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What is the San Antonio River Walk?
The San Antonio River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is a renowned linear park in a picturesque setting along the banks of the San Antonio River in Texas. It is the premier tourist attraction of San Antonio, TX and includes more than 2000 acres of public lands.
Where is Riverwalk?
San Antonio is the favorite destination for tourism in Texas. The city welcomed more than 37 million domestic and international visitors in 2017. More than 30 million of these were leisure travelers. The San Antonio River Walk, along with another landmark in San Antonio, the Alamo, are the two top tourist attractions for Texas.
How long is the San Antonio River Walk?
The River Walk winds through the heart of the city and several miles beyond, over a distance of 15 miles– about 5 miles of which pass through downtown San Antonio. This includes 3.5 miles of walkways along the river banks in the central core of the city.
The river, and the River Walk that surrounds it, truly represent the heart and soul of San Antonio, which includes “River City” among its many nicknames.
Along its winding course, the river and River Walk connect downtown skyscrapers, a shopping mall, several performing arts spaces, museums, trendy urban mixed-use complexes, a famed culinary institute, parks, age-old Spanish missions, and serene woodlands.
The River Walk is a must-see attraction on any list of places to visit in San Antonio, TX– one of visitors’ favorite things to do in San Antonio.
Best Time to Visit San Antonio Riverwalk
Thankfully, there are fun activities to enjoy the whole year round on the River Walk, whether it is spring, summer, fall, or winter. There is never a dull moment!
But please do keep in mind that San Antonio has a warm climate and can receive sweltering temps in the summer. Summer is also peak tourist season, making sightseeing and hotels more crowded and pricey at that time.
In terms of human comfort, the most pleasant temperatures for most people are during the fall and spring. Winter is also usually quite mild in San Antonio. So in that regard the best time of year to visit the River Walk is between the months of November and April.
However, if you can tolerate the sultry warmth that persists in San Antonio from late spring through early fall, it is at those times when the beauty of the natural setting and landscaping along the river are at their finest.
Please be aware that every two years the river channel in downtown is drained for cleaning and maintenance. This leaves parts of the river bottom muddy, with exposed debris and rubbish, and a stronger aroma. The draining schedule occurs in January and lasts for about a week. The dates are announced in advance by the city.
Divisions of the San Antonio Riverwalk
There are five sections or “reaches” of the San Antonio River Walk. From north to south, the sections are:
- the Museum Reach (from Hildebrand Avenue at Brackenridge Park to Lexington Avenue near the Tobin Center)
- the Downtown Reach (from Lexington Avenue to Nueva Street just southeast of Bexar County Courthouse)
- the King William Segment or Reach (includes the King William Historic District, Nueva Street to the Blue Star Complex at South Alamo Street)
- the Eagleland Reach (from South Alamo Street to Lone Star Boulevard at Roosevelt Park)
- the Mission Reach (Lone Star Boulevard to Camino Coahuilteca by Mission Espada).
The three main sections of particular interest to most visitors exploring the city are the Downtown Reach, the Museum Reach, and the Mission Reach.
The Downtown Reach
The downtown section or Downtown Reach is what most people mean when they say “The River Walk” without other qualifiers. The downtown River Walk is a lush paradise nestled 20 ft. below street level. It is luxuriant with leafy shade trees, tropical plants, flowers, and palms. It is perfect for strolling or taking a break from the street-level heat.
This section is surrounded by enticing restaurants and sidewalk cafés, shops, and hotels.
There is also an extension canal that leads to the largest Riverwalk mall known as the Shops at Rivercenter (aka Rivercenter Mall) and the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel (book here).
A number of graceful and romantic arched bridges cross from one bank of the river to the other.
They provide the perfect perch to catch the serenades of strolling mariachis, singing musicians dressed in charro outfits who play a variety of string and brass instruments.
The downtown Riverwalk can be reached by 31 quirky staircases, each unique, leading from street level to river level.
In the area of the River Walk there is plentiful street-level parking at public and commercial surface lots and parking garages, as well as public parking meters.
How long is the downtown River Walk?
The main touristic downtown River Walk section is about 1.5 miles in length. It follows a roughly rectangular river bend looping off to the east from the main San Antonio River channel before rejoining it.
How deep is the San Antonio Riverwalk?
In the downtown horseshoe bend of the Riverwalk the river depth is only about 3 to 4 feet, shallow enough for most adults to wade out on foot. However, the river can be over 10 feet deep in the main channel and near the lock and dam on the Museum Reach.
How far is the Alamo from the Riverwalk?
The Downtown Reach is the River Walk segment closest to the Alamo — only 2-3 blocks away (a 5-10 minute stroll). Just take the stairway next to the Official Visitor Information Center across from the Alamo. Continue down to the passageway shown below, and enter the atrium of the Grand Hyatt Regency San Antonio, which in turn opens to the River Walk.
The Downtown segment is also the section where you can catch the popular narrated riverboat cruises, a must-do for any visit to the city.
Plus, La Villita Historic Arts Village is located on the southern bank of the River Walk.
The renowned San Antonio Riverwalk Christmas displays are a gorgeous, extremely popular, and free way to view San Antonio Christmas lights during the holiday season. Every year they start the day after Thanksgiving and continue nightly until a few days after the New Year.
The Downtown Reach is ideal for shopping, dining, sightseeing, people-watching, and exploring the area’s rich and colorful contributions to national and international history.
The Museum Reach
Many engaging museums are located along the Museum Reach and provide its namesake. These include the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA), located right on the river, the Witte Museum and DoSeum Children’s Museum, each located within a few blocks east of the river, and the McNay Art Museum, which is about 10 minutes northeast.
Other highlights of the Museum Reach include a lock system for the river boats, the Tobin Center for the Performing arts, and the chic mixed-use complex, The Pearl, with trendy restaurants and dining. There are several funky public art installations along the Museum Reach.
The Museum Reach of the River Walk is about 4 miles long and extends north of the Downtown section. It made its debut in May of 2009.
The Mission Reach
South of downtown lies the Mission Reach of the River Walk.
Here the San Antonio River winds past four Spanish missions from the colonial period of this more than 300 year old city. These include Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission Espada. The four missions comprise San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. A fifth colonial mission, Mission Valero, which became the Alamo, lies in the city center not far from the Downtown Reach.
The San Antonio missions received an eminent UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 2015.
The Mission Reach of the River Walk is about 8 miles in length. Besides the chance to explore the historic missions, there are abundant opportunities to walk, jog, bike, fish, or paddle a canoe or kayak along this section. One can also find several intriguing public art installations along this section of the Riverwalk.
A Brief History of the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas
Beautiful River, Beautiful City
In a sense, the story of how the San Antonio River walk was built goes all the way back to the early, close relationship of the river to the founding, development, and prosperity of the city. The city’s earliest visitors often lavishly praised the beauty of the San Antonio River. But the seeds for the River Walk as we know it today were sown around the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century.
Influenced by the currents of the City Beautiful movement, in the early 1900’s San Antonio residents began developing the river setting. They aimed to beautify the downtown environment to enhance the lives of residents and visitors.
For example, they directed attention to clearing brush and debris from the river bottom. They also became indignant and protested when city crews destroyed some grand landmark trees from the river banks.
Parks Commissioner and hotelier Ludwig Mahncke took charge of beautifying and protecting the river. In the process he planted along its banks 300 young cypress trees. This towering species has become a signature of today’s River Walk.
San Antonio River, a Cause for Celebration
City residents also began incorporating the river into their springtime festivities. For example, the year 1905 saw San Antonio’s first recorded river parade. The parade occurred during the annual Fiesta festival events. That year King Selamat (tamales spelled backwards!) made a grand entrance with a flourish of trumpets on a shimmering barge. He headed a flotilla decorated with flowers and torches.
In 1907, San Antonio, which would later be called “an American Venice,” evoked the Italian City of Canals with a riverside Carnival of Venice. This event also featured a river parade.
With the backing of mayor Augustus H. Jones, elected in 1912, plans were to made to designate a section of the riverbanks downtown as a River Park to be adorned with landscaping. The Park was dedicated in 1914.
San Antonio Flooding Sparks Changes
However, the park and other areas in the center of the city were vulnerable to flooding.
A catastrophic flood occurred in 1921. This flood led to the loss of 51 lives. It left parts of downtown under as much as 12 feet of water. This included 9 feet of water right on Houston Street.
These events led the city to develop flood control plans. The plans included building an upstream dam, straightening several bends in the river, and lining the riverbed with masonry walls.
The largest remaining downtown bend in the river, known as the Great Bend or Horseshoe Bend, received protection from flood waters in the form of a bypass channel and floodgates. These measures opened the possibility of safely developing the area at river level.
Who Built the River Walk: Robert Hugman, Designer
Enter architect and San Antonio native Robert H. H. Hugman. He graduated in 1924 from the School of Architecture and Design at the University of Texas in Austin. After finishing his training, he lived for 3 years in New Orleans before returning home in 1927.
In New Orleans he was impressed by efforts of the Vieux Carré Commission to conserve and highlight that city’s unique historic and architectural links with its colonial past in the French Quarter.
Back in his native city, he envisioned a zone of shops, restaurants, cabarets, apartments, and green spaces along the river that would recall San Antonio’s rich Spanish colonial history. His proposal for “The Shops of Aragon and Romula” would be both a beautification and flood control plan.
When Was the San Antonio River Walk Built: A Dream Deferred, then Come True
Despite initial support from the president of the San Antonio Conservation Society Mrs. Lane Taylor, as well as the mayor and other civic leaders, Hugman’s plans had to take a back seat to a comprehensive city master plan.
Further, the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent depression also meant the collapse of any potential financing for the project.
However, Hugman continued to advocate for the project during the years of the Great Depression. He later found support from hotelier Jack White. White foresaw commercial benefit for his posh Plaza Hotel in a spruced up Great Bend of the San Antonio River. White helped organize riverside property owners into a San Antonio River Beautification Committee. The committee raised funds in the form of a bond.
Together with federal funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), there were now enough finances in hand to break ground on the project.
Construction of the San Antonio River Walk first began in March of 1939. The completed River Walk construction was dedicated in April of 1941.
The San Antonio River Walk: Continued Expansion and Growth of Tourism
However, business was slow in coming to the River Walk during the war years and subsequent decades. It was finally hotel construction for the 1968 World’s Fair (HemisFair ’68) that drew more businesses to locate along the River Walk. And the popularity of the River Walk has grown steadily ever since then.
Additional extensions to the original plan came in 1968 (to the convention center and Tower of the Americas for HemisFair), 1988 (to the Rivercenter Mall and Marriott Rivercenter Hotel), 2009 (the Museum Reach to the San Antonio Museum of Art and Pearl Brewery complex), and 2011 (the Mission Reach to the San Antonio Spanish Missions).
San Antonio River Walk Photos
San Antonio River Walk FAQs
How long is the San Antonio River Walk?
The River Walk, inclusive of all its sections, stretches for a length of 15 miles. It reaches from Brackenridge Park north of downtown all the way to the most far-flung of the city’s Spanish colonial missions, Mission Espada, south of downtown. In the heart of the city, there are 3.5 miles of walks along the banks of the river.
How many sections or reaches does the San Antonio River Walk have?
There are five sections or reaches of the San Antonio River Walk. From north to south, they are:
--the Museum Reach (from Hildebrand Avenue at Brackenridge Park to Lexington Avenue near the Tobin Center)
--the Downtown Reach (from Lexington Avenue to Nueva Street just southeast of Bexar County Courthouse)
--the King William Segment or Reach (Nueva Street to the Blue Star Complex at South Alamo Street)
--the Eagleland Reach (from South Alamo Street to Lone Star Boulevard at Roosevelt Park)
--the Mission Reach (Lone Star Boulevard to Camino Coahuilteca by Mission Espada).
Is the River Walk safe?
Security in the River Walk is maintained by San Antonio Park Police who patrol by foot and by boat.
Where does the San Antonio River start?
The headwaters of the San Antonio River are found three miles north of downtown, originating from numerous springs, the largest of which is an artesian spring known as the Blue Hole. This is located in the Headwaters Sanctuary adjacent to Incarnate Word University.
How long is the San Antonio River:
The San Antonio river courses from its source at the Blue Hole Spring through the city of San Antonio. It then winds through South Texas for 240 miles before merging with the Guadalupe River a few miles before its delta empties into San Antonio Bay at the Gulf of Mexico.
Is the San Antonio River Walk Free?
Yes, it is free to visit the River Walk, as it is a public park operated and maintained by the city of San Antonio. Going for a relaxing stroll, peoplewatching, or taking in the Christmas lights or other free San Antonio events are some of the best things to do in San Antonio for free.
Where do you buy tickets for the San Antonio River Walk boat tours?
You can purchase a web ticket online at https://tickets.goriocruises.com/gorio/narrated-cruises.html and either print it out or show your mobile phone to redeem.
There are also ticket booths and boarding docks for the narrated cruises operated by GO RIO at the following locations:
1)Rivercenter-- just down the sidewalk from the lagoon in front of the Rivercenter Mall, 849 E. Commerce Street (cross street is Bowie).
2) Historia – 706 River Walk (beneath the Market Street Bridge at its intersection with Alamo Street)
3)Aztec Theater—731 River Walk, at the river level of the Aztec Theater near the intersection of Crockett and St. Mary’s Street. The street level address of the theater is 104 N. St. Mary’s Street.
What are the San Antonio River Walk boat ride hours of operation?
The narrated River Walk Boat tours in San Antonio generally run from 10 am to 10 pm every day.
How often do the River Walk boats depart?
Approximately every 15 minutes.
How many passengers can ride in each narrated Riverwalk cruise boat in San Antonio?
The GO RIO River Walk boats can accommodate up 40 passengers.
Where can you park at the River Walk?
In the area of the River Walk, there are over 2000 street-level parking meters. Most of these are enforced 8 am - 6 pm, Monday through Saturday. Outside of these hours, parking is free. Also, on Tuesdays from 5 pm to 2 am there is free parking in parking garages and lots run by the city (https://www.downtowntuesday.com/About-Downtown-Tuesday).
What is the address of the San Antonio River Walk?
The River Walk does not have a single unique address, as it comprises an area that is 15 miles long. However, for GPS location purposes, a convenient address for the most frequented downtown portion of the River Walk would be the Shops at Rivercenter (Rivercenter Mall), located right on the River Walk at 849 E. Commerce Street, San Antonio, TX 78205.
The historic Pearl District in San Antonio, located slightly north of downtown on the Museum Reach of the River Walk, is located at 303 Pearl Pkwy, San Antonio, TC 78215.
What time does the River Walk open and close?
The Downtown Reach and Museum Reach of the River Walk are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. One can walk along it any time of day or night. However, as in any urban setting, discretion is needed during the wee hours of the night and early morning when businesses are closed. Most San Antonio Riverwalk restaurants close around 10 pm and bars around 2 am.