San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown Reach – What to See and Do

I always feel full of joy and peace anywhere near water. For me, that is especially true on the magical San Antonio Riverwalk. It is easy to see why the Riverwalk is the most popular attraction in Texas. People plan entire trips to San Antonio around the Downtown Reach of the Riverwalk! Although there is more to the Riverwalk than Downtown, that’s what we will explore in this post.

two photos of the Riverwalk with text overlay: San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown Reach

The Riverwalk, also called the River Walk, or in Spanish Paseo del Rio, is a 15-mile long series of lushly landscaped walkways in San Antonio along the San Antonio River. Five miles of those walkways wind their way through what is known as the Downtown Reach.

The Downtown Reach is what most people think of when they hear Riverwalk in San Antonio. It is what I used to think of also because that’s what you always see in tourist promotions. However, there is also the Mission Reach and the Museum Reach, topics for other posts.

The Downtown Reach is what most people think of when they hear Riverwalk in San Antonio. Share on X

What to do on the San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown Reach

Take the River Cruise

In my opinion, the absolute best thing to do on the Riverwalk is to take the river cruise. GoRio Cruises does an awesome job. You will get an overview of the layout of the river and learn so much about its history as well as some San Antonio history. It will whet your appetite for other things you’ll want to explore in more detail.

In my opinion, the absolute best thing to do on the Riverwalk is to take the river cruise. Share on X

Reservations aren’t needed and there are three places along the Riverwalk to purchase tickets. The boats operate from noon to 10pm every day.

In the past, there has also been a river taxi/shuttle but it has not resumed operation since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Esquire Tavern

At the end of your cruise on the river, you disembark at the Esquire Tavern, just a few short steps from where you boarded. Here you can get a drink in the oldest bar on the river. Esquire Tavern was built in 1933 to mark the end of Prohibition. Its 100-foot long bar is claimed to be the longest wooden bar in Texas. You can enjoy a cocktail on the balcony with a view of the river. I haven’t eaten there but the food is reported to be quite good.

Have a Meal on the Riverwalk

There are so many restaurants on the Riverwalk, all with amazing ambience, that you just can’t visit without enjoying a meal there. On my last trip there, I made a special trip back from exploring downtown around the Alamo to have dinner. No matter what you are in the mood for or what your budget is, you’ll find something that fits your wants and needs.

Tex-Mex (is it Tex-Mex or Mexican?) is a very popular cuisine on the river. You’ve probably seen pictures of the brightly colored umbrellas at Casa Rio, which is the oldest restaurant on the river. On my first visit to the Riverwalk, I ate at Iron Cactus, which is, I would call, upscale Tex-Mex and was delicious. There are several other Tex-Mex restaurants on the river.

If Tex-Mex is not your thing, no worries. There is pretty much every other cuisine, including Italian, French, German, steakhouses, seafood, Asian fusion, British pubs, delis, pizza, casual American fare and probably more. If I’ve forgotten anything, I’m sure you get the idea. There’s anything you could possibly want all within a short walk.

I’ve read that many restaurants have dinner cruises on the river, something I would love to do. I believe they are still operating for private groups but the community dining cruises have not resumed since the start of the pandemic. Therefore, I may have to wait a while for this! It will definitely be on my list for a future visit to the San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown Reach.

photos of brightly colored umbrellas, restaurant view down the Riverwalk and a margarita with text overlay: San Antonio Riverwalk Vast range of cuisines available in the Downtown Reach

Relax and People Watch on the Riverwalk

People watching in the city’s largest urban park can be quite fascinating. With more than 14 million visitors a year, there is always something interesting to see. If people watching is not your thing, just sit and relax while you admire the gorgeous, lush landscaping and listen to the birds.

photo of trees, flowers and view down the Riverwalk with text overlay: San Antonio Riverwalk Lush landscaping at every turn in the Downtown Reach

Shop for…

Shopping opportunities abound at both Shops at the Rivercenter (mall) as well as small shops and boutiques. You can find anything from designer goods to handcrafted items at La Villita Historic Arts Village.

Get Married on the Riverwalk!

Yes, you can get married on the Riverwalk. I’ve seen a couple of ceremonies taking place as I passed by on the river cruise. Marriage Island is heart-shaped and said to bring good luck to those taking their vows there. It is a unique place for a small, intimate ceremony.

Wedding ceremony on Marriage Island on the San Antonio Riverwalk

The San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown Reach after Dark

Even after two visits to the amazing Riverwalk, the river after dark is something I still want to experience. How can pictures, as beautiful as they might be, do the magic of all the lights reflecting off the river at night justice? I’m sure the Riverwalk has a totally different vibe after dark.

If you are in San Antonio during the holiday season, the Riverwalk is all decked out it millions of lights. It looks spectacular in photos.

The Details

The Riverwalk is an urban park and is free to enter. It is one level below street level and accessible by stairs and elevators. Entry into the Downtown Reach is open 24 hours and you can walk along it any time, day or night. Most of the restaurants close around 10 pm and the bars at 2am.

Entry into the Downtown Reach is open 24 hours and you can walk along it any time, day or night. Share on X

The Riverwalk has an open container policy. Watching people leave a walk-up bar and walk around with their drink totally took me by surprise on my first visit.

There are many bridges crossing over the river so you can easily get to businesses on either side.

Dogs on a leash are welcome on the Riverwalk as are strollers. Wheelchairs and strollers can access the Riverwalk by elevator.

There are no railings along the water so be mindful when you or children are near the edge.

If you are visiting during the day, the hop-on hop-off bus is the most convenient way to get around. The bus stops running at 5:30 so if you plan to be on the Riverwalk after that, you will need to find parking nearby.

Google map of the San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown ReachParking is a little pricey in San Antonio ($20-$25 for the day average) but there are quite a few lots near the Riverwalk. Some have better reviews than others so you might want to research them in advance.

Parking locations near the San Antonio Riverwalk

My Final Thoughts on the San Antonio Riverwalk Downtown Reach

San Antonio is one of my favorite places and I can’t recommend it enough. I’m not a fan of big cities but there is so much to see and do there that I can overlook the traffic and sometimes a lot of people. There’s history, art, museums, theater, delicious food, shopping, amazing views, natural wonders and so much more to explore.

The San Antonio Riverwalk, especially the Downtown Reach, is a must visit. It's a delight for all the senses. Share on X

The San Antonio Riverwalk, especially the Downtown Reach, is a must visit. It includes most of those things all in one spot! It’s a delight for all the senses.

Until next time…

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  1. I absolutely enjoyed my time in the San Antonio Riverwalk area. I stayed in a nearby hotel and walked to this area daily while attending a medical conference I presented at. For the able-bodied, there were many places to walk to that I did not bother to rent a car for my entire stay.

    • Staying in a nearby hotel and being able to walk there every day would be amazing. Walking to nearby attractions gives you an opportunity to see so much of downtown.

  2. 15 miles of river walks sounds good – even if it is through a city!

  3. A great introduction to a place I’d not heard of before – and you’ve made it sound wonderful!

  4. Very nice post about one of my favorite places in my home state of Texas!

  5. I visited the Riverwalk a few times and loved it as well. I didn’t know about the Mission or Museum section. I look forward to hearing about those. Thanks for sharing all your tips.

    • Museums are usually high on my list of places to visit but I have to admit I haven’t been to a single one in the Museum Reach yet. One more reason to return to San Antonio.

  6. We loved Esquire Tavern, such a historic place and they had the best fried pickles I’ve ever eaten! Thanks for the walk down memory lane–the Riverwalk is a cool place.

  7. San Antonio looks like an awesome place to visit! Thanks for the useful tips and great pictures!

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  10. We absolutely love the Riverwalk! Staying at one of the hotels on the river is a great option in San Antonio, so you can enjoy walking the river in the early morning, and at night – our two favorite times there. Taking the cruise at night is great, too. But the best time to see it may be at Christmas – it’s gorgeous!

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