San Antonio is one of the most historic cities in the United States, having been founded in 1718 when a Spanish expedition established the Mission San Antonio de Valero, now known as the Alamo. Soon after, a presidio (Spanish fort) named San Antonio de Bexar was established nearby and became the foundation of the city of San Antonio. The settlement served as the seat of the Spanish government in Texas until Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, and at that time San Antonio was home to about 2,500 residents. Today, San Antonio boasts a population of over 1.5 million making it the seventh largest city in the U.S.
While San Antonio has grown by leaps and bounds, the modern city has managed to hold on to its roots. The culture, the history…it’s all still there, and San Antonio’s residents are proud to share it with their visitors. The River Walk is a great place to begin a tour of San Antonio, and what makes it even better is staying a few nights at one of the beautiful hotels right on the river.
A cruise on the San Antonio River is a must, especially for first time visitors who want to get an insider’s view of what the River Walk has to offer. The typical cruise will take about 35 minutes. General admission for narrated cruises cost $13.50 for adults and $7.50 for children. Shuttle boats, which are used to get up and down the 15-mile-long River Walk, cost $20.00 for a one-day pass, and multiple-day options are also available.
Museums, shopping, live entertainment, beautiful hotels, and upscale as well as funky bars can all be found on the San Antonio River Walk. Then there’s the outstanding food! Of course, everyone’s favorite in San Antonio is Mexican food, and there is plenty of that to go around.
There’s something special about sitting outside in the festive atmosphere while enjoying a cold drink and watching the other tourists cruise leisurely by on the river boats. We can’t recall ever having a bad meal on the River Walk, and we’re particularly fond of Casa Rio for Mexican food. It’s pictured at the top of the post with the pretty umbrellas. If traditional American fare is what you’re craving, try Dick’s Last Resort. Touting themselves as the shame o’ the river, Dick’s serves up some pretty good “grub and brews” by the rudest servers you’ll ever encounter. They’re a chain, rudeness is their schtick, and eating there can be a hilarious experience.
See an interesting timeline about the development of the San Antonio River Walk here: https://www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/about/our-history/
We love San Antonio any time of the year, but spring is our favorite time to visit. (That’s probably because we went there together in the spring for the first time when we were teenagers.) Summer temperatures can get pretty high, but the mild fall weather can be very nice. We’ve also visited there in December, and even then, the weather was comfortable for sitting outside.
Nightlife abounds on the River Walk too. From laid-back dive bars to the rowdier dance halls as well as English and Irish pubs, everyone will find a place to eat, drink, and dance the night away. People ask if it’s safe, and we say yes – with some conditions. First and foremost, travelers should always be aware of their surroundings no matter where they are. While we feel safe on the River Walk at night (we have seen police officers patrolling on bikes and boats as well as on foot – day and night), we would not venture into darkened or unpopulated parts of the walk or any parts of the downtown area at night.
The pretty bridges, the peaceful green-hued water, and the lush trees and plants make this the ideal place for a stroll anytime – day or night. Pop into the shops at Rivercenter, visit an art museum, stop in at one of the bodegas, browse the street vendors’ wares, and check out the restaurants’ menus, most of which are posted on the patios or entrances. Warning: it is very difficult to choose just one place to eat or just one souvenir!
Did you know that San Antonio was the site of a World’s Fair? HemisFair ’68 was held from April to October 1968, and today visitors can still visit HemisFair park which is just a short walk from the River Walk. The iconic, 750-foot Tower of the Americas is still a thrill for visitors who want to ride the elevator to the rotating restaurant at the top for great food and great views. The park also has a playground and splash pad for the kids, giant chess and checker boards, as well as flowing water features, fountains, walking paths, and green spaces. The park, a designated San Antonio Historic District, is also home to several State Archaeological Landmark buildings, and the Tower of the Americas has been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
Wondering what’s near the River Walk for kids to do? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered:
- Eat a great meal (they have a kid’s menu) and play arcade games at Dave & Buster’s – on the River Walk at Rivercenter
- Have some fun building something and riding the rides at Legoland Discovery Center – on the River Walk at Rivercenter
- Spend an afternoon at HemisFair Park’s amazing playground, giant sandbox, and splash pad – 0.9 miles
- See what’s in the sea at Sea Life San Antonio Aquarium which is located close to HemisFair Park – 1.2 miles
- Check out the hands-on interactive exhibits at the DoSeum – 2.8 miles
Other exciting San Antonio attractions for the entire family:
- Get up close and personal with animals at the San Antonio Zoo – 4.5 miles
- Extend your animal adventures to Seaworld with its sea life exhibits and Aquatica water park all in one place – 20 miles
- Enjoy the thrills at Six Flags Fiesta Texas amusement park – 23 miles
In addition to the attractions we’ve listed, there are numerous cultural, historical, and art museums in San Antonio. Many public art installations can be found around town too, such as the La Antorcha de la Amistad (Torch of Friendship) by Mexican artist Sebastian. The 65-foot, lipstick red sculpture was a gift to the City of San Antonio by the Mexican government in 2002 and represents two cultures and languages merging together as one. The sculpture is hard to miss in the heart of downtown, and glimpses of it can be seen from the River Walk.
If outdoor sports are your thing, there are several highly rated public golf courses in San Antonio. Fishing, swimming, and boating can be found at beautiful Canyon Lake located 1 hour north of the city. The San Antonio Spurs NBA team as well and a handful of other semi-professional and college sports teams provide plenty of excitement for sports fans. San Antonio also boasts botanical gardens, historic residential districts, historic churches and other historic buildings, as well as a market district. The UNESCO World Heritage Site: San Antonio Missions Historical Park is a national park site that should not be missed.
Read our post about the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the Alamo here: https://oneforthemoneytwofortheroad.com/2022/06/01/san-antonio-missions/
As you can see, there truly is something for everyone in San Antonio. If you’ve never been there, we hope we have inspired you to visit, and if you have been there, go again! The city has so much history and culture to offer, and besides that, it’s just so much fun. Did we mention the food?
We’re going to close the post with some interesting facts about the San Antonio Express-News building which is located a couple of blocks from the River Walk.
Home to the San Antiono Express-News newspaper for more than 90 years, this beautiful Art Deco building was opened in 1929. The newspaper’s parent company, Hearst Corp., moved the newsroom and printing operation to other sites in 2020 and put this building on the market for sale. What intrigued us about the building was not just its historic beauty, but the bas-relief panel above the door. (What can we say…we love art!) It was sculpted by none other than Pompeo Coppini, the same artist who created the stunning Alamo Cenotaph. The carved stone panel (shown below) features images representing labor, education, enlightenment, truth, and justice. It is our understanding that in March 2022, the building was sold to a property development investment group from Austin. We will be anxious to see what they do with this fabulous property.
Thank you for joining us in San Antonio! Until the next trip…
Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.
Tower of the Americas and La Antorcha de la Amistad photos courtesy of Henry Becerra.