San Antonio, Texas, USA cityscape at the River Walk.

© Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

River Walk

Top choice in San Antonio

The River Walk is a 15-mile-long glorious network of waterside pathways that’s tucked below street level and lined with bars and restaurants. It's the perfect place for many leisurely strolls through downtown and beyond, and considered one of the top things to do in San Antonio. You'll pass landscaped gardens and riverfront cafes, and linger on stone footbridges that arch across the water.

During summer it gets mighty crowded, but at peaceful times (and the further you get from downtown) it's a lovely place to be – especially during the holidays, when it's bedecked with twinkling lights.

River Walk extension

These days, the River Walk extends way north and south of downtown. The 8-mile Mission Reach expansion extends south to the King William District and beyond to the Spanish missions, while the 4-mile Museum Reach stretches north to the San Antonio Art Museum, the Pearl Brewery complex and Brackenridge Park.

A small pleasure boat with around 10 passengers floats down a river towards a stone bridge
Take a 35-minute tour of the river by boat © f11photo / Shutterstock

River Walk restaurants

Having a location beside the pretty River Walk gives any restaurant instant atmosphere, especially when there's a patio involved, but typical prices are high, and there's no guarantee of quality. Decent options include Biga on the Banks, serving a wonderful mix of European, Tex-Mex, American and Asian influences, and local favorite Texas bistro Boudro's.

River Walk boat tour

After you've had your fill of walking by the river, hop on a Go Rio cruise. These 35-minute narrated cruises leave every 15 to 20 minutes, and give a good visual overview of the river plus a light history lesson. No reservations are necessary; buy tickets online or at the ticket booths found at 706 River Walk, Rivercenter and Aztec Theater.

A large warehouse-style building with lots of bikes on racks outside
There's a bike rental point at the Blue Star Arts Complex on the River Walk © JustPixs / Shutterstock

Cycling the River Walk

Downtown you cannot ride a bike on the River Walk and must ride on surrounding streets. Once you get out of downtown, however, you can ride your bike on long stretches of the River Walk. Beyond Lexington Avenue, follow the River Walk north to the Pearl Brewery complex and the Brackenridge Park area's attractions (the Museum Reach). South of downtown, from Nueva Street, you can cycle to the historic missions (the Mission Reach), with a walk-your-bike section near the Blue Star Brewery Complex. Before setting out, confirm the cycling start points with the visitor center and obey current signage so you don't get a ticket. The San Antonio River Authority website has some useful information. Check San Antonio's bike-share scheme for rental locations. 

Creation of the River Walk

In 1921, floods destroyed downtown San Antonio when water 10ft deep gushed through the center of the city from the overflowing San Antonio River, obliterating homes and businesses and drowning as many as 50 people. As a result, the Olmos Dam was constructed to handle overflow and route the extra water around the downtown area through a canal called the Oxbow.

It was a temporary fix that was intended to be submerged and turned into an enormous storm drain beneath the city. Before this happened though, some locals formed the San Antonio Conservation Society and dedicated themselves to preserving and developing the canal into an attraction.

In 1938 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) assumed control of the canal's fate, and executed a plan to develop a central business district of shops and restaurants along a cobbled walk. More than 1000 jobs were created during the construction of River Walk, and the project is one of the most beautiful results of the WPA effort.

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