Is there anything better than river walks surrounded by lush landscapes and cypress-line paths (and vibrant city life) on a balmy evening?
Welcome to the legendary San Antonio River Walk.
A 15-mile oasis in the heart of a hot Texas city.
The San Antonio River Walk is what will turn your impression of America’s seventh largest city into memorable wows.
I feel so tranquil just reliving the River Walk through these photos.
I want to return as there are so many more amazing things to do in San Antonio, including exploring nearby Texas Hill Country.
We did however, have time for the River Walk.
The River Walk is 15-miles long.
It begins at the University of Incarnate Word College 4 miles north of the city, and flows through approximately 5-miles of downtown San Antonio before eventually joining the Guadalupe River and flows all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s divided into three sections: The Downtown Reach, The Museum Reach, and the Mission Reach.
Downtown Reach of the San Antonio River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk has been named by some as the American Venice.
But instead of old world European charm, it has the sights, sounds and flavors of Native America, Old Mexico and the Wild West.
A little more raw and edgy than Venice.
Brightly colored umbrellas line the river bank as diners and merrymakers sit at tables underneath relishing in the festive spirit.
Colorful, (and brightly lit at night), barges pass under arched stone bridges, which help you move from one side of the river to explore the many restaurants, bars and unique attractions.
The shady cypress, oaks, and willows, give off a tropical, exotic aura.
You naturally slip into a tranquil spirit as soon as you step down onto the river walk.
It’s a perfect match to the cobble stone streets surrounding the historic Alamo on the street level just above (see this post for your visit to the Alamo).
The Hyatt Hotel provides a public walk through connecting the River Walk to the Alamo through a beautiful urban park lined with fountains.
Mornings are a good time to see the main part of the River Walk, when the crowds are smaller and the light filters softly through the trees.
At night the River Walk takes on a different character with the sparkling lights reflecting on the water and mariachi bands playing to the diners spilling out from the restaurants.
There are plenty of things to see and do on the Downtown Reach of the San Antonio River Walk.
You can hop on and off to explore different parts of the city.
Get in some shopping and dining at Rivercenter, which is a 4-level shopping complex with over 100 streets, 6 restaurants, as well as IMAX theatres and a Marriott hotel.
Stop in to check out the caliche block and stucco structures in La Villita Historic Arts Village.
It’s a collection of boutiques, art galleries and restaurants that date to the mid-1800s when European immigrants lived and worked there.
Just outside of the entrance to La Villita is an outdoor theatre, the stage sits across the river, separate from the amphitheatre style seating.
The River Walk is famous for the celebratory parades they host throughout the year, particularly when one of the professional sporting teams win.
We were fortunate to be in San Antonio back in 2007 when the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship. It was fantastic watching the players float by on the river boats barges with crowds of fans cheering them on.
Like Chicago, they dye the river green on St Patrick’s Day.
Museum Reach of the San Antonio River Walk
Museum Reach is an 1.33-mile extension that features visual and aural works of art, terraces landscaped with native plants and pedestrian access to the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the historic Pearl Brewery complex.
The River Walk continues for another two miles through Brackenridge Park, where you’ll find soft shady trails winding through the woods and attractions like the Japanese Tea Garden, Sunken Garden Theater, and the San Antonio Zoo.
We didn’t get a chance to walk along this section, but we did see parts of it on our hop on hop off tour of San Antonio, which gave us a nice overview of the city.
The Museum Reach section of the San Antonio River Walk is looks quieter and has a more local flavor.
The path heading north goes to the Pearl Brewery complex, which is filled with some of the city’s trendiest stores, bars, and restaurants.
The Pearl Complex was the most recommended thing for us to do in San Antonio apart from the Alamo and River Walk.
Hotel Emma is San Antonio’s newest boutique hotel housed within the Pearl Brewery and received rave reviews.
The Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Walk
South of downtown the trail will take you down the eight-mile Mission Reach to the four sister Spanish colonial missions, Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada.
These missions have earned UNESCO World Heritage status.
This part of the river walk is the nation’s largest urban ecosystem restoration and will give you access to miles of additional hiking and bike trails.
How to Experience the San Antonio River Walk
The Downtown and Museum Reach sections of the River Walk are open 27/7, which provides you with endless opportunities for exploration, day or night.
The Mission Reach is open during daylight hours only so plan accordingly.
The central loop of the San Antonio River Walk can be enjoyed by walkers or boat cruisers.
The North and South extensions of the San Antonio River Walk are perfectly suited to joggers and cyclists (and walkers too).
One of the most popular things to do on the San Antonio River Walk is a relaxing 35-minute narrated river cruise.
With a combination of live guides and recorded commentary, you’ll enjoy the sights of downtown and the Pearl Brewery District.
You can get on the water to explore the river on kayaks with Texas Paddling Trail. They guide you through more than thirty canoe chutes over light rapids in shallow water.
You can borrow a B-Cycle for as little as $10 a day, as long as you dock it every half an hour. There are multiple stations along the trail.
You can also rent an electric assisted bike from Blue Star Bicycles.
San Antonio Bike Tours caters to riders of all experience levels.
What is the Iron Cactus you speak of?
The Iron Cactus Mexican Grill & Margarita Bar is one of the best Mexican restaurants on the San Antonio River Walk.
It’s a Tex Mex fusion with dishes like Mexican Meatloak, Baja Fish Tacos, Tequila marinated fajitas, hickory grilled salmon, and burgers.
My parents aren’t adventurous eaters so I was worried about Visiting a Tex Mex restaurant, but they had plenty of options for those who don’t like exotic and spice.
The Iron Cactus has over 100 different Tequilas, and named top ten 10 tequila bars in the country by Spirits and Cocktails and top 25 Tequila Bars in the country by USA TODAY.
We’re not usually tequila drinkers having horrible memories of lip sick suck foul tasting tequila shots in our twenties.
But there is a remarkable difference between the crappy tequila used for lip sip sucks and those authentic award winning Mexican tequilas used in sophisticated cocktails.
When in San Antonio…you cannot go past having a margarita when visiting a Mexican restaurant, especially one so classy as the Iron Cactus.
Upon recommendation from our server, we ordered the extra strong Iron Cactus Double Barrel made from Herradura Double Barrel Reposado, Cointreau.
It’s mixed with fresh lime juice and organic agave nectar.
Craig and I shared it. It was deliciously smooth and subtle.
I really loved the taste of this tequila and it may be a new way for me to approach this famous liqueur. Shots begone.
The food was equally delicious and the menu extensive, including gluten free options.
Our friendly waiter recommended the Pescado del Mar as his favorite dish on the menu.
It’s seared Atlantic Cod topped with wild caught gulf shrimp and bay scallops all nicely tied together in a citrus-butter sauce and served with sauteed spinach and the cilantro lime rice.
It was delicious, but I was kind of jealous of Craig’s Southwest Paella.
A perfect mix of shrimp, mussels, bay scallops, jalapeno Texas sausage with lobster cream.
I know, your mouth is watering right?
After spending the day at his beloved Alamo, how could my Dad not order the Travis Burger?
We finished our meal with Mexican Donuts and my favorite gluten free dessert, Vanilla Bean Espresso Creme brulee.
I snuck a sample of the donuts and they were sensational!!
And here’s a look at all the desserts on offer.
The Iron Cactus has prime position on the river front and what I loved about it that separates it from the other many restaurants you’ll find on the San Antonio River Walk is the lack of the other restaurants surrounding it.
It’s on a much quieter and peaceful part of the river, which feels slightly more upmarket and refined.
The foot traffic is separated by a large stone planter box and shaded by trees.
The Iron Cactus is popular, so be sure to reserve a table ahead of time. We ate as guests of the restaurant.
Stay at the Emily Morgan Hotel
We stayed at the Emily Morgan Hotel, the official hotel of the Alamo, and an historic hotel of America.
Our room overlooked the Alamo. The hotel is located right near the Alamo, the River Walk and within walking distance of many downtown San Antonio attractions.
It’s stylish and elegant and will enhance your San Antonio historical and cultural experience. We stayed as guests of the Emily Morgan Hotel.
More Texas Travel Tips
- Things to do in Big Bend National Park
- In Dallas, we visited the JFK Museum.
- And one of our favorites – a day with Chip and Jo in Waco, Texas
- Enchanted Rock State Park – hiking the summit trail
- A 4-wk Dallas to Boston Road Trip