Sure, the Riverwalk is 100% a tourist destination in San Antonio. You could easily say it’s THE tourist destination. Afterall, the Riverwalk is where you’ll find the Alamo, historic Tex Mex restaurants, world-class museums, the San Fernando Cathedral, outdoor art, and miles and miles of biking and hiking trails. But despite the many (M-A-N-Y) tourist traps, there are some legitimately fun things to do on the Riverwalk.
Top 3 Things To Do On The Riverwalk
Read on to see a longer list of all 27 amazing things you can do on and around the riverwalk. But if you're in a hurry, here are the 3 top things to do on the Riverwalk:
1. Take a GoRIO River Cruise. These are those river barges you see floating around the river. They typically involve a knowledgable tour guide who will fill your head with facts about the Alamo city.
2. Eat at a riverwalk restaurant. Beware! There are lots of bad restaurants on the riverwalk. To keep from getting caught in a tourist trap, here are the very best restaurants on the riverwalk, as well as the best options for Tex Mex on the riverwalk.
3. Wander, shop, take it all in. You don't need to spend a lot of money to enjoy the ambiance! However, if you want to experience more of the delights on this beautiful part of San Antonio, read on.
Sections Of The San Antonio Riverwalk
Folks love the Riverwalk because it feels a bit like the Venice canals…just a bit more Texas-y. Actually, the first parade on the Riverwalk in 1936 was called “A Venetian Night.” Really!
There are three main sections of the Riverwalk: the Downtown Reach, Museum Reach, and Mission Reach.
1. Downtown Reach: this is the downtown loop, and it’s what most people think of when they mention the San Antonio Riverwalk.
This is where you’ll find the GoRio boat cruises, all the famous historic Tex Mex spots, the famous “Selena bridge,” and live mariachi bands. There’s a lot to do in the Downtown Reach!
Keep in mind that this is definitely the most touristy section, so it’s typically pretty crowded and expensive. If you’ve only ever visited Downtown Reach and never explored the other portions of the Riverwalk, you’ve gotta check them out. There’s so much more to the Riverwalk than just this downtown loop.
2. Museum Reach: a must-visit if you’re planning to see the San Antonio Riverwalk!
Museum Reach is my personal favorite part of the Riverwalk. Built in 2009, Museum Reach is 1.3 miles long. It stretches from Lexington Ave all the way up to the Pearl Brewery district.
And no, you don’t have to actually go inside any museums to enjoy it (although you could!). Museum Reach includes outdoor art like Carlos Cortés’s “The Grotto” and Donald Lipski’s “F.I.S.H.”
3. Mission Reach: a great option if you want to kayak in or bike along the San Antonio River.
Mission Reach is an 8 mile length of the river that starts downtown and extends south. Since this is such a large, spacious section, it’s typically the quietest way to enjoy the Riverwalk.
The hiking trail allows you to see 4 of the 5 missions (the 5th mission being The Alamo) along the Riverwalk.
For starters, here are a few insider tips for visiting the Riverwalk.
1. Choose the correct time to visit. I’ve had many friends tell me that they were severely underwhelmed by the Riverwalk. “It’s too crowded!” they’ll say. And when I ask when they stopped by, they’ll say on a Saturday night. Uh, yeah…that’s why it was crowded!
Unless you want shoulder-to-shoulder packed crowds, try to avoid the weekends. My favorite times to visit the Riverwalk are weekday mornings (it's so pretty in the cool spring months!) and, of course, weeknights during the month of December when the Riverwalk is all decked out for the holidays.
2. Know where to find the best restaurants on the Riverwalk. If you wait until you get there and just walk up to any random restaurant, you’ll most likely get overpriced “bleh” food.
Look through this map of the best local restaurants on the Riverwalk or this lovely guide to the best Tex Mex on the Riverwalk to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck!
3. Embrace the tourism aspect of the Riverwalk. I mean, it is what it is. The Riverwalk is kind of loud, a bit obnoxious, and definitely a tad crowded. But it’s actually very beautiful!
It’s loaded with history and culture, and there’s a reason why millions of people visit it every year. Just accept that it’s going to feel a bit touristy, and everything will go smoother. Mmmk?
A Quick (Fun!) History Lesson Of The Riverwalk
This will be brief! But it’s fun to know a bit about how the Riverwalk even got here!
Let’s go waaayyy way back at the beginning of time…. Ok, not really. Just back to the 1500s.
San Antonio River was first mentioned in the 1500s by a Spanish explorer. SO COOL! For hundreds and hundreds of years, people have recognized the beauty and power in this river.
For the next few centuries the San Antonio River was utilized as a water source for the various Missions in San Antonio. It’s no coincidence that you can now bike along the river trail and see all 5 missions near the water!
In more modern days, the Riverwalk was actually created as a flood management system in San Antonio in the 1900s. Yup! It’s here to save lives. Without it, downtown San Antonio would constantly be flooding.
In fact, in 1921 there was a tragic flood in San Antonio that killed about 50 people. In the late 1920s a guy named Robert H. H. Hugman had the idea for shops on the river, and the city liked the idea. Insert a few flood gates, dams, and decades of construction….and you get the Riverwalk you see today.
(This is obviously an oversimplified version of the Riverwalk’s rich history. It’s definitely worth digging into if you enjoy history, culture, engineering, and city planning!)
27 Things To Do On The Riverwalk
1. GoRio Boat Cruises
Are GoRioBoat Cruises actually fun? I vote YES! I think these are the types of things you’ll want to do one time (probably not over and over again), but if you’re new to San Antonio or you’re visiting with a small group of friends or a family, it’s a fun way to learn basic facts about the city and get to see the entire Riverwalk region without having to squeeze through crowds.
The guides are trained in all the San Antonio knowledge you might want to know, so you’ll have a bunch of SA trivia in your head by the end of the trip.
The narrated cruises on quiet electric boats are just 35 minutes. You won’t get bored because they’re short and to the point!
And then there are the river barges that simply act as transportation. You can get a 1-day or a 3-day pass that allows you to quickly move around the Riverwalk in a comfortable boat. I think this is worthwhile if you’re planning to stay in a hotel on the Riverwalk and you want to be able to access lots of different points quickly.
2. Eat Tex Mex on the Riverwalk
San Antonio culture literally IS Tex Mex, so you’ve gotta eat some amazing Tex Mex while you’re visiting the Riverwalk!
Full disclosure: most of the Tex Mex on the Riverwalk is absolute crap. I mean, I hate to say that, because there are some darling, historic restaurants that look like so much fun. But I’ve tried a bunch of them and been sorely underwhelmed with watery salsa, overcooked steak, and grocery store tortillas.
Cheers to excellent top-shelf margaritas, tableside guacamole, and fantastic fajitas with a view of the water. Eating (good) Tex-Mex is one of the best things to do on the Riverwalk.
3. Take A Picture At The “Selena Bridge”
If you’re visiting the Riverwalk in San Antonio, you’ve got to stop by the famous Selena Bridge. Fans of Selena Quintanilla know all about this bridge! It’s the famous bridge where the romantic scene in the “Selena” movie (starring J. Lo) was filmed.
It will probably be obvious when you find this bridge because it will be swarming with people taking photos and selfies, but in case you want an address, it’s located between N St Mary’s Street and Navarro St.
You can also just search for the “Iron Cactus” restaurant on the Riverwalk. The bridge is right by that restaurant.
Or, you can just dine at Iron Cactus and see the Selena Bridge while you enjoy your food! Iron Cactus is one of the best options for Tex Mex on the Riverwalk and the front patio offers a perfect view of the Selena Bridge.
4. Visit The Alamo
The historic Alamo mission is located just off the Riverwalk. You can easily squeeze in a visit at The Alamo during your time at the Riverwalk.
The Alamo was built by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 18th century, but it’s mostly remembered for the famous Battle at the Alamo when general Santa Anna’s army killed nearly all the occupants and reclaimed the Alamo. It’s quite the story, and a visit to the Alamo is a must for any San Antonio visitor. (However, there are 4 other missions in San Antonio that are worth visiting, too!)
Keep in mind that if you want to tour the Alamo, it’s completely free BUT you’ll need to make a reservation for a timed entry.
5. Go Shopping At The Shops At Rivercenter
If you’re visiting the Riverwalk on a hot, steamy August day and you need to escape the heat, duck inside Rivercenter Mall. It’s a nice place for air conditioning and retail therapy!
The Shops at Rivercenter include 100 retail stores, 14 restaurants, an IMAX theater, LegoLand Discovery Center, SeaLife, and (did we mention this yet?) AIR CONDITIONING! Yes. Yes yes yes. When you’re dripping sweat on a 106-degree day, that AC at the mall feels amazing.
6. Visit the Briscoe Western Art Museum
The Briscoe is located just one street away from the Riverwalk, and it’s a beautiful museum in San Antonio! The Briscoe explores the art and artifacts that helped shape the West into what it is today.
General Admission is pretty reasonably priced, but locals can take advantage of FREE days on certain times of the month. Check out their website for more information.
7. Get A Scoop at Mr. Ice Cream
This retro ice cream parlor is the perfect place to enjoy a break from the crowds and get a sweet treat! They have dozens of flavors of Bluebell Ice Cream (a favorite brand here in Texas) waffle cones, sundaes, and shakes.
6. Grab Drinks at Esquire, The Oldest Bar On The Riverwalk
Not only is Esquire home to the longest wooden bar top in the state of Texas (it literally goes the entire length of the long, skinny bar!), but it’s also the oldest bar on the Riverwalk. It opened in 1933 to celebrate the end of prohibition.
Esquire is dark, sultry, and moody. It’s a great spot to drop in during the evening hours, but I also find it kind of fun during the middle of the day because it’s so dark and cool in there.
They have a nice list of classic cocktails like a Moscow Mule, Old Fashioned, and a classic Pimm’s Cup. But their happy hour is where it’s at! From 2-5 pm on Mon-Fri you can enjoy $5 beers, $8 happy hour cocktails, and $9 glasses of wine.
9. Head North To The Pearl District
Did you know that the Pearl District is located on the Riverwalk? It’s at the north of Museum Reach (away from the main portion that most people think of when they’re talking about the Riverwalk) so it’s away from the Riverwalk crowds.
The Pearl is honestly a full experience all on its own. But if you want to dine near the Riverwalk but AWAY from the tourists, be sure to snag a reservation at Supper. And if you want to look at some of the best restaurants at The Pearl, here’s a guide!
10. Amerson River Theatre
This historic theatre located at the La Villita Arts Village is a sweet spot to stop by and watch a live performance on the Riverwalk.
Every weekend, the Fiesta Noche del Rio performs an iconic cultural performance at the Amerson that’s not to be missed!
11. La Villita Historic Village
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, La Villita is an artisan village that originally served as San Antonio’s first neighborhood! Yup, these little stone houses were where European immigrants from Germany and France lived, and it’s now a charming art village near the Riverwalk.
You can stop by to stroll through the plaza and courtyards, shop for artisan goods, and dine at Little Rhein Prost Haus, a nod to the German settlers from back in the day, or Guadalajara Grill.
La Villita is just a short walk from the water, and it’s definitely worth the visit! This is one of my top picks for things to do on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.
12. Get Photos Of The Famous Casa Rio Umbrellas
Most online guides to the best things to do on the Riverwalk will tell you to eat at Casa Rio…but I love and respect you and I don’t want you to waste your money. Full disclosure: the food at Casa Rio is VERY lackluster.
However, the umbrellas outside Casa Rio are pretty iconic. You’ve probably already seen photos of them without knowing it! Pretty much every pamphlet or advertisement for San Antonio has a photo of them.
It’s fun to stop by and take a photo of these umbrellas! I don’t recommend the food at Casa Rio, though. If you want to find the best options for Tex Mex food on the Riverwalk, go to one of these spots.
13. Visit The Riverwalk During The Holidays!
This is TRULY the most magical time of the year at the Riverwalk! It’s all lit up and sparkly, holiday music is playing over the water, and the river barges are twinkling with lights.
Keep an eye out for special holiday events, parades, and performances.
Honestly, this is the one time of the year when I don’t mind the crowds on the Riverwalk because everyone is so holly-jolly and having a grand time.
If you want to get in the holiday spirit, stop by the Riverwalk during the month of December, enjoy a special holiday cocktail, and soak up the holiday vibes.
14. Check Out The Historic Aztec Theatre
Built in 1926, Aztec Theatre was originally THE movie theater destination in San Antonio. It’s now used for all sorts of concerts, shows, and entertainment, and it’s located right across the street from the Riverwalk.
104 N St Mary's St, San Antonio, TX 78205
15. See The Grotto
The Grotto, an art installation and artificial cave by Carlos Cortés, is a really cool thing to see on the Riverwalk. It’s part of the Museum Reach, the 1.3-mile portion of the Riverwalk that extends north of downtown.
The Grotto is this really cool 3-story sculpture that will instantly draw you in. You can walk through the middle of it and experience the waterfall from the inside. There are even sculpted stalactites and stalagmites in there!
While you probably won’t spend more than about 10 minutes looking at it, The Grotto is a must-see on the San Antonio Riverwalk and a fun destination if you’re going on a walk at the water’s edge.
16. Bike The Mission Trail
If you’re looking for active things to do on the Riverwalk and you’re up for a bit of a challenge, biking the Mission Trail is a fun bucket list item in San Antonio.
The Mission Reach of the trail extends about 8 miles south, and there are hiking and biking trails along the water.
You can see 4 of the 5 San Antonio Missions along this trail (the 5th mission is the Alamo, which is located at the Downtown Reach of the Riverwalk.) The missions aren’t all exactly ON the water, but they’re all within a very short walk from the water’s edge. After all, this river is what sustained these missions back in the day!
17. Enjoy Cocktails at Ácenar
Looking for the best cocktails on the Riverwalk? My personal favorite place to get an excellent margarita is at Ácenar. It’s an excellent Mexican restaurant that has patio dining and river views, and it’s elevated slightly above the pedestrian walkway so you don’t have to worry about people walking inches away from you.
Ácenar also has happy hour specials from 2-5 pm Sunday - Thursday!
18. Visit Museum Reach On The Riverwalk
Don’t get stuck at the downtown portion of the Riverwalk. Be sure to check out Museum Reach!
It took me way too long to get to this part of the Riverwalk because I assumed it was just the part you visit if you plan to go inside the museums.
But you don’t need to actually go inside any of the museums to enjoy Museum Reach! (For the record, there are some excellent museums in San Antonio along Museum Reach that you should totally visit.)
Museum Reach is home to more than 70,000 native plants. Just walking these trails and enjoying the public park is worthwhile.
But there are also numerous outdoor art installations. No need to research ahead of time or go searching for them…just wander the Riverwalk and you’ll see them in plain sight!
19. Watch the Texas Cavaliers River Parade In April During Fiesta!
Planning to be in San Antonio during Fiesta? You have to make it to the Riverwalk for the Texas Cavaliers River Parade! It happens every year in the third week of April.
A typical parade goes down a street, but a river parade passes through (you guessed it!) the San Antonio River! Folks line the edges of the Riverwalk and the bridges above and cheer and clap for the bright, vibrant colors, river barges, and exciting music that occurs during the 2-hour extravaganza.
20. Love Lock Bridge
Most cities have their own version of a lock bridge, and San Antonio is no exception. For those looking for memorable things to do on the Riverwalk, visit the Love Lock Bridge.
The bridge is located near the Bexar County Marriage Liscense Office, so couples will often go to the bridge right after getting officially married and “lock in their love” with a lock on the bridge.
It’s a beautiful place to visit!
126 Main Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205
21. Visit A Spa On The Riverwalk
There are a few good spas located on the San Antonio Riverwalk. If you’ve been feeling some tension and need a massage, or you just want to treat yourself to a facial or a deluxe manicure, book an appointment at Mokara Spa at the Omni, or the Spa at Hotel Contessa.
22. Stay In A Beautiful Hotel
The Thompson Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel that’s new in San Antonio. It has some excellent restaurants, including a rooftop lounge, a poolside restaurant, and a meat-forward restaurant from James Beard Award finalist San Antonio Chef Steve McHugh.
Hotel Havana is a Cuban-inspired hotel that was originally opened in 1914 to evoke a tropical Mediterranean feel in the heart of the city. It was reopened in 2010 by the Bunkhouse Group and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
And, of course, if you want to stay in the heart of the Downtown Reach portion of the Riverwalk, the Omni La Mansion Del Rio is pretty much impossible to beat. Built in 1852, this luxurious hotel features an open-air Spanish courtyard, exposed beams, and some of the best river views you’ll find from any hotel.
23. Admire The Natural Beauty
It’s no wonder why the Riverwalk has been called “The Venice of Texas.” With exquisite arched bridges, flowing water, historic stonework, and native plants, this San Antonio gem truly is a natural beauty.
You could easily fill a couple hours of time by simply wandering around the Riverwalk and soaking in the sights.
24. Blue Star Arts Complex
This is San Antonio’s longest-running art space, complete with restaurants, shops, and galleries…and it’s located on the Riverwalk! You’ll have to walk about 25 minutes south of the Downtown Reach, but you can walk directly along the water all the way to Blue Star.
Once you’re there, be sure to grab a flight of beer at Blue Star Brewing Co., one of the best craft breweries in San Antonio, or enjoy some pizza at Stella Public House, an essential San Antonio pizza restaurant.
25. Espada Aqueduct
When was the last time you went to see an ancient irrigation system?! This one was built in 1731 by the Spaniards who inhabited Mission Espada. It’s quite a feat of engineering! They successfully maneuvered the water to be used for crops in the farmland.
The coolest thing about this aqueduct? You can still see it today, 300 years later!
The Spanish settlers quickly figured out that rainfall in (what is now) south Texas is inconsistent and water flow needs to be managed. This is how they did it.
26. Kayak In The River
It is SO MUCH FUN to take a kayak out on the water on a beautiful Texas day, which is why kayaking is one of the best things to do at the San Antonio Riverwalk!
There are designated areas where you can bring your non-motorized boats in the water. (Note: you can’t kayak in the downtown Reach…that’s where the GoRio Cruises belong!)
There are miles and miles of long stretches of the Riverwalk that are open to kayakers. Whether you want a long, strenuous workout, or you just want to enjoy a few leisurely minutes on the water, kayaking in the river is one of the most unique and memorable things to do on the Riverwalk.
27. People Watch And Enjoy The Energy!
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that the Riverwalk is swarming with people and energy. Whenever you find a crowd of people, there’s sure to be a few characters around. 😉
Whether you want to find a free spot to sit for a while (there are plenty of benches lining the Riverwalk) or you want to spend some money and enjoy a margarita and some chips & queso at a Tex-Mex restaurant on the Riverwalk, finding a place to sit and “people watch” for a few minutes is a surprisingly fun thing to do on the Riverwalk.
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