San Antonio Riverwalk

Photo of reflections in Riverwalk
The Riverwalk provides a peaceful setting in the heart of the city

For a wondrous tour through the heart of a city San Antonio’s Riverwalk is one of the best. You walk along the banks or float on the river 20-30 below street level and in a magical kingdom just barely aware of the world above. This watery kingdom has restaurants and shops, and connections to hotels that line the streets above. Bridges arch over the water to allow you to easily go from one side to the other, and bridges carry the streets over the water as well.

Photo of lights
At night you can see the lights along the river as well as on neighboring buildings

Though colorful during the day, at night and especially at Christmas trees lining the river add their own magic of colored lights that make them seem almost imaginary.

We spent part of the afternoon today walking along part of the Riverwalk and taking the half-hour boat tour. We returned again tonight so we could repeat the tour at night, but rain started soon after we arrived there and boat tours were stopped for the night. We did get to see at least a portion and get the flavor of the night lights, though.

Photo of restaurant along path
The banks have restaurants and shops along the path

We first saw Riverwalk in December 2006 as our RV tour took us through San Antonio. We were taken by the setting, the lights, and the experience, so we planned our route this year so that we could spend Christmas in San Antonio to experience it more.

San Antonio, the city, was built on the banks of the San Antonio River but, as with so many other cities so sited, the city was subjected to flooding and resulting damage. One such flooding in 1921 convinced some people that to protect the city the river had to be made into a storm drain and covered over. But not everyone agreed, and a Conservation Society tried to convince the city government to keep the river open instead. So, a flood control program was developed that instead used some dams and other works to contain the river and reduce or prevent flooding.

Photo of tour boat on Riverwalk
The tour boats provide a half-hour narrated exploration of the Riverwalk

Then in 1928 architect Robert Hugman presented a plan to the City for “The Shops of Romula and Aragon”. This plan endorsed the flood control efforts and proposed a system to regulate flows to maintain a constant level in the river and proposed development along the banks. It took a while for plans to be finalized, but by 1939 the project was started, with Hugman as the architect. As interest in the river setting increased more elaborate plans were developed and major improvements were undertaken in the 1960s.

Since then the Riverwalk system has been added to and enhanced. Extensions were made to serve the Hemisfair in 1968. Other bond issues have been passed over the years to continue improvements to the Riverwalk area.

When you enter the Riverwalk area you feel as though you are transported into an entirely different world entirely. City life hums along above, but you hardly notice the noise. This world seems closed in upon itself and it is easy to forget what is beyond it. Walkways follow almost continuously along each bank and there are numerous walkway bridges you can use to cross from one side to the other. The character of this linear world changes from one part to another as well. There is the glitzy Rivercenter shopping complex with its glass and reflective panels and the old stonework and trees in other parts. Some places are subdued with the grey of stone and the green of trees predominating, while others have bright and colorful awnings or umbrellas for sidewalk dining areas.

Access to the Riverwalk is easy. Every street bridge crossing the channel has steps connecting with the Riverwalk. There are also access points such as at La Villita, a small commercial area. And the hotels that line the channel all have direct access from their lobby areas with the Riverwalk. We parked in a parking garage, crossed the street and into the Westin Riverwalk hotel lobby, then took their elevator down to the River level.

Whether you are using the Riverwalk to get from one point of the city to another or are just strolling along the river to enjoy the setting, the Riverwalk environment will at momentarily change your heartbeat and quiet you. The effect is strong.

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