Visitors to San Antonio have enjoyed the downtown River Walk for decades, but a recent reboot breathed new life into the popular waterway, which now boasts 15 miles of trails that can be accessed by foot, bicycle, and (in some places) river barge. Since I'm a San Antonio native, I prefer the newly expanded (and much quieter) northern reach, but the new-and-improved River Walk has something for everyone, with each reach conveying its own identity.
When I was little, my family took strolls along the River Walk just before Christmas. I remember crossing over on a bridge and wandering down the steps to enter the River Walk. The glassy river reflected lights strung through trees, creating a vivid visual that still wows me today. Equally colorful is the city's River Parade, an annual event kicking off Fiesta, the city's unique homage to Texas independence.
Of course, the San Antonio River Walk charms people of all ages and locales—365 days a year. Although the Alamo brings in some 26 million travelers to San Antonio every year, a recent expansion of the River Walk allows for easy navigation and enjoyment. Whether cycling along the Mission Reach, taking a river barge from downtown to the San Antonio Museum of Art, or eating outside on the banks of the river, I can't help but feel the city's undeniable legacy—and energy.
Downtown River Walk
Because of its proximity to the Alamo and the rest of downtown, the original, historic River Walk remains the ideal jumping-off point for travelers hoping to see the best of the city.
If visiting the Alamo seems daunting, take the kiddos to the RiverCenter Mall IMAX to see Alamo: The Price of Freedom, a big-screen version of the city's proudest moment in history. The mega-theater also screens blockbusters and documentaries, some of which air in IMAX 3D. If comedic entertainment is what you're after, check out the River Center Comedy Club for a good laugh. They have a lineup of comedians almost every night and even host a contest to find the funniest person in South Texas.
When lunchtime rolls around, I always make the short walk to Casa Rio. This Tex-Mex establishment—the first River Walk restaurant—got its start in the 1940s. Snag a table under an umbrella on the river's banks so you can watch barges float by as you dig into chips and salsa. Or if you're traveling with a large group or celebrating a special occasion, consider dining on board a private river barge. Growing up, Casa Rio boats hosted my favorite birthday dinners!
No birthday to warrant a private dinner cruise? No problem. The city's vibrant boats operate tours, river taxis, and private charters. I recommend the 35-minute River Tour, which is a fantastic way to see downtown and the San Antonio River's core. As you pass landmarks and attractions, your captain/guide will provide interesting snippets about the city's architecture, culture, and history that you wouldn't learn flying solo. But when I'm just trying to get from one part of downtown to another, I hail a river taxi from one of the barges' many pick-up points.
The Museum Reach
For a mellow River Walk experience, I head north to the Museum Reach. Some barges make the trip, but they're less frequent than what you'll find downtown, so consider hopping in the car, making the half-hour walk, or (my personal favorite) renting bicycles from B-cycle—the city's bike-sharing company.
The Museum Reach offers a brand-new River Walk experience. Between quiet, undeveloped stretches that are perfect for bike rides and relaxed strolls, you'll find the oldest VFW post in Texas, the San Antonio Museum of Art—whose collection spans 5,000 years of history—and the Pearl Brewery Complex. There, shops, bars, and restaurants encircle the Culinary Institute of America's San Antonio campus. With new establishments constantly popping up, I like to grab a latte from Local Coffee and pick up a snack at Saturday's farmers' market before exploring the Pearl on foot.
Whenever I meet friends for lunch, we head to La Gloria, a casual eatery serving authentic Mexican cuisine. It has prime riverfront real estate, with lovely views of the water below and an outdoor patio that spills onto a lush green lawn. With kids in tow, I also enjoy Green—a family-friendly (and surprisingly delicious) vegetarian eatery. If you aren't tuckered out after lunch, take your kids to the children's section of the Twig Bookstore, which periodically hosts readings and other special events. Need a sugar boost? Discover organic ice cream with unique flavors (Horchata and Cilantro Lime, to name just a couple) at Lick.
Work off that ice cream with a stroll to the riverside Pearl Park Amphitheater. Depending on the night, you and the kids might be lucky enough to catch one of their free concerts or movie screenings.
The San Antonio River Improvements Project that led to the River Walk's expansion is helping animals, in addition to people, by restoring the river to its intended state. Ecological restoration involves straightening the river's path, but the city is also boosting wildlife by planting more than 20,000 young trees.