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15 Fun & Best Things To Do On The San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio holds many fond memories for me. Growing up only four hours from the city, I remember it in waves of nostalgic flashbacks from high school. 

In one picture, there I am in a four-day basketball tournament visiting The Alamo in between games and walking the streets with teammates. Somehow I was talked into dining at Dick’s Last Resort, where the server’s job is to insult you during your dinner. Nonetheless, it made for quite some laughs, so it was a fond memory.

In another flash, I see myself at Fiesta Texas riding rollercoasters in the summer heat on a senior field trip. During that trip, I was talked into some very shady rollercoasters (looking at you, Iron Rattler) as we flipped upside down, flew high in the sky, and generally had a blast.

In the next memory, I’m on a first date, all legs, limbs, and bad fashion, shaking with nerves. Strolling the riverwalk, stopping at attractions, and eating at the Hard Rock Cafe made for a perfect first getaway trip in a new relationship.

Once, I had to spend all day helping my sister move furniture up four flights of stairs – just to add a less fun memory to the collection.

So, as you can see, I have discovered many nooks and crannies in San Antonio and walked the riverwalk with friends, teammates, family, and my spouse. I can say with certainty that this is one of the best places to visit in Texas, and any adventure you have here will leave you with many great memories for years to come.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmarkThe Alamo
  • Best park – Brackenridge Park
  • Best free activity – The Museum Reach
  • Best activity for kidsSan Antonio Zoo
  • Best activity for adultsVisit the Missions
  • Best all-around accommodationOmni La Mansión del Rio
  • Best nightlife – Naked Iguana Tequila Lounge
  • Best food – Domingo Restaurante

Things to Do on the San Antonio River Walk

1. Find different activities to do at Brackenridge Park

Japanese tea Garden Overlook in Brackenridge Park Texas, walkways, during winter season
Alyh M / Adobe Stock

Address: 3903 N. St. Mary’s Street, San Antonio, Texas

Brackenridge Park is more than just your typical city amenity with a ton of green space, a playground, a picnic area, and walking trails. It’s a 343-acre public park with multiple activities, sites, and entertainment centers. It includes some top San Antonio tourist attractions and two of my favorite stops — the San Antonio Zoo and the Japanese Tea Garden.

The San Antonio Zoo is a lot of fun and an excellent choice for families traveling with small children. Besides the usual amble through the park to see the many animals, it offers numerous activities and special experiences, including giraffe feeding, an after-hours VIP tour, a handful of behind-the-scenes options with rhinos, tortoises, or hippos, and you can even eat breakfast with a kangaroo!

After visiting the San Antonio Zoo, I highly recommend visiting the Japanese Tea Garden for a stroll. The gardens are gorgeous, with more than a dozen different types of blooming flowers in pinks, blues, bright yellows, and deep greens. A winding path zigs in and out of gardens, ponds, and fountains teeming with giant koi fish. With free admission, it’s the perfect place to bring a light lunch and sit to enjoy the view.

If you’re looking to stay close to the zoo, consider booking this vacation rental at Bright Texas Cottage. The one-bedroom cottage is all charm. With pops of color and a quirky outdoor area, it is small and cozy but with a big personality.

See Related: San Antonio Go City Review: Is Go City Worth It?

2. Take a stroll through the Historic Districts

Sunny view of a builiding in the King William Historic District
Kit Leong / Adobe Stock

San Antonio has two predominant historic districts — La Villita Historic Arts Village and King William Historic District. Both are listed on the U.S. Government’s National Register of Historic Places.

King Williams is home to some of the most beautiful and historic homes, while La Villita is known for its art galleries and hometown shops. Together, the historic districts paint a picture of what life was like for San Antonio residents in the past.

La Villita Historic Arts Village is located on the southern bank of the riverwalk at 418 Villita Street and is considered the first neighborhood in San Antonio. With more than 300 years of history, the neighborhood has transformed over many historical periods from the Colonial Era to the 21st century. Today, the rich background is shown through the architecture of its many artisan shops, restaurants, art galleries, and the historic Arneson River Theater.

The King William District is also located at the riverwalk’s south end, making it a natural progression from La Villita. The district was named after King Willhelm I of Prussia.

Strolling down the streets, guests will see massive estates in a variety of historical styles. Some, like Villa Finale and Steves Homestead, are open to guests inside. The San Antonio Conservation Society helps keeps these historic homes in perfect condition. 

When visiting La Villita Historic Arts Village or King William Historic District, Adams Guest Full House is one of the best vacation rentals to stay directly in the district. The 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom cottage houses all the amenities with a large outdoor yard and a BBQ pit.

3. Visit the Missions

Mission San Jose. in San Antonio, Texas
PhotoFires / Adobe Stock

The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is Texas’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO website describes the missions as a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along a San Antonio River basin stretch. In case you don’t know exactly what a mission is, the Spanish Missions were religious outposts used to spread Catholicism to Native Americans during the Spanish Colonial Era.

The five San Antonio Missions include Mission Concepcion, Mission Espada, Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo), Mission San Jose, and Mission San Juan. The 7.7-mile trail inside the national park includes views of architectural and archaeological structures, farmlands, residencies, churches, and granaries.

To view the entirety of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and learn about its history, consider taking a self-guided walking or biking tour, or a guided ranger-led tour. Guests can also take a private San Antonio UNESCO Missions Tour, which includes hotel pickup.

Also located inside the Missions National Historical Park is the Acequias, one of the most significant accomplishments of the Spanish Colonial residents in San Antonio. Constructed around what is to be believed the 1720s, was a complex irrigation system with dams, gates, and canals.

The Acequias helped set precedence for other historical infrastructure, including roadways, which followed the natural path of the canal system. You’ll also find the Mission San Francisco Javier de Najera Centennial Marker along Mission Road.

See Related: Where to Stay in San Antonio: Best Areas & Neighborhoods

4. Explore Downtown San Antonio

Live performance in Majestic Theatre, San Antonio
Majestic Theatre / Facebook

The San Antonio River Walk flows through about four miles of downtown San Antonio. In that specific stretch of land, there are a few places to visit when walking along the river, such as the Majestic and Empire Theatres, Aztec Theater, the Buckhorn Museum and Saloon, and Hemisfair Park.

Majestic Theatre is San Antonio’s oldest and largest atmospheric theatre. An atmospheric theatre was a popular design in the 1920s designed to evoke a feeling of being in an exotic outdoor venue full of wonder and spectacle.

Theatres of this style use projectors, grand decor, and architectural elements to create the illusion. The Majestic Theatre hosts an array of shows, including comedy stunts, musical performances, and plays.

Down the street from The Majestic Theatre is Hemisfair Park. Inside Hemisfair Park is a multitude of activities for tourists, including the Institute of Texan Cultures.

The institute is a museum and library owned by the University of Texas at San Antonio. Inside the museum is a collection of historical artifacts and stories dedicated to showing the diversity of the Lone Star State.

Hemisfair Park is also home to a pair of historical museums known as The Buckhorn Museum and The Texas Ranger Museum. These two museums provide the full Texas experience with an exotic animal collection, the oldest-running saloon, and a standing history of Texas rangers.

If you want to stay in the downtown area, book a room at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio. This luxury hotel includes a rooftop pool, virtual golf, and on-site restaurants. The hotel also offers a variety of unique suite options, including the Gamer Suite with arcade machines, flat-screen TVs, and gaming devices, and the Entertainment Suite equipped with a private terrace and pool table.

5. Walk along Museum Reach

Aerial View of the River Walk in San Antonio With Hanging Holidays Lights
porqueno / Adobe Stock

The Museum Reach is a stretch of land that includes three miles of pedestrian trails with water fountains, public art, museums, and historical landmarks. Only completed in 2009 as an extension of the original San Antonio River Walk, the Museum Reach has grown to become a popular attraction to tourists and locals. The roughly 2-3-mile path includes stops like the Brooklyn Avenue Lock and Dam.

The Brooklyn Avenue Lock and Dam System is a historical marker known for its unique ability to let boats pass both up and downstream at the same time. Perhaps not the most exciting stop, but it is an architectural, man-made oddity and an important piece of infrastructure along the riverwalk.

Museum Reach is also home to a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. In the months between April and October, a massive colony of bats who reside under the I-35 bridge takes flight in an astonishing view of nature’s natural cycle of life.

Later in the year, every December, the Museum Reach is transformed by holiday lights known as The River of Lights, an LED light show with thousands of bulbs strung through the trees, across bridges, and underwater. Seeing The River of Lights during Christmas is a beautiful view that people come from all over the state to see during the holiday season.

See Related: Best Museums in the U.S. to Visit

6. Spend time in the Pearl District

Aerial of Pearl District San Antonio Texas
Jin / Adobe Stock

As a community all its own, the Pearl District’s slogan is “a commitment to craft, quality, and hard work.” The slogan at the top of the neighborhood’s website paints the perfect picture of the Pearl.

The history of the Pearl dates back to 1883. The Pearl Brewery, the district’s iconic symbol, was originally founded in 1883 and was known back then as the J.B. Behloradsky Brewery and then the City Brewery.

Over time, the building transformed took on new leadership, expanded, and changed names. Eventually, the glory of fresh-brewed beer returned to the district, and an amphitheater, shops, and farmers’ markets began to sprout up around the iconic symbol.

Today, the Historic Pearl District has local coffee shops, casual dining restaurants, businesses, and retail shops. Tourists can even try the San Antonio Pearl District Food and History Tour to get a better feel of what the district has to offer.

Don’t forget to book a room at Hotel Emma near the Pearl District. Hotel Emma was once a 19th-century brewhouse and is now a historical boutique hotel specializing in food, culture, and community.

See Related: Best Breweries in San Antonio, Texas

7. Eat along the San Antonio River Walk

Aerial view of Restaurants in San Antonio River Walk
f11photo / Adobe Stock

It’s hard to choose just one restaurant to eat at when visiting the San Antonio Texas River Walk and let’s be honest, you’ll likely be staying more than just one day and eating at multiple places. So, instead of giving you all just one option or the “best” restaurant. I’ve compiled a couple of the best restaurants and food spots or tours to take when visiting the riverwalk.

To start with food tours, a Small-Group San Antonio River Walk Food Walking Tour is a fully-narrated tour experience that ties in food with sightseeing. The tour stops at three different restaurants and three landmarks ending with a special Mexican dessert.

The Historic Downtown San Antonio Food and Culture Tour is another great tour option for exploring San Antonio. This immersive walking tour visits some of the most historic sites in Texas with local cuisine samples. It also operates as a pay-as-you-go, so you can choose what restaurants to spend your money on during each stop.

Moving on to individual restaurants, narrowing down a large list of restaurants to a small list of top favorites was too difficult. So, here is an unranked list of some of the best restaurants on the riverwalk that I can recommend — Domingo, Boudro’s Bistro, Biga On The Banks, Esquire Tavern, Ocho (in Hotel Havana), and Tre Trattoria. Stopping by to eat lunch or dinner at any of these local eateries will surely provide a flavor punch of Texas proportions to complement the riverwalk.

8. Tour the historic Alamo

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
dfikar / Adobe Stock

Address: 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, Texas

No trip to San Antonio is complete without touring The Alamo. Pretty much any school anywhere in the state of Texas has gone on a field trip or overnight competition and stopped by to see The Alamo. For me, the first time was during a high school basketball competition in San Antonio.

After the tournament, we were allowed to walk around the riverwalk, and of course, The Alamo was a “must-see” stop, or so I was told by every single one of my teachers. Here’s the basic history lesson I received.

The Alamo is one of the most famous sites in the United States and is especially sacred to Texans. It is best known as the location of the famous 1836 Battle of The Alamo, which lasted 13 days.

On the 13th day, a brutal massacre ended in hundreds of deaths, including famous names like James Bowie, William Travis, and Davy Crockett. Despite the heavy loss, Texas went on to win its independence soon after.

Although not the site of victory, The Alamo stands as a symbol of Texan pride in the center of San Antonio’s River Walk — a place of sacrifice, determination, and belief in a greater cause. Facing vastly superior forces of a professional army, the men of The Alamo knew that help might not arrive in time, yet they stood their ground anyway. So, when you stop by to visit The Alamo, take your Stetson off and take a moment of silence.

The Menger Hotel is a historic partner of The Alamo, so it only makes sense to pair a visit to the site with a stay at this hotel. Along with its many accolades, the Menger Hotel is considered to be the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi. As a partner of The Alamo, the hotel also offers unique and special experiences for guests only.

9. Take your kid to any of these family-friendly attractions

Historic Market Square Mexican Shopping Center tourist destination in San Antonio, Texas
Christian Hinkle / Adobe Stock

Worried about finding things to do in San Antonio with kids? Relax! San Antonio is a very kid-friendly city, and the riverwalk is no different. For the most part, San Antonio is a very safe city, and many young families choose to settle down here. So if you are here to visit and tote along young children, you’ll find there are plenty of activities to keep them occupied. 

One of the top children’s attractions on the San Antonio River Walk is LEGOLAND Discovery Center on E. Commerce St. This tourist spot is a Lego lover’s dream. Inside is an interactive San Antonio cityscape, a spot to watch Lego movies, Lego races, and builder workshops.

There is also the San Antonio Do-Seum, a hands-on museum for younger kids. There are interactive exhibits like H-E-B’s kid’s grocery market, science experiments, and a power ball hall. 

Another great option for a family outing with kids is stopping by the historic Market Square. It is the epicenter of Latinx, Mexican, and Spanish heritage in San Antonio, with fiesta-decorated banners flying above the market.

In the square or el mercado, you will find restaurants, light music playing, and quirky stores with hand-crafted Mexican souvenirs. Fun fact, the San Antonio River Walk is also known as Paseo del Rio in Spanish. 

10. Hike, bike, or boat along the San Antonio River Walk

Boats by the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas
f11photo / Adobe Stock

The San Antonio Texas River Walk is 15 miles long. Walking from one end to the other takes approximately 5-6 hours. However, there are plenty of other options for city sightseeing in San Antonio, from biking, boating, or even taking a Segway.

One of the most popular options for traveling the riverwalk is going on a river cruise. There are a ton of options here. There are independent river boats, public and private river cruises, or river taxis you can use to get from place to place. You can also rent your kayak and paddle down the river on a guided tour.

For example, the San Antonio River Walk Cruise, Hop-on Hop-off Tour is a smooth ride along the river, usually accompanied by a tour operator who will give details on some of the stops. And this private day tour leaving from Austin includes a river cruise and a tour of the riverwalk’s top attractions, including the Alamo.

Plenty of tours also view specific parts of the riverwalk rather than the whole stretch of land and water. One example is the mural bike tour. Visitors can spend a few hours cycling around downtown to view the various works of street art.

However, one of my favorite ways to travel around San Antonio is via Segway or an electric scooter. There are electric scooters all over the city, and all you need to do to rent one is download the app that matches, pay the fee (make sure it’s charged), and off you go!

After cruising around, look inside the Omni La Mansión del Rio. Situated along the riverwalk on College Street, this hotel is one of the best locations with proximity to all the popular attractions. The mansion includes a spa, a courtyard pool, a fully equipped fitness center, two restaurants, and a bar.

See Related: Where to Stay in Austin, Texas: Best Neighborhoods and Top Accommodations

11. Go on a ghost tour

Ghost Bus Tour in San Antonio Texas
Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours and Gift Shop / Facebook

It stands to reason that in a place where everything is hundreds to thousands of years old, there are bound to be some ghosts hanging around. A city as old as San Antonio is a prime market for ghosts, which is why it’s no surprise that one of their top attractions is The San Antonio Ghost Walk. The ghost walk includes a journey through the streets of Old San Antonio discovering haunted corners and dark streets, and some stops along the way include historical markers mentioned in this list.

First up, is The Alamo. How can a place where dozens of people died in bloody combat not be tainted with ghosts of the past? From 1836 to the 21st century, visitors have told stories of ghost sightings, from seeing a line of ghost soldiers to a little blond boy running around the complex. Guests can get the full haunted experience by staying at the nearby Menger Hotel. The hotel is considered to be one of the most haunted hotels in the world, with guests reporting seeing ghosts daily.

Some other haunted stops in San Antonio include the San Fernando Cathedral, The Spanish Governor’s Palace, The Gunter Hotel, Ghost Tracks, Our Lady of the Lake University, and San Pedro Springs Park. Each spot has its own haunted story and ghostly apparitions. When choosing a tour, consider any of these popular options — Ghost City Tours of San Antonio, Nightly Spirits (a haunted pub crawl), or book with the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tour & Gift Shop.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Galveston, Texas

12. See a light show and musical performance

San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas at Night
CrackerClips/ Adobe Stock

The San Fernando Cathedral, located at 115 Main Plaza, is the mother church of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and the seat of its archbishop. At night, the cathedral is lit with flickering colors, and against the magnificent church, it is a cool show to stop and watch for a few minutes.

The last time I saw the San Fernando Cathedral light show was in 2015. I had just graduated from college and was about to fly out of Austin to England on a study-abroad trip. So, my significant other and I decided to spend a few days in San Antonio before I left.

We drove electronic scooters around the riverwalk at night, and as we zipped past, we saw the cathedral light up — and it was beautiful. It was such a small moment in time, but looking back, it was completely captivating.

In addition to seeing a light show, visitors to San Antonio can pair a visual performance with a musical one in a variety of ways. We already mentioned the Majestic Theatre, but there are a handful of places to catch a musical performance. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is also located on the riverwalk and holds three venues inside that total more than 2,000 seats.

Although I’ve never seen a show here myself, I know several former bandmates of mine have. They always came back with raving views. I highly recommend catching a show here.

13. Make random stops at these attractions

Aerial Landscape of San Antonio Texas
Jin / Adobe Stock

The majority of the most noteworthy stops on the San Antonio River Walk include historical attractions and markers of history. But when you are out sightseeing, consider making some of these unique stops at any of these attractions. You should see a few miscellaneous sites while wandering around the riverwalk.

First up is The Tower of the Americas – you might have seen it whilst pottering around the riverwalk. This enormous tower is 750 feet tall and provides a 360-panorama view of San Antonio.

At the top of the tower are a 4D Theater, the Chart House restaurant, and an observation deck. Visitors to the tower can indulge in a San Antonio Night Highlights and Tower of the Americas dinner tour.

Ripley’s: Believe It or Not is another random but fun stop along the San Antonio River Walk. Ripley’s is a popular, wacky museum chain, each one filled with oddities, including shrunken human heads, lifelike wax figures, illusions, unusual artifacts, and more. This is a fun stop for families traveling with young kids who are fascinated by seeing odd things (or are rather odd themselves.)

14. Party at San Antonio’s nightlife scene

Howl at the Moon, San Antonio crowd and interior
Howl at the Moon / Facebook

The San Antonio River Walk is a gorgeous scene at night. The trees are strewn with sparkling lights, the bars and dance halls start pumping music, the Texas heat simmers down, and people come out to have a good time. While the museums and historical landmarks begin locking down, the bars begin opening up, including one of the homegrown favorites — The Naked Iguana Tequila Lounge.

The Naked Iguana Tequila Lounge was established in 1989 and is the best spot for margaritas and prime tequila. With a large patio, misting system, and extensive shot list, The Naked Iguana is a popular go-to bar for tourists and locals.

Another beloved water hole on the San Antonio River Walk is the Esquire Tavern, which opened in 1933 to celebrate the end of the prohibition and has the longest wooden bar in Texas. This location provides more of a typical downtown bar vibe with dimmed lights and cold beer. If you are looking for a more specific type of nightlife, there is also Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar; Kremlin, an upscale destination; The Republic of Texas Restaurant for karaoke; and Coyote Ugly, known for its bar-top dancing girls.

15. See history at the San Antonio Museum of Art

Exhibit at San Antonio Museum of Art
San Antonio Museum of Art / Facebook

Another famous attraction on the list of things to do on the San Antonio River Walk is the San Antonio Museum of Art. The San Antonio Museum of Art explores 5,000 years of art, culture, and people through its many exhibits and galleries.

This cultural institution is specifically renowned for the most comprehensive ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art collection in the southern United States. There are also entire halls dedicated to works of art from Latin America, Korea, India, Japan, and China, and, of course, renowned Texas artists.

Whether visiting a new exhibit or stopping by for a gala at the art museum, guests are encouraged to stay at the nearby Hotel Havana. Overlooking the riverwalk, Hotel Havana is a 27-room historic property influenced by Mexican and Cuban cultures. Originally built in 1914, this hotel exudes a historical ambiance that makes you feel like you are returning in time. Without the discomfort, I might add.

FAQ

How long is the San Antonio River Walk?

The entire riverwalk is 15 miles long.

How do I get a boat ride on the River Walk?

The most well-known cruise company on the San Antonio River Walk is GO RIO Cruises. There are three ticket booth locations located throughout the river walk. The best way to book a cruise is through the website. You might also find luck with sites like Viator and Get Your Guide, and some city cards like Go City include cruises along the river.

When is the best time to visit San Antonio River Walk?

The best time to visit the San Antonio River Walk is in the fall to early spring when temperatures are milder, between 60 and 80 Fahrenheit.

Where does the San Antonio River Walk start and end?

There are multiple places to enter and exit the River Walk. However, it generally starts around the city center near E. Hildebrand Avenue and finishes to the south of the city, near Mission Espada.

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