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Ultimate Guide to the San Antonio River Walk, Texas

Looking for things to do at the River Walk in San Antonio?

From beautiful bridges and river cruises to Tex Mex cuisine and fireworks, the San Antonio River walk offers several things to do for San Antonio visitors.

Here is an epic guide to discovering the best things to do on the San Antonio River walk including top attractions, a little bit of history and culture, and travel tips.

The San Antonio River Walk – Most Beautiful Place to Visit in America!

The San Antonio River Walk has striking architecture and amazing ambience.

It is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the USA.

No visit to San Antonio, Texas can be complete without visiting the amazing San Antonio Riverwalk.

This is the heart of the city and undoubtedly, its premier tourist attraction.

It is also one of the top attractions in Texas and easily competes with the Alamo, Big Bend, and Palo Duro Canyon for attention. 

The San Antonio River walk is both family-friendly and romantic!

While most San Antonio travel guides suggest taking a quick stroll along the most popular downtown section of the River walk as a top activity, we would instead suggest devoting an entire day to this urban park.

Related: 27 Best Things to do in San Antonio

Fun fact: Did you know that the San Antonio Riverwalk is also called the Paseo del Rio? 

The Riverwalk is not just an attraction but a destination in itself.

There are plenty of things to do here from dining, shopping, and nightlife in its most popular area to a host of cultural activities and historic sites in other sections. 

Plan a trip to the San Antonio River walk now to enjoy its many attractions!

Why is the San Antonio Riverwalk famous?

The San Antonio River walk is famous for being an exemplary engineering and architecture project. 

History of the San Antonio Riverwalk

So let’s understand the history of the San Antonio Riverwalk!

The San Antonio River walk, also known as Paseo del Rio, was built in 1929 to control flooding and improve the aesthetics of the San Antonio River.

Plans were created to build dams, flood gates, and storm sewers to control the flow of the water while commercial shops around the river would draw visitors. 

Local San Antonio architect Robert H. H. Hugman, the visionary behind the project, is fondly known as the ‘Father of the Riverwalk.’

Today, you can see his name at many places on the Riverwalk. 

The River walk is without a doubt one of the most successful flood management projects in the country and one of the best things to do in San Antonio. 

How long is the San Antonio Riverwalk? 

The San Antonio River walk extends for 15 miles along the banks of the San Antonio River. 

Tourists are often astonished by its vast length.

Sections of the San Antonio River walk

The river walk consists of three sections: the Downtown Reach, the Museum Reach, and the Mission Reach. 

Each of this areas almost have their own distinct personalities.

Downtown Reach of San Antonio Riverwalk

The Downtown Reach of the River walk is the most popular area. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit it every year.

This is home to commercial development and this is where most of the malls, boutique stores, famous restaurants, and bars are located.

This section is 2.5 miles long. 

Museum Reach of San Antonio Riverwalk

The Museum Reach area has beautiful artwork and is home to luxury apartments, hotels, and also several museums.

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, the San Antonio Museum of Modern Art, the Witte Museum, The DoSeum Museum, Hotel Emma, as well as the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America are some of the attractions of this section. 

Mission Reach of San Antonio Riverwalk

The Mission Reach of the San Antonio Riverwalk extends to the south of the Downtown section.

It connects four out of five frontier missions that together form the UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Antonio Missions. 

Mission San Juan, Mission Espada, Mission San José, and Mission Concepción are easily accessible from the Mission Reach by walking or biking.

The fifth mission San Antonio de Valero, or the Alamo, is located in the heart of the Downtown San Antonio and accessible from the downtown reach of the River walk. 

Best Things to do in San Antonio Riverwalk

Wondering what is there to do on the River walk in San Antonio?

The three different sections have different attractions and points of interest.

We have visited all three of them on numerous occasions and can guide you to the top sites as per your interest. 

Here are some of our favorite things to do on the San Antonio Riverwalk. 

Take the San Antonio Riverboat cruise

A trip to San Antonio is incomplete without taking a boat trip down the San Antonio River.

This is one of our favorite ways to experience the Downtown San Antonio area and the vibrant River walk. 

Go Rio Cruises is the official operator and they have a variety of cruises including narrated river cruises, river shuttles to go from one place to another on the River walk, and the popular dining cruises. 

The narrated tour cruises mainly operate in Downtown Reach while the shuttles connect the Downtown Reach to the Museum Reach.

The river shuttles / river taxi can be also to create a hop on and hop off type experience by purchasing day passes for unlimited use. 

The lunch/dinner boats experience is a great way to experience the Riverwalk while having your meal on the water.

Many of the River walk restaurants also offer dining cruises for their guests.

You can book/buy tickets for all cruise types on the River walk.

Confused about which one to go on? Pick the narrated tours of the river boats!

It is about 35 minutes to 40 minutes long and a hit with visitors.

The narrators are humorous, witty, and knowledgeable. They do a great job of explaining the history of the Riverwalk and San Antonio. 

The boat tours take place throughout the day from 9 in the morning to 10 at night.

The ticket booth is located right on the Riverwalk so no need to book in advance.

Have a drink at the Esquire Tavern

The Esquire Tavern is the oldest bar along the San Antonio Riverwalk.

It was opened in 1933 to mark the end of the Prohibition era.

The bar has an amazing atmosphere and vintage inspired decor. 

Here’s a little known feature: the Esquire Tavern also has the longest wooden bar in Texas.

The bar is over 100 ft long and a beauty.

The dimly lit bar has a quiet and intimate atmosphere and is perfect for a romantic time in San Antonio.

We love sitting with a view of the river walk on the balcony. 

We love the cocktails at Esquire. The food menu here is also vast and has excellent items.

We especially love the fried pickles, the deviled eggs, collard greens, and the bison burger. 

Indulge in a delicious meal on the Riverwalk

You cannot really visit the San Antonio Riverwalk without dining here.

There are a variety of restaurants, eateries, as well as cafes on the River walk to satisfy a variety of taste buds and budgets. 

One of the most recognized restaurants on the Riverwalk is Casa Rio, with its brightly colored umbrellas that immediately catch visitors’ attention and interest.

Casa Rio was the first restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

It was also the first restaurant to introduce dinner cruises. Casa Rio has great Tex Mex food and amazing ambience.

Apart from Casa Rio, there are many other restaurants on the Riverwalk to satisfy your hunger for authentic Tex-Mex including the Original Mexican Restaurant and Boudro’s on the Riverwalk. 

One of the distinguishing features of most restaurants on the river walk that serve Tex-Mex is the tableside guacamole.

Exactly what it sounds, they make the guacamole fresh right in front of you! 

These restaurants also have Mariachi bands.

Mexican Mariachi music is a very beautiful and distinguished genre; listening to it while enjoying the river walk ambience is a treat.

The musicians, dressed in traditional charro suits, take requests for special songs and can also serenade your loved one!

We highly recommend this for a date night or anniversaries or birthdays. Don’t forget to tip the band!

Even if you don’t want Tex-Mex, you are in luck.

In the mood for some steak? Go to Range or 2M Smokehouse.

Mixtli and Chisme are famous for their Mexican regional food.

Visit Bistro09 for French, Battalion for Italian, Botika for Asian fusion, and Grayze for casual American comfort food. 

Shuck Shack is also famous for its seafood.

There are many other restaurants including Hard Rock Cafe and Rainforest Cafe that serve excellent food on the river walk.

Related: 19 Best Restaurants to eat on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Admire the activity of the Downtown Reach

Few people realize that the Riverwalk is actually the city’s largest urban park!

Located in downtown San Antonio, the river walk is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

Visitors are often reminded of European cities when visiting the San Antonio Riverwalk. 

Strolling along the Downtown Reach of the River walk is a delight.

This is the most visited section and is excellent for people watching.

It has many restaurants, shops, other attractions, and is the beginning point for boat rides. 

You can spot everyone from couples, families, multigenerational travelers, as well as friends on the Riverwalk. 

Enjoy the beautiful River walk landscaping

The San Antonio Riverwalk has beautiful landscaping with tropical plants and flowers that bloom year-round.

Many of these are indigenous to South Texas: you can spot hibiscus, milkweed, bottle brush, elephant ears, and southern cypress. 

The plants beautifully cascade down over the edges of the Riverwalk and create a beautiful lush effect.

The Riverwalk landscaping looks pretty year-round and is the focal point of the restoration project. 

But it’s not just about the landscaping.

You can also see waterfalls, several different bridges, and other architectural features on the riverwalk.

You can also see a lot of bird nests along the banks while ducks swim in the water. 

Climb the many bridges on the Riverwalk

The architecture of the Downtown Reach of the Riverwalk includes the use of many bridges to cross from one side to another.

The bridges make access to shops and restaurants on either side very easy. 

One of our favorite things to do along the river walk is to walk across the bridges and photograph them from a distance.

Each of the bridges has different architecture and is beautiful.

The views of the riverwalk from the top of the bridge are also amazing. 

Here’s some more information about the most popular bridges on the Riverwalk:

Like the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris, the San Antonio Riverwalk also has its own Love Lock bridge near the Bexar County Courthouse Wedding Chapel. 

Another landmark bridge is the Selena bridge which is just outside the Omni La Mansion del Rio hotel.

The bridge pays homage to the Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. 

Another bridge, the Rosita bridge, is named after Rosita Fernandez, the Tejano singer/actress, who received the title of San Antonio’s First Lady of Song from Lady Bird Johnson.

Experience the romantic vibe of the Riverwalk at night

While the River walk is a fun activity during the day, it looks incredibly beautiful at night.

It is, undoubtedly, one of the most romantic places to visit in the country and is perfect for honeymoons, anniversaries, and Valentine’s day. 

As the sun goes down, you can watch the lights of the riverbank buildings reflected in the water.

The lit-up riverboats look stunning as they cruise down the river.

Music from the nearby restaurants can be heard as you take a stroll down the river.

You can shop for gifts for your loved one or enjoy a romantic meal on the riverwalk or just enjoy the views and the atmosphere as you walk hand in hand along the riverwalk. 

Nightlife on the Riverwalk is also pretty legendary.

There are many bars, breweries, as well as pubs located on the Riverwalk. They all have excellent music and many events on busy summer nights. 

The River walk is also a great place to watch the fireworks with your loved one on the 4th July weekend and New Years’ Eve. 

Hike or bike along the riverfront

One of the wonderful ways to enjoy the stunning beauty of the San Antonio River is by taking the hiking and biking part along its banks.

The path starts in Brackenridge Park and ends in Mission Park. It is over 30 miles long and on both sides of the river. 

At the other end you can visit the San Antonio missions while at the other end you can enjoy the museums in the city.

The trail goes from street level to river level at various points and also involves gentle climbing.

Bikes are not allowed in the downtown reach but can be used on the rest of the river walk. 

Paddle the San Antonio River

Did you know that you can kayak the San Antonio River?

This is an amazing way to experience the city from the water without taking the touristy San Antonio River Cruise.

This is what the locals prefer! 

You can bring your own kayaking equipment or rent a kayak in the city.

One of the best places for paddling is the 8 mile long Mission Reach trail.

It is open for paddling from sunrise to sunset.

Stand up paddle boards are also allowed on certain sections of the San Antonio River. 

Kayaking on the San Antonio Riverwalk is one of the best kayaking trips in Texas.

See a show at the Arneson River Theater or the Aztec Theater

The San Antonio River walk also has theaters where you can enjoy a cultural performance.

The Arneson River Theater is located in the La Villita Historic Arts Village.

This outdoor amphitheater has a seating capacity of over 800 and hosts music concerts, plays, as well as operas year round. 

The Arts Village behind the amphitheater has amazing artisan shops and art galleries and is also great for a quick stroll. 

The other theater on the riverwalk is the Aztec theater.

Built in Meso American style of architecture in the 1920s, the building itself is an amazing work of art.

This historic theater also has an amazing interior.

It hosts live music concerts, movie screenings, and also various other types of cultural shows. 

Visit the Legoland Discovery Center

Located in the Shops at Rivercenter mall in the Downtown Reach of the river walk, you will find the Legoland Discovery Center.

This indoor Legoland attraction is the best thing to do in San Antonio for families.

Toddlers, preschoolers, preteens, as well as teenagers love spending time here. 

This wonderful play area has different themed plays areas, a couple of rides, and also a cinema.

There is lots to do and the center also offers free workshops from time to time.

We recommend keeping aside at least 2 to 3 hours for this attraction if not the whole day. 

Admire the artwork on the Riverwalk

The San Antonio Riverwalk also has amazing public artwork.

Most of the sculptures, murals, and other intriguing pieces of art are located in the Museum Reach.

The most famous of these is the Grotto. 

Besides these you will also find the Fish sculpture, steel plates hanging under the McCullough Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge, and the Whispers sculpture between the riverwalk and Mission San Juan on the Mission Reach. 

Walk the San Antonio River Walk to admire these creations!

Visit the San Antonio Museum of Art

The  San Antonio Museum of Art was initially created to house artwork that couldn’t be accommodated in the Witte Museum but since then has grown into its own.

You will find a vast collection of artwork spanning from the Mediterranean region to Asia and Latin America. 

The museum is one of the best art museums in Texas.

It is located inside the historic Lone Star Brewery building.

It is a must visit attraction along the San Antonio Riverwalk for all cultural tourists to the city. 

The museum is open to visitors every day except Mondays.

We went to the museum on a Sunday morning and it was the perfect time to visit – low crowds and lots of opportunity to enjoy the collection by ourselves.

Do not forget to check the museum’s website before you visit for upcoming exhibitions. 

Visit the Missions

The Mission Reach of San Antonio provides easy access to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

These are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and must visit while in the city.

You can also easily reach Alamo from the Riverwalk. 

The other missions are Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada.

The Mission Reach and the Mission Trail ends at Mission Espada.

Seeing the missions, their churches, grounds, and the historic architecture is a wonderful educational experience.

Spend time in the Pearl District

Pearl District of San Antonio focused around the Pearl Brewery is located close to the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk.

This is the trendy heart of the city. Most of the buildings here including the brewery date back to the late 19th century and have been beautifully restored and transformed into a vibrant space. 

Here you will find eateries, Farmers Market, and various events.

A nice food hall is also located inside the Pearl Brewery.

The green in the Pearl District is famous for playing lawn games and people watching.

You will also find live music being played here on weekends. 

Shop til you drop

The Downtown Reach has lots of commercial development including malls, stores, and more.

There’s a lot of shopping to be done at the Riverwalk including souvenirs, jewelry, handicrafts, and Texan items like cowboy boots, hats, and more.

Shopping along the Riverwalk is a fun experience for everyone.

For retail shopping, the most popular destination is the Shops at the Rivercenter, which has the most popular brands like Macy’s, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and the Disney Store.

If you prefer unique, one of a kind handcrafted goods then shop at the La Villita Historic Arts Village. 

Besides these you will also find several small shops, boutique stores, and even pop-up shops along the riverwalk. 

Get married on the Riverwalk

Did you know that the San Antonio Riverwalk even has a special place to get married? And it is known as Marriage Island!

Located near Hotel Contessa, This island in the middle of the river is actually heart-shaped and is set to bring good luck to marriages.

The island hosts weddings and you can plan your special ceremony here. It is the perfect location to plan a small and intimate ceremony in the city. 

The San Antonio River cruises go past Marriage Island and you can see it from the boat. 

Celebrate Christmas on the San Antonio Riverwalk

During the holiday season, the trees on the Riverwalk are lit with millions of lights and the bridges are decorated in wreaths creating a beautiful holiday experience.

The holiday lights are turned on the day after Thanksgiving and stay lit until the first weekend in January.

This is, undoubtedly, one of the best times to visit the Riverwalk.

The twinkling lights stripped on the ball cypress trees look spectacular as it starts to get dark at dusk.

The River Walk holiday lights are present in the Downtown Reach.

The atmosphere is very vibrant making San Antonio one of the best places to spend Christmas in Texas

The best way to experience all the lights and the holiday decor along the river walk is to go on a river cruise during the holiday season. 

Also Read: 21 Amazing Things to do for Christmas in San Antonio, Texas

Attend the Fiesta celebration in San Antonio

The Fiesta Celebration is one of the best times to visit San Antonio.

The celebration began in 1891 to honor the heroes of the Alamo as well as those who dies in the Battle of San Jacinto that led to the birth of the Republic of Texas.

The celebration is held for 10 days in April of every year. 

As a part of the celebration, you can experience the Texas Cavaliers River Parade.

Over thousands of people line along the river banks to enjoy the parade of the beautifully decorated river floats.

This is one of the most amazing experiences that you can have in Texas. 

Along with the parade, there are music performances on the riverwalk theaters as well as cultural events taking place throughout the city.

A block party is also held at La Villita during the festival. 

Other Things to do near the San Antonio River Walk

Many attractions in San Antonio are located close to the Riverwalk.

Here’s a guide to the most popular things to do in the city.

Tour the historic Alamo

In the downtown area, you will find the revered historic structure of Alamo.

Alamo, San Antonio’s most iconic landmark, is an important part of Texas history.

The Alamo was originally built by the Spanish as a church.

In 1836, it became known for an epic battle that helped shape Texan independence.

Today, this historic site attracts tourists from all over the world who want to see where Texas began!

Afterwards, take a stroll in the Alamo Plaza and admire the activity of the area.

Take a stroll in King William Historic District

The King William Historic District is home to the city’s most treasured landmarks and its most beautiful architecture.

The neighborhood was saved due to the efforts of the San Antonio conservation society.

The homes range from Victorian-style cottages, elegant Greek Revival mansions, as well as modest shotgun houses that reflect the diversity of lifestyles found in this unique community.

Explore this vibrant area of King William District on foot or by bicycle and see what makes it so special!

Watch the San Fernando Cathedral light show

City Sightseeing San Antonio is not complete without the beautiful San Fernando Cathedral.

San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Texas, and one of the most historic buildings in San Antonio.

The cathedral itself is worth exploring with its intricate stained glass windows, elaborate altar pieces, and also gilded carvings on the ceiling beams.

The San Fernando Cathedral light show held after dark is amazing to see.

Visit the San Antonio Zoo

The San Antonio Zoo is a must-see attraction for families and kids.

The zoo features several animals from around the world, including elephants, lions, tigers, as well as orangutans.

It’s an immersive experience that will delight animal lovers of all ages!

For more information on attractions such as Historic Market Square on Commerce St, Japanese Tea Garden, and SeaWorld San Antonio, read our post on Best Things to do in San Antonio, Texas.

Things to know about San Antonio Riverwalk

Here are some things that you need to know before you go: the Riverwalk is a public park and hence, is always free.

Activities and entry to the individual attractions cost extra. 

The river walk is one level below the city streets and several stairs as well as elevators provide direct access to the River Walk.

Water fountains, restrooms, and useful area maps are located at several places along the riverwalk.

Refer to these amenities as needed. You can also find printable maps here

Numerous plaques located along the Riverwalk narrate the area’s history and are excellent to read. 

The Riverwalk has an open container policy and so, you can walk around with a drink in your hand on the Riverwalk. 

The Mission Reach is open during the day while the Downtown Reach and Museum Reach is open 24 hours. 

Leashed dogs are allowed on the Riverwalk. Do not feed ducks, birds, and fishes in the river. 

The river walk is accessible. Elevators and ramps that take you from street level to river level are located at various points.

The best elevator for Downtown Reach is located near Ben & Jerry’s ice cream store. 

You can take strollers on the Riverwalk. Take care of kids as the riverwalk does not have any kind of railing, so you will be walking near the water’s edge.  

The entire riverwalk is 15 miles long and you will easily need six to seven hours to walk it all at a leisurely pace.

This does not include time to visit attractions.

We hope you liked our guide to the amazing things to do in the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Looking to explore other cities in Texas? Check out below travel guides:
Best Things to do in Austin, Texas
Dallas Travel Guide
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