurants.
The Riverboats on the San Antonio Riverwalk
One of the main tourist attractions is the boats powering around the tourist area. The narrated cruises bring alive the history of San Antonio and provide a benchmark for finding the way around the Riverwalk.
Prices for the 30-minute trip are $7.75, with lower prices for matinee and seniors. The trip starts near Rivercenter, a major downtown mall, and passes by the major sites, ably explained by the driver. Waterfalls cascade along the path in several areas.
Shopping and Dining on the Riverwalk
Shopping is available at a few stores on the South Bank, but the Riverwalk also leads to Rivercenter, with a huge variety of stores, including Dillard’s. There are a number of restaurants and a food court in Rivercenter as well.
Almost every one of the dozens of restaurants lining the Riverwalk has an outdoor seating area amid the heavy foot traffic of the passersby. Strollers and diners peacefully coexist in the hustle-bustle of an evening in just about any time of year.
Though many of the restaurants highlight the local cuisine, heavily accented in Tex-Mex cooking, there are Scottish bars, Barbeque, Italian, and Seafood favorites too.
Visiting the Riverwalk Area
The area is immaculately kept, with no graffiti or trash visible. Visitor information is on hand to answer questions, and police presence is obvious but low-key ensuring a good time and family-friendly atmosphere.
The San Antonio Riverwalk’s new northern section, called the Museum Reach, opened to the public in May 2009. It’s the first phase of a Riverwalk expansion plan that includes stretching the riverside pathways all the way to the city’s Spanish colonial missions by 2014.
More than just an expansion of the lively nightlife that gave fame to the original Riverwalk, the Museum Reach distinguishes itself as a more relaxed, hip, and culturally rich experience. It’s the section of the Riverwalk for the visitor interested in more than just a good margarita.
San Antonio Riverwalk’s Lock and Dam
Cruise on a river taxi through Texas’ only lock and dam system, reminiscent of a mini Panama Canal. Since water elevations at the original Riverwalk and the new Museum Reach are not the same, engineers installed a lock channel to connect the two. Not only does it make sense, but it’s fun for visitors to get to ride through one.
It takes about three and a half to four minutes for the lock doors to open, let the river taxi in, and close again. Once the taxi is in the lock compartment, the water rises about nine-feet before the doors open to continue onto the Museum Reach.
San Antonio Riverwalk’s Art Installations
Fairy-taled grottos, tile murals, and schools of giant illuminated fish are just some of the public art projects that adorn the riverside pathways and bridges of the new Riverwalk section. A mix of local, national, and international artists have created visually appealing works that all connect with a river theme.
With every turn, visitors can appreciate something unique. Riverwalk artists were challenged with finding ways to make the highway bridges over the river look attractive. One creative solution was the installation of light chimes by Martin Richman of London. Hundreds of strips form like a chime and turn light into brilliant colors. All the art installations complement perfectly with the nearby San Antonio Museum of Art, also along the river.
Getting to the Museum Reach
To get to the Museum section from the original Riverwalk, visitors must hail a red Rio taxi, which costs anywhere from $10.00 or $25.00, depending on whether visitors purchase a 24-hour pass or a three-day pass.
Rio taxi stops can be found along the Riverwalk. Make sure to yell, “Taxi!” to get the captain’s attention. Simply waving will only cause confusion, as many visitors like to wave hello at all the boats.
Tips to Enjoy the Riverwalk
- The Riverwalk opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m.
- Visitors to the Riverwalk during the summer should go early or in the evening. Remember, it’s Texas, and rising temperatures can be brutal.
- Take sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and bottled water for the river taxis. The river taxis do not have a roof to protect visitors from the sun. Umbrellas are provided for passengers, but there are not always enough to go around.