Guide to Visiting The San Antonio River Walk

Guide to Visiting The San Antonio River Walk

If you’re visiting San Antonio, you have to take some time to explore the San Antonio River Walk, also known as the Paseo del Río. This is a 15 mile long series of walkways that run along the San Antonio river, with shopping, dining and other attractions along the rout.

The River Walk is definitely one of the highlights of the city, and we loved exploring it. In this post, we’re going to share everything you need to know to visit the San Antonio River Walk.

We’ll go through the highlights, explain what the river walk is and how to find it, as well as anything else you might need to know about visiting the San Antonio riverwalk. Let’s get started!

What is the San Antonio River Walk?

The San Antonio River Walk (also referred to as the riverwalk or Paseo del Río in Spanish) is a 15 mile long network of walkways which run alongside the banks of the San Antonio river. It’s home to attractions, shops, and restaurants, and is today a major San Antonio attraction in its own right.

The history of the riverwalk is fairly long, but its beginning can be traced back to a tragic flood on the San Antonio river in 1921, which killed 50 people.

Following this disaster, a means for controlling the river levels was discussed, with the end result being the San Antonio River Walk. Set one level below the main city level, the initial River Walk had around three miles of walkways and twenty bridges.

Construction of the riverwalk started in 1939. Most of the initial funding needed for the project came from the Works Progress Administration in 1939. The first restaurant, Casa Rio, opened on the River Walk in 1946. Casa Rio is still in operation today, along with many others.

Over time, the River Walk has expanded, and today there are over fifteen miles of walkways, as well as countless attractions and sights to be seen.

The River Walk now stretches from the San Antonio mission area, through downtown, and up to the major museums in the city. It’s a must-see for visitors to the city, and we’re going to share some of our favourite things to do along the San Antonio River Walk.

Useful River Walk Information

Here are some useful facts about the River Walk that might help you plan your trip.

Is the River Walk Accessible?

Yes, the river walk is accessible. There are ramps and elevator access points from street level down to the river walk level. Some of the crossing points are not wheelchair accessible however.

This website has maps that shows the ramps and elevators that provide accessible entry to the San Antonio River Walk.

Are there restrooms on the River Walk?

There are public restrooms at some locations along the river walk, such as in the Rivercenter Mall. There are also restrooms at the various bars and hotels along the River Walk.

Outside of the downtown area, there are also restrooms in some of the parks and missions in the Mission Reach area. There are also some facilities in the Museum Reach area.

Are there water fountains on the River Walk?

The Mission Reach stretch of the River Walk has a number of water fountains, which is important as this is the longest stretch and if you are cycling or walking here it can be very hot, especially in the summer months.

In the downtown area, you will need to visit the shops or malls, or pop into a restaurant or cafe for water.

Where does the River Walk start and end?

The River Walk starts around 4 miles north of the city center, where E. Hildbrand Ave crosses the River. It finishes to the south of the city, near Mission Espada.

How long would it take to walk the whole River Walk?

To walk the entire River Walk from one end to the other including the downtown area would likely take five to six hours.

When is the San Antonio River Walk open?

The River walk is open year round, 365 days a year. The majority of the River Walk, from Mulberry to Eagleland Plaza, is open 24 hours a day.

However, the River Walk that passes through Brackenridge Park in the north of the city is only open from 5am to 11pm. The Mission Reach stretch of the River Walk south of Eagleland Plaza is only open from dawn to dusk due to it being a natural area which is home to wildlife.

Are dogs are allowed on the River Walk?

Dogs are permitted on the River Walk but they must be on a leash. Many of the restaurants on the River Walk allow dogs on their patios, but do always check to be sure.

What to Do on the San Antonio River Walk

There’s a lot to do on the San Antonio River Walk. From shopping to entertainment to museums—to just taking a leisurely stroll or boat ride—the River Walk has something for everyone.

Here are some of our favourite things to do on the River Walk to give you some inspiration for your visit.

Take a boat ride

One of the most popular ways to experience the River Walk is to take a ride on one of the various River Walk barges.

There are a number of different options for these, ranging from the River Boat taxi services, which will take you from one part of the River Walk to another, through to narrated tours, private boat tours and even boats that offer a full meal as you float along!

Taking a cruise on the San Antonio River Walk is a wonderful way to experience it, and costs are not too high, with narrated tours available from around $12, and an all-day taxi pass for the downtown River Walk area also $12.

You can get tickets for the river shuttle and cruises in person at various points along the River Walk, or you can buy them online in advance here.

The San Antonio Explorer Pass also includes a Go Rio San Antonio river cruise along with many other attractions, and is a great way to save money in the city.

Eat at the restaurants

One of the highlights along the downtown river walk area are all the places to sit, eat, or drink, and watch the world go by.

The restaurants are adorned with wonderfully colourful umbrellas, and there’s a wide range of dining options. This can make picking a spot challenging, so take a look at our section on restaurants along the River Walk further on in the post to help you decide where to eat.

Some quick tips though would include Casa Rio, which is the oldest restaurant on the River Walk, as well as Justin’s ice cream, for excellent ice cream!

Go Shopping

If you love shopping, the San Antonio River Walk has you covered. There are a number of shopping locations along the riverwalk, but perhaps the most well known and largest is the Shops at Rivercentre (formerly known as the Rivercenter Mall).

The Shops at Rivercentre is built around an extension of the River Walk, which is known as the Rivercentre lagoon. Around this lagoon, the Shops at Rivercentre provides shopping and dining experiences across four floors, with over 100 retailers operating here, including theatres, restaurants, a Macy’s, Starbucks, and more.

There’s also outdoor seating around the lagoon area and even hotels available – see our guide to where to stay on the River Walk below for more information on these.

Another popular shopping destination on the River Walk is the La Villita Historic Arts Village. This art community is home to several art galleries, as well as stores selling a variety of items, including souvenirs, customised jewelry, pottery and regional folk art.

We’re sure you’ll find something to love here!

Visit the Museum Reach section of the River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk was extended in 2009 to include an area north of the city which is home to a number of museums and other attractions, including the Pearl Brewery. This section of the riverwalk is known as the Museum Reach.

Attractions in the area include the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Zoo, the DOSeum, San Antonio Museum of Art and Pearl Brewery. This river walk runs through Brackenridge Park, which is also home to a Golf Course and Japanese Tea Garden.

If you are interested in visiting these museums and attractions, then the Museum Reach section of the River Walk is a great way to get here and get around. You can either walk, or take a river taxi to get here and around.

Take in a Show

If you’d like to take in a show or performance whilst you’re on the San Antonio River Walk, you might want to head to the Arneson River Theater.

Designed as part of the original riverwalk by architect Robert Hugman, the theater is split across the river, with the stage on the north side and the 800 person seating area on the south side.

The outdoor theater hosts a variety of performances, from music to plays, dance recitals and opera. You can see some of the events on the official riverwalk events page here.

If you are looking for a more traditionally designed theater, then you might want to visit the Aztec Theater. Built in 1926, this actually predates the riverwalk, however it is located right next to it.

When it was built, the Aztec theater was designed to be highly decorated and opulent. As the name suggests, the style focuses on Aztec design, with columns, artwork, murals and sculpture working together to give a feel for ancient Mexican temples.

In terms of shows, the Aztec primarily hosts musical performances, however there are also other shows available. You can see the full listings here.

Visit the Missions

In 2011, the San Antonio River Walk was extended again, this time to the south of the city where you will find the San Antonio’s Missions National Historical Park.

This park consists of four Mission buildings, which along with the more famous Alamo Mission in downtown San Antonio, form a UNESCO world heritage site.

Whilst many visitors take the time to visit the Alamo, which is just a couple of minutes walk from the downtown section of the River Walk, far fewer head south to the Mission reach stretch of the River Walk.

This is a shame, as this stretch has a much more relaxed vibe, with a more natural feel and the option for cycling and kayaking.

The four missions are also well worth visiting. All four are free to visit, and by doing so you will get a fuller picture of early life in this part of the world. You can see our full guide to visiting the Alamo and San Antonio missions for more information and to help plan your visit.

Just be aware that it is quite a long walk from the downtown section of the River Walk. Instead, we would suggest either cycling, taking the bus, or doing a guided tour with transport like this.

Go Cycling

Whilst the river taxi and river barges are a popular way to get around the downtown and Museum section of the riverwalk, they don’t go everywhere.

Another great option for getting around the River Walk, particularly for those of you who want to head down to the Mission Reach section, is to cycle the River Walk.

The cycle trails along the river, which are shared with pedestrians, are level and well maintained, and there’s a network of cycle hire points around the city and at various points along the river walk trail, so you don’t even need to bring your own bike. Bike hire is affordable, and this is a great way to get around.

One thing to be aware of is that in summer San Antonio gets very hot, and there is limited shade along the southern parts of the River Walk. So if you do decide to hire a bike, make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Follow the River Walk Plaques

The San Antonio River Walk was largely the result of the vision Robert H. H. Hugman, a San Antonio architect, who came up with the idea to create the downtown waterway surrounded by commercial development.

His plans were finally approved, and Hugman was the main project architect for the Riverwalk.

Today, you can take a self-guided walking tour of the River Walk—the Historic Hugman Tour. This historical trail includes more than 50 plaques which tell the story of the area with photos and information. The tour is also available on smartphones—QR codes are available at each stop which you can scan for information on what you are seeing.

You can find out more about the tour and Hugman at the official Hugman Tour website.

Go Kayaking

The Mission reach section of the riverwalk, at the south of the city, is great for kayaking, and this makes for a unique way to see the river at a leisure pace. It also allows you to get close to some of the wildlife that lives in and along the river.

You can rent kayaks for unguided or guided tours. The river is calm and easy to paddle, so even beginners shouldn’t have much trouble!

Visit the King William District

Just a 20 – 30 minute walk south from the downtown loop of the River Walk is the King William Historic district.

This area of San Antonio is home to a number of beautiful 19th century homes, which are constructed in a variety of styles, including Greek Revival, Victorian and Italianate.

Some of the properties are open for viewing, so you can visit inside them, or you can just enjoy a wander around. We can also recommend visiting the Guenther House, which is both a historic home you can tour, and a cafe/restaurant.

Tours including the San Antonio River Walk

If you’re interested in taking a tour of the San Antonio River Walk, there are a number of options. Many of these tours also include other sights in San Antonio beyond the river walk.

As you can see, there are a number of tour options which include the San Antonio River Walk!

San Antonio River Walk Map

Here is a Google Map which shows the general route of the San Antonio river walk, which you can also see on Google Maps here.

We can also recommend looking at the official San Antonio river walk map, which you can see here.

San Antonio River Walk Hotels

There are a lot of places to stay in San Antonio. For our guide to the riverwalk, we wanted to share some good options that are either on, or very close to, the San Antonio River Walk.

  • Marriott Rivercenter – Connected to the Rivercentre mall and on the Riverwalk, this well-rated 4* property has an indoor and outdoor pool, fitness centre, variety of dining options, and all rooms are en-suite.
  • Hotel Gibbs Downtown Riverwalk – This hotel is just across the street from the Alamo and a minute or so from the River Walk. It’s a mid-range hotel, and was where we stayed in San Antonio. We loved the great breakfast, friendly staff, well-sized rooms, and fantastic location
  • Best Western Premier Historic Travelers Hotel – just 100 yards from the River Walk, this is one of the better value mid-range hotels in downtown San Antonio,
  • The St. Anthony – a luxury pick in the historic property, the St Anthony features a heated pool with bar, 42″ TV’s in every room, and a location just 200 yards from the River Walk.
  • The Westin Riverwalk San Antonio – a highly rated 4* hotel on the Riverwalk, with an on-site restaurants, 42″ TVs in ever room, coffee making facilities and on-site spa
  • Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk – a 3* property with direct access to the Riverwalk, with a rooftop swimming pool as well as an indoor pool. Breakfast is available, and rooms come with coffee machines, microwaves and refrigerators
  • Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk – found on the Riverwalk and just 100 yards from the Alamo, this 4* hotel gets excellent reviews. Rooms have coffee makers and fridges, work areas, and there’s a pool.
  • Holiday Inn San Antonio Riverwalk – a good value 3* hotel on the Riverwalk, the Holiday Inn has on-site dining, a cafe and gym. Rooms have work desks, coffee makers and refrigerators.

It’s worth being aware that this part of San Antonio is a more premium part of the city, being in the heart of downtown, so prices can be a little higher on average than other parts of the city.

There aren’t many well rated properties in the budget category in the downtown area. We’d advise checking out the Days Inn by Wyndham and Motel 6 San Antonio Downtown, although do read the recent reviews before booking.

AirBnB is another option. You can see the listings for San Antonio here.

San Antonio River Walk Restaurants

There are a huge number of restaurants on the San Antonio riverwalk, which can make picking one a challenge. To help you out, we’ve put together this short list of options to help you decide.

Casa Rio

Casa Rio is the oldest restaurant on the riverwalk, making it a bit of an institution. The building is an old Spanish hacienda, and there’s indoor and outdoor seating. They serve up Tex-Mex fare, and this is an excellent place to sip a margarita whilst watching the river boats and world go by.

Iron Cactus

If you love tequila, you’ll want to head to Iron Cactus. This popular Mexican restaurant has over 100 to choose from, including a range of tequila flights if you want to try some different options.

They also do a line of tequila infused dishes if you’re feeling adventurous, as well as a range of cocktails. The food here is award winning with a wide range of Mexican dishes to choose from.

The Esquire Tavern

The Esquire Tavern is the oldest Riverwalk bar, and also has the distinction of being the home of the longest wooden bar top in Texas. It’s not just drinking though, as this Riverwalk location also has a good choice of bar-style meals.

Biga on the Banks

If you’re looking for a fine dining experience on the Riverwalk, you’ll want to make a beeline for Biga on the Banks. With a focus on classic American dining overlooking the Riverwalk, we’re sure you’ll have a lovely meal here.

Justin’s Ice Cream

If you just want to enjoy a delicious home made ice cream, then we would highly recommend a visit to Justin’s Ice Cream. These guys started serving ice cream on the River Walk in 1981, and we very much enjoyed the ice cream we had here.

Other Things to Do in San Antonio

San Antonio has a great many attractions, from the famous Alamo to the Six Flags theme park just outside the city.

As well as the River Walk, some of our other favourite attractions include the Buckhorn Saloon, San Fernando Cathedral, and the Historic Market Square.

We’ve put together a detailed guide to visiting the Alamo, as well as all our favourite things to do in San Antonio.

Further Reading

Hopefully this guide to visiting the San Antonio River Walk has helped you prepare for your visit to one of the top attractions in Texas.

We’ve put together some other content on San Antonio to help plan your trip, and we also have a lot of other posts about the USA. We’ll also be be writing more about Texas, including our visits to Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Big Bend National Park, so do sign up to keep up to date with our latest posts.

In the meantime, here are some other posts we think you might find useful to help you plan trips within the USA.

And that’s it! As always, we’re happy to hear your questions, feedback and suggestions about this post. Just use the comments section below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

Manuel G. Smith

Leave a Reply