19 Fantastic Experiences On San Antonio’s River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk, one of the most romantic adventures in the country, is the most popular attraction in San Antonio, Texas, and maybe the whole state. Also known as Paseo del Rio, it is 15.2 miles in length and broken into three sections.
In addition to the downtown River Walk, the Museum Reach extends approximately 4 miles north, populated with condominiums, apartments, hotels, and several museums.
The Mission Reach extends south, transforming an 8-mile area of the river into a wetland woodland ecosystem. The Mission Reach connects four of the five UNESCO missions. The Alamo is the fifth mission located in the downtown area.
The River Walk has so much more to offer than boat tours — although those are fun, too! First, let’s explore the Museum Reach section of the River Walk and then make our way to Mission Reach.
1. Tobin Center For The Performing Arts
Tobin Center is a local non-profit world-class performing arts facility on the east bank of the River Walk. The center features a performance hall with balcony boxes, a studio theater, an outdoor performance plaza with a 32-foot video wall, and a water taxi portal. Some up-and-coming presentations are HeartByrne Plays Talking Heads and The Music Of Queen.
2. San Antonio Museum Of Art
The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) provides almost 50 public programs yearly including special exhibitions, lectures, concerts, films, and family and children’s workshops. The Gloria Galt River Landing, shaded pavilion, terrace, and esplanade along the museum’s north side welcomes visitors to the Asian Art Wing, Latin American Art display, the Luby Courtyard, and the Cowden Gallery.
3. The Grotto
Carlos Cortes created a concrete grotto with cave-like walls with craggy faces, splashing waterfalls, and winding passageways with stalagmites and stalactites. A street-level stairway leads into the jaws of a giant jaguar head, with steps leading down to a picnic area, thatched-roof palapa, benches, and recessed lighting.
4. The Pearl
The 22-acre Pearl Brewery site on the east bank is the headquarters for Hotel Emma, with its restaurant, Supper, the year-round Pearl Farmers Market, and The San Antonio Culinary Institute of America. You’ll also find fantastic eateries such as Johnny Hernandez La Gloria Restaurant, the Culinary Institute’s Savor Restaurant, and The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden. Plus, eat at The Bottling Department, San Antonio’s first food hall. Find great shopping at The Sporting District, Bike World, and The Twig Book Shop.
Pro Tip: From the downtown River Walk, you can walk approximately 2 miles to The Pearl. There are also bike-share stations located all along the route, or you can get a river taxi ticket for the day. If you opt for the river taxi, you’ll be dropped off along the river and will get to ride through the lock system.
5. Brackenridge Park
It’s best to drive to Brackenridge Park, where you can spend the day with the trails, sports, picnic areas, and train rides. You’ll also find an 18-hole golf course; the San Antonio Zoo and Education Center; the Japanese Tea Garden with its waterfall, pagoda, and cafe; and the Witt Museum.
6. The Alamo
Visit the hallowed grounds of The Alamo. Almost 200 Texans, led by James Bowie, Davy Crockett, and William B. Travis, battled Santa Anna for 13 days before the Alamo fell on March 6, 1836.
7. San Fernando De Bexar Cathedral
As you walk to El Mercado, stop off at the San Fernando De Bexar Cathedral, the mother church of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, facing the city’s Main Plaza. San Fernando, founded on March 9, 1731, by a group of 15 Canary Island families at the invitation of King Philip V of Spain, is the oldest continuously functioning religious community in Texas. You can light a candle here.
8. Spanish Governor’s Palace
The Spanish Governor’s Palace represents the last residence and working office for the military garrison captains from 1722 to the early 1800s. Tour the beautifully landscaped courtyard and the rooms furnished with Spanish Colonial furniture.
9. Casa Navarro State Historic Site
The adobe and limestone National Historic Landmark is the home of Tejano patriot Jose Antonio Navarro (1795-1871), a rancher, businessman, and one of only two native-born Texans to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence.
10. El Mercado
El Mercado, the largest Mexican market in the United States, is several blocks west of the Downtown River Walk at 514 W Commerce Street. This historic market square is made up of a three-block outdoor plaza lined with dozens of specialty shops and restaurants. Be sure to stop in at Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery, with its ample selection of classic Tex-Mex dishes, baked goods, strolling Mariachi musicians, and Christmas lights year-round.
11. La Villita Historic Arts Village
I always find something unique at La Villita, an artists’ and business district housing over 25 shops and galleries showcasing local handmade gifts, custom jewelry, pottery, and imported Mexican folk art. You’ll find four excellent restaurants here: Fig Tree Restaurant, Guadalajara Grill (ask for the chef’s specials, and Willy’s Sexy Coffee flamed tableside), and La Villita Cafe.
The original location of the 1968 World’s Fair is now a vibrant parks district with three public parks, the convention center, local businesses, and residences. Hemisfair’s crown jewel is the Tower of the Americas, a 750-foot-tall observation tower and restaurant that provides spectacular views of the Alamo City.
13. The King William Historic District
The King William Historic District south of downtown San Antonio was settled by Germans, who came to Texas in the 1840s and congregated in an area that came to be known as Sauerkraut Bend. The area came to be known for its large, impressive Italianate, Greek Revival, and Victorian-style mansions. King William, the main street, was named after King Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, in the 1870s.
Pro Tip: Rent one of the bicycles and explore these magnificent historic homes.
14. The Guenther House
In 1859, The Guenther House was built next door to Carl Guenther’s mill, which is still functional today as the Pioneer Flour Mill. The house is best known for its Art Nouveau style, unique interior, and three-story addition. Today, the Guenther House is a milling history museum and a restaurant.
15. Mission Concepción
Drive along South St. Mary’s Street to Mission Road to get to the first of four San Antonio Missions south of the city. Dedicated in 1755, Mission Concepción, about three miles south of the Alamo, stands stately as the oldest unrestored stone church in America. The colorful geometric designs that covered its exterior have long since faded, but original frescos in several rooms are still visible.
Pro Tip: Follow along with the cell phone audio tour.
16. Mission San Jose Y San Miguel De Aguayo
The Mission San Jose is 2.5 miles south of Mission Concepción. Mission San Jose is the “Queen of the Missions,” the largest of the missions after being restored to its original design in the 1930s by the Works Project Administration (WPA). In 2020, it celebrated its 300-year anniversary.
17. Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan was transferred to its present location in 1731 from its original east Texas location. In 1756, the stone church, a friary, and a granary were completed.
These missions were both churches and communities. San Juan was a village with orchards and gardens where melons, pumpkins, grapes, and peppers were grown. Beyond, farm and pastureland cultivated corn, beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and sugar cane, plus sheep and cattle. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, in partnership with the San Antonio Food Bank, has planted a living demonstration farm on the Mission grounds that’s fed by a historic aqueduct, providing irrigation.
18. Mission San Francisco De La Espada
Eight and a half miles south of the Alamo, Mission Espada was the first Texas mission, founded in 1690 as San Francisco de Los Tejas near present-day Weches, Texas, northeast of Crockett. In 1731, the mission moved to the San Antonio River with a new name, San Francisco de la Espada. Members completed the church in 1756.
19. Espada Aqueduct And Acequia System
Constructed in 1745, the Espada Aqueduct is located just north of Mission Espada. The aqueduct brought water from the San Antonio River over a low-elevation creek to the mission farmlands.
Splurge to reserve a hotel room with a River Walk view at the Omni La Mansión del Rio Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk. Occasionally hotels offer “unpublished” rates when you call directly. In winter, the weather is cool and there are fewer crowds, making it the time to go. Around the holidays, you can catch the Holiday Lights on the River Walk, Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias, and the Ford Holiday River Parade and River Lighting Ceremony.
Whenever you decide to visit, consider my picks for the best restaurants and hotels on the River Walk. With colorful umbrellas lined up along the river, you can’t miss Casa Rio, which was the first restaurant on the River Walk. For fine dining, head to Boudro’s or Biga. There is also a Morton’s Steakhouse within walking distance of the River Walk. Head to the oldest running saloon in Texas — The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum — to see the exotic animal collection, The Texas Ranger Museum, the cafe, and the gift shop. Speaking of shopping, The Shops at Rivercenter offers retail therapy along the River Walk.
Several guided tours are available. See the sights by river boat on a GO RIO San Antonio River Cruise, take a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus tour (your choice of 24-hours plus second day free, or a 72-hour bus tour), and Tower of the Americas tour by City Sightseeing San Antonio from under $60 per person. What a great way to get the overall view of San Antonio!