San Antonio River Walk
It’s easy for people to dismiss the River Walk (210/227-4262, www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com), referred to by some locals as the Paseo del Rio, as a crowded, touristy attraction. And it is, to a degree. But like many things touristy, there’s a reason people flock to this location, and it’s not just to spend money on unnecessary trinkets and experience unnatural thrills.
This is a genuinely festive environment punctuated by bouts of laughter, spiky yucca plants, and riverboats packed with people wearing silly hats and sunglasses. The immediate access to so many different types of authentic high-quality Texas food is alone worth the visit.
The unifying force is a scenic horseshoe-shaped stretch of the San Antonio River, flanked by tropical foliage, cobblestone walkways, and a fascinating collection of shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. The whole blissfully detached scene exists a level below the busy streets and sidewalks used by bustling businesspeople, allowing River Walkers to operate in their own private San Antonio.
For those looking to stretch their legs beyond the main loop, the River Walk extends throughout downtown, linking many of the city’s main tourist attractions including Alamo Plaza, La Villita, Hemisfair Park, the King William Historic District, and Rivercenter Mall. The River Walk also plays a major role in the city’s annual Fiesta San Antonio, with a river parade featuring flower-bedecked “floats” that actually float on the water.
The modern-day version of the River Walk began taking shape in 1961, when one of the companies responsible for designing Disneyland drafted a plan recommending the buildings be developed with riverside access in an early Texas or Mexican colonial style. Soon after, the city developed a River Walk District and the parks department completed a major landscape project by adding 17,000 assorted tress, shrubs, vines, and ground cover.
Next came the hotels, which brought the pedestrian traffic that boosted the restaurants and retail establishments along the nearly three miles of scenic riverside walkways. Before long, word spread across the state and country about this distinctive attraction, annually drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors, mainly business conventioneers and families, to its tree-lined banks.
One of the most popular ways to experience the River Walk is via boat. To get on board, contact Rio San Antonio Cruises (800/417-4139, 210/244-5700, www.riosanantonio.com, $7.75 adults, $5 seniors, $2 children 1–5). Tickets for a river tour are available at the Rivercenter Mall (across from the Hilton Hotel) or at Holiday Inn River Walk. The boat rides are about 30 minutes long and include a narrated description of sites along the San Antonio River.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition