The Getaway
12 Must-Do Experiences on the San Antonio River Walk

Picture yourself strolling along a winding river, the sound of water mingling with laughter and music, as colorful umbrellas shade riverside cafes. This isn't Venice or Amsterdam – it's the San Antonio River Walk, the heart and soul of Texas' most captivating city.

This urban oasis, with its rich history and vibrant present, offers a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. From peaceful morning cruises to lively night-time adventures, the River Walk caters to every taste and interest. Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, or simply looking for a unique way to unwind, you'll find your perfect moment here. Ready to dive into the best of San Antonio?

Here are 12 must-do experiences that will make your visit unforgettable, revealing why the River Walk isn't just a place to see – it's a place to be.


01 Take a scenic river cruise

San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A - April 6, 2024 - The colorful table umbrellas and the boat on the river walk Khairil Azhar Junos/Shutterstock

Going on a scenic river cruise is a key activity at the San Antonio River Walk. Rio San Antonio Cruises offers 35-minute narrated tours for $13.50 per adult, providing an excellent introduction to the area's history and landmarks. These boat tours offer a unique perspective of the River Walk, allowing you to admire the lush landscaping and charming architecture from the water.

During the day, you'll have the opportunity to see iconic sights such as the Arneson River Theatre, La Villita Historic Arts Village, and the towering cypress trees that line the banks. For photography enthusiasts, the golden hour just before sunset offers stunning light for capturing the River Walk's beauty.

Evening cruises provide a romantic atmosphere as the banks come alive with twinkling lights, creating a magical ambiance. These nighttime tours are particularly popular during special events or holidays when the River Walk is adorned with festive decorations.

To ensure a smooth experience, consider booking your cruise in advance, especially during peak seasons like summer and holidays. This will help you avoid long wait times and secure your preferred time slot. Whether you choose a daytime excursion or an evening voyage, a river cruise offers a relaxing and informative way to experience the heart of San Antonio.


02 Dine at a riverside restaurant

The San Antonio River Walk offers a culinary journey as diverse and vibrant as the city itself. With an array of riverside restaurants, you can savor everything from authentic Tex-Mex to upscale New American cuisine while enjoying the picturesque views of the river.

For a truly memorable dining experience, consider Biga on the Banks. This upscale restaurant offers innovative New American cuisine paired with panoramic river views. Their menu changes seasonally, ensuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients in every dish. For a taste of history, visit Casa Rio, established in 1946 and the oldest restaurant on the River Walk. Their colorful umbrellas and traditional Mexican fare have become iconic symbols of riverside dining in San Antonio.

To fully appreciate the ambiance, opt for outdoor seating when possible. The gentle sound of the river and the energy of people walking by create a unique atmosphere that makes any meal special. It's a good idea to book a table in advance, particularly for outdoor seating on weekends or during special events.

For a laid-back setting, several eateries feature riverside patios ideal for watching people and enjoying special drink prices during happy hour. Remember, the River Walk's dining scene is most active in the evenings, so planning an early dinner might help you get the best spots and watch the sunset over the water.


03 Explore the Museum Reach

The museum reach section of the San Antonio River beneath the I-35 overpass with Donald Lipski Sunfish art installation overhead. San Antonio, Texas, USA - September 13, 2019 JustPixs/Shutterstock

The Museum Reach, a 1.33-mile extension north of downtown, provides a peaceful and culturally rich experience along the San Antonio River Walk. This section, completed in 2009, seamlessly blends nature, art, and history, making it a must-visit for both art enthusiasts and outdoor lovers.

As you stroll or bike along the well-maintained paths, you'll encounter a series of captivating public art installations that transform the riverbank into an open-air gallery. One standout piece is The Grotto, a cave-like installation by artist Carlos Cortes. This creation adds a touch of magic to the landscape and serves as a popular photo spot.

The crown jewel of this area is the San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in a former Lone Star Brewery complex. Its riverside location offers a unique backdrop for exploring diverse art collections spanning 5,000 years of history.

For a different perspective, consider exploring the Museum Reach via kayak. This allows you to appreciate the art installations and lush landscaping from the water level, offering a fresh viewpoint on familiar sights.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit during evening hours when many art installations are illuminated, creating a magical atmosphere along the river. The Museum Reach truly exemplifies how urban development can harmoniously incorporate art, nature, and history.


04 Attend a River Walk Event

The San Antonio River Walk comes alive throughout the year with a vibrant calendar of events that showcase the city's rich culture and festive spirit. One of the most anticipated annual events is the Ford Holiday River Parade, held on the day after Thanksgiving. This magical procession features illuminated floats gliding down the river, kicking off the holiday season with a dazzling display of lights and music.

In April, the River Walk becomes the stage for Fiesta San Antonio, a citywide celebration of San Antonio's diverse heritage. The Texas Cavaliers River Parade, a highlight of Fiesta, transforms the river into a colorful spectacle with decorated floats and live music.

For music lovers, the newly launched River Walk Live! series offers free concerts at the Arneson River Theatre from May through October. These open-air performances under the stars provide a perfect blend of local talent and the River Walk's enchanting atmosphere.

Seasonal decorations add to the River Walk's charm, with twinkling lights during the holidays and vibrant decorations for various cultural celebrations throughout the year. To stay informed about upcoming events, regularly check the official River Walk website for the most up-to-date event calendars and special announcements.


05 Visit the Historic La Villita

Located on the south bank of the San Antonio River, La Villita Historic Arts Village provides a delightful look into the city's rich cultural heritage. This one-square-block area, once San Antonio's first neighborhood, now serves as a vibrant arts community that seamlessly blends history with contemporary creativity.

As you wander through the cobblestone streets, you'll discover a treasure trove of art galleries and boutique shops housed in beautifully preserved historic buildings. These spaces showcase the work of local artisans, offering everything from handcrafted jewelry and textiles to unique paintings and sculptures. Many galleries allow visitors to watch artists at work, providing an intimate look at the creative process.

The Little Church of La Villita, built in 1879, stands as a picturesque centerpiece of the village. This quaint stone chapel, with its simple yet elegant design, has become a popular venue for weddings and a must-see for history enthusiasts.

For an enhanced experience, plan your visit during the monthly First Friday event. On these evenings, galleries extend their hours and often host special exhibitions or demonstrations, creating a festive atmosphere perfect for art lovers.

La Villita also hosts various cultural events throughout the year, celebrating San Antonio's diverse heritage through music, dance, and traditional crafts. These events offer visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture and perhaps take home a unique piece of San Antonio art.


06 Explore the San Antonio Missions

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, USA.

The San Antonio Missions, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, provide an engaging exploration of Texas history and Spanish colonial architecture. This chain of five missions, including the famous Alamo, stretches along the San Antonio River and showcases the area's rich cultural heritage.

The Mission Reach, an 8-mile extension of the River Walk south of downtown, connects four of these historic sites. To fully experience this trail, consider renting a bike from one of the B-Cycle stations dotted along the route. This allows you to comfortably explore all five missions at your own pace.

Among these, Mission Concepción, founded in 1731, stands out as the best-preserved. Its sturdy limestone walls and intricate frescoes provide a glimpse into 18th-century mission life. As you explore, you'll notice the unique blend of Native American and Spanish Catholic influences in the architecture and artwork.

Each mission has its own character and story. The Alamo, originally Mission San Antonio de Valero, is renowned for its role in the 1836 Texas Revolution. Mission San José, known as the "Queen of the Missions," impresses with its restored granary and the famous "Rose Window."

For a deeper understanding, join a guided tour or use the park's mobile app for self-guided exploration. Remember to respect these sacred spaces and follow park guidelines to help preserve these invaluable historical treasures for future generations.


07 Shop at River Center Mall

The Shops at Rivercenter, formerly known as Rivercenter Mall, is a premier shopping destination conveniently located along the San Antonio River Walk. This multi-level mall offers a unique shopping experience with its direct access from the river, allowing visitors to arrive by river taxi and enter through a picturesque lagoon entrance.

Inside, you'll find a diverse mix of over 100 stores, ranging from popular retail chains to specialty boutiques. The mall caters to various tastes and budgets, featuring everything from fashion and accessories to electronics and home goods. For those seeking refreshment, the food court and several restaurants provide ample dining options to suit different palates.

Entertainment is a key feature of Rivercenter, with the AMC Rivercenter 11 movie theater offering the latest Hollywood blockbusters. The mall's crown jewel is the Alamo IMAX Theatre, where visitors can watch "Alamo: The Price of Freedom," a 45-minute film providing historical context to San Antonio's most famous landmark.

To enhance your shopping experience, consider timing your visit with one of the mall's frequent events or sales. The mall's central location also makes it an ideal starting point or end to your River Walk exploration, allowing you to seamlessly combine shopping with sightseeing.

Remember to take advantage of the river taxi service for a unique arrival or departure from your shopping excursion, adding an extra layer of charm to your River Walk experience.


08 Enjoy happy hour at a River Walk bar

The San Antonio River Walk comes alive during happy hour, offering visitors a chance to unwind and socialize while enjoying discounted drinks and appetizers. One standout location is Acenar, a contemporary Mexican restaurant and bar that hosts happy hour Sunday through Thursday from 3 pm to 6 pm. Here, you can sip on $3 Lone Star or Miller Lite, $4.50 Alamo Golden Ale, or indulge in $5 cocktails while savoring $5 platitos like chili-seasoned calamari or queso with chorizo.

For a unique experience, head to Howl at the Moon, where dueling piano shows accompany drink specials from 5-8 PM. History buffs will appreciate The Esquire Tavern, opened in 1933, boasting the longest wooden bar top in Texas and offering a glimpse into San Antonio's past.

Mad Dogs British Pub is another popular spot, hosting a lively happy hour with discounted pints and appetizers. It's an excellent place for people-watching and soaking in the River Walk's vibrant atmosphere.

For those seeking a more upscale experience, Vbar in the Valencia Hotel offers a sophisticated setting with 20% off the total bill during their Monday through Friday happy hour from 5 pm to 7 pm.

Remember, happy hour is an ideal time to sample local flavors and mingle with both locals and fellow travelers, creating memorable experiences along the picturesque River Walk.


09 Take a ghost tour

For those seeking a spine-tingling experience, the San Antonio River Walk offers several ghost tours that explore the area's haunted history and local legends. These tours provide a unique way to see the River Walk after dark, combining historical facts with eerie tales of the supernatural.

One popular option is the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours, which offers a 2.5-hour walking tour of haunted River Walk locations. Their knowledgeable guides share spooky stories and point out sites of alleged paranormal activity, including the famous Menger Hotel. Built in 1859, the Menger is said to be one of the most haunted hotels in Texas, with numerous reported ghost sightings.

These tours often include stops at historic buildings and hidden courtyards, revealing a side of San Antonio that many visitors never see. You'll hear tales of tragic deaths, unsolved mysteries, and unexplained phenomena that have occurred along the River Walk over the centuries.

For a more immersive experience, some tours offer the use of ghost-hunting equipment, allowing participants to try their hand at paranormal investigation. Remember to wear comfortable shoes and bring a camera – you never know what you might capture!

October is the busiest month for ghost tours due to Halloween, so it's advisable to book well in advance if you're planning a fall visit. These tours offer a thrilling way to experience the River Walk's rich history and mysterious atmosphere.


10 Visit the Pearl District

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - 04.24.2022 - People enjoy a fun weekend day at the historic Pearl District and Farmer's market in city's downtown, a vibrant and a favorite destination for locals. Moab Republic/Shutterstock

The Pearl District, a vibrant urban village just north of downtown San Antonio, offers a perfect blend of history, culinary delights, and modern attractions. Once home to the iconic Pearl Brewery, this 22-acre complex has been transformed into a thriving mixed-use space that celebrates San Antonio's rich cultural heritage.

At the heart of the Pearl District is the historic Pearl Brewery building, now repurposed into Hotel Emma, a luxurious 5-star hotel. The hotel offers public tours, allowing visitors to explore its unique spaces and learn about the building's fascinating history. For a truly immersive experience, consider staying overnight to fully appreciate the hotel's blend of industrial chic and modern comfort.

Food enthusiasts will find paradise in the Pearl's culinary scene. The district is home to numerous acclaimed restaurants, many helmed by award-winning chefs. Don't miss the Pearl Farmers Market, held year-round on Saturdays and Sundays, where local farmers and artisans showcase fresh produce, artisanal foods, and handcrafted goods.

For those seeking a more active experience, join the free 'Cycle In & Out' yoga class held on Saturday mornings. This unique offering combines cycling and yoga, providing a refreshing start to your weekend exploration of the Pearl.

As you wander through the district, you'll discover an array of boutique shops and local businesses, each offering a distinct taste of San Antonio's creative spirit. From handmade jewelry to locally designed clothing, the Pearl is a treasure trove for shoppers seeking unique finds.


11 Experience the River Walk at night

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

As the sun sets, the San Antonio River Walk transforms into a magical wonderland, offering a completely different atmosphere from its daytime persona. Over 200,000 twinkling lights illuminate the riverbanks during the holiday season, creating a mesmerizing display that reflects off the water's surface. This enchanting ambiance makes for a perfect romantic stroll or a festive family outing.

For a unique evening experience, don't miss The Saga, a free video art installation projected onto the façade of San Fernando Cathedral. This captivating show runs Tuesday through Sunday nights, bringing the city's rich history to life through vibrant visuals and music.

Evening entertainment options abound along the River Walk. Consider taking a night tour with Rio San Antonio Cruises, which offers discounted rates after 6 PM. These tours provide a relaxing way to see the illuminated riverbanks and learn about the area's history and landmarks.

As you explore, be sure to follow some basic safety tips: stick to well-lit areas, stay aware of your surroundings, and consider exploring in groups. Many restaurants and bars along the River Walk offer outdoor seating, allowing you to enjoy the nighttime ambiance while dining or sipping on a cocktail.

The River Walk at night offers a perfect blend of romance, culture, and entertainment, making it an essential experience for any San Antonio visitor.


12 Participate in a scavenger hunt

Park in San Antonio, Texas Park in San Antonio, Texas

Participating in a scavenger hunt is an exciting way to explore the San Antonio River Walk while uncovering hidden gems and learning about its rich history. Several organized options are available, offering a fun and interactive experience for visitors of all ages.

Let's Roam, a popular scavenger hunt company provides a smartphone-guided tour of River Walk highlights. This self-paced adventure takes you to iconic locations while solving clues and completing challenges along the way. It's an excellent option for those who prefer a structured yet flexible experience.

For history enthusiasts, the "World Heritage Trail" app offers a self-guided tour of the San Antonio Missions. This digital scavenger hunt combines education with exploration, allowing you to discover the area's UNESCO World Heritage sites at your own pace.

If you prefer a more personalized experience, consider creating your own hunt. A creative suggestion is to look for all 33 decorative tiles along the River Walk. These beautiful artworks illustrate various aspects of San Antonio's history, providing an engaging way to learn about the city's past while enjoying a leisurely stroll.

For tech-savvy visitors, numerous smartphone apps offer customizable scavenger hunt experiences. These apps often include GPS tracking, photo challenges, and trivia questions, adding an extra layer of excitement to your River Walk exploration.

Participating in a scavenger hunt not only provides entertainment but also encourages closer observation of your surroundings, helping you notice details you might otherwise miss. Whether you choose an organized hunt or create your own, this activity offers a unique and memorable way to experience the San Antonio River Walk.


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