Well, phooey. We missed the river draining and Mud Festival!
Just kidding. We saw this very beautiful U-shaped (or
"horseshoe") section of the San Antonio River at "full pond" and
it is magnificent indeed what the city has done to draw folks to
its downtown area. I wish Roanoke would do something like this
with the unruly river that flows through the city; we do have a
nice greenway along six miles of it, so I suppose I should be
happy with that.
After reading about River Walk and seeing photos of the lush
tropical foliage and interesting shops along its 2½-mile
length, the attraction was on my list of Definite Things
To Do in San Antonio.
An idyllic scene from San Antonio's
beautiful River Walk
It was even better than I expected!
The concept is very cool. The city "turned its lemon into
lemonade." A major problem became one of San Antonio's major
As rivers are wont to do, the San Antonio River used to flood
parts of the city. In 1921 a major overflow wreaked havoc,
killing fifty people and causing millions of dollars in damage.
It took some time and a bunch of money to come up with the
brilliant solution of digging a U-shaped bypass channel,
constructing two dams, putting in beautiful landscape features,
building interesting shops, hotels, and restaurants along the channel,
and adding a meandering footpath . . .
. . . but when they were finally done, the city had a
gorgeous shopping district in a park-like setting that is a real
treasure. And it's right smack-dab in downtown San Antonio,
drawing people like a magnet.
The water in
the dammed River Walk section is not very deep. I think our riverboat
captain said the water is only about three feet deep, which is
good in case a tourist falls in! The flow is not as fast as in
the main channel, either, and gunk settles on the bottom. So do
other interesting items, reportedly. They don't want that to
accumulate and become unsightly. In addition to continual
clean-up efforts (we could see some of that work being done), a
unique dam-and-door system is used to drain the River Walk
portion of the river the first week of every January. What's
left is MUD.
And this enterprising city has found a way to turn THAT "lemon"
into "lemonade," too: the Mud Festival. (San Antonio has
lots of festivals.) There is an arts and crafts show, Mud
Pie Ball, Mud Parade, and crowning of a Mud King and Queen,
titles bestowed upon the man and woman who raise the most money
for the River Walk Association.
Sounds like fun, but I'm glad that we got to see River Walk at
normal flow. What we failed to do was take a stroll after dark,
when the lighting is supposed to be very pretty. Next time.
(There will definitely be a next time here.)
COME STROLL WITH US
We were able to find a parking spot at Alamo and Market streets,
less than a block from the entrance to River Walk that faces
Rio, the first restaurant built along the river. (Before we left
we ate lunch
at one of those tables in the photo below.) We put two
hours' worth of coins in the meter and could have spent much
more time than that along the River Walk.
We descended the stairs to the river and followed the tree-lined
path clockwise around the southern and western part of the
U-shaped route to the main channel of the river, climbed up to a
street to the other side, went back down to river level, and walked back toward Casa Rio the
same way we'd come, but on the other side of the river. This was
less than half the total distance of the "horseshoe."
The walkway is right at water's edge much of the time. I know
how to swim and I know the channel isn't very deep, but I was
still careful to avoid getting too close to the
edge when taking photos and dodging other foot traffic. I wonder how
many drunks or victims of pranksters end up getting soaked??
Note how close the people on the left (photo below) are to the
I was surprised how many people were there on a weekday morning
in January! I'm guessing it's very busy on weekends, especially
in warmer months. Keep that in mind if you plan a visit here.
With all the hotels, this also appears to be a major convention
and/or tourist center.
Casa Rio Mexican Restaurant, the first
establishment built along River Walk.
The proprietors used to run a gondola
service from here, too.
I was captivated by the interesting shops, restaurants, and
hotels at water's edge, the colorful landscaping with lots of
shrubs and flowers, the huge old cypress and cottonwood trees,
the romantic arched bridges that allow visitors to go from one
side of the river to the other, even the designs in the
pavement (like the stars, below). There is a lot to see and many places to stop.
Around one bend we noticed the interesting Arneson Outdoor
Theatre. The stage is on the right in the first photo below, and
a close-up is below that. There are tiers of seats for the
audience on the other side of the river (on the left side of the
Arneson River Theatre (above right, and
Mexican folk dances, opera, flamenco, and other musical events
are performed here in the summer. Passing riverboats add to the
ambience during the shows.
Also up the steps to the left (two photos up) is a unique shopping
area called La Villita.
We saw this attractive tile sign for La Villita in the marble
wall along River Walk but didn't take time to go up to see any
of the shops.
We're not real big on
I'd probably enjoy seeing the architecture in La Villita, however,
so it's on my list of Things to Do Next Time. It's the
oldest residential area in San Antonio. Its adobe buildings
have been restored and converted into art galleries and shops.
There is also a museum of early American culture.
We noticed another interesting tile plaque on the other side of
While we were walking we could hear the various flat-boat river
guides talking about the history of this building and that, and
decided it would be nice to take a boat tour so we could learn
more about what we were seeing.
Not only was our boat tour
educational, but the entertainment value alone was worth
the cost of the tickets! Our guide (below) was pretty comical and worked
hard for his tips. He probably gets tired of the same stand-up
routine umpteen times a day, but it was new to us and the other
We paid $5 each for tickets for the 30-minute tour. That is the
military or over-60 price. Regular fare is $7.75. What's ironic
is that the woman in the ticket booth was the ONLY person on
this trip who noticed that my military ID card had expired a few
weeks ago -- not the eagle-eyes at White Sands Missile Range,
nor the easy-going guards at Fort Sam who checked us in once or
twice a day for over a week. I had to dicker with the
ticket lady for a while to get my discount, but she finally saw
it my way.
We thoroughly enjoyed the boat ride and recommend it to others.
Our guide pointed out things we'd either missed on our walk or
didn't know the relevance or history of what we'd seen. For
example, he showed us a spot along the river where many couples
get married. He showed us where the doors drop to close off the
main river when the shallow channels are drained, stopping the
boat right under the location where the guillotine-like doors
He also pointed out this optical illusion, where
the building looks like it's only 2-D and not 3-D:
next entry I'll have a close-up
of the decorative tiles and paintings on the façade
More photos while we rode the boat:
One of several arched pedestrian bridges
linking the paths on both sides of the river
saw about two-thirds of the River Walk for the first time in the boat. I took
mental note of places to which I wanted to return on foot when we
got off the boat, such as the interesting little waterfall going under
the sidewalk in the photos above and below, and the beautiful deep pink
flowers on the tree:
Waterfall flowing under the walkway, above;
close-up of the flowering tree, below:
I hated to see the boat tour end as we returned to the dock past
Casa Rio's colorful tables:
We had time after the tour to walk most of
the rest of the way so we could get some ice cream, take more
photos (see duck below), and see some things more closely (like the 300-year-old
cypress tree the guide pointed out -- it's amazing how many huge, old trees are
in this city).
There is another spur off the main River Walk "horseshoe" that
runs between Commerce and Market Streets to Rivercenter, a huge
high-rise complex of glass and steel. The river guides take
passengers to this area, too:
We got our
initial view of River Walk here on our first day downtown. It was
raining and we decided to see a movie at the IMAX theatre in
Rivercenter. While we killed time waiting for the movie to start, we
wandered past stores on the upper floors of the "mall" building and noticed the
canal down below:
Intrigued, we went down to water level and walked around just a
bit in a light drizzle before going back inside for the movie. Seeing
that little part of River Walk made me eager to see the rest of
I was happy to wait for a dry day for a longer walk..
We dislike shopping in general and malls in particular, but Rivercenter is
pretty cool. We ended up seeing two movies that day (the second
one was free because of minor technical difficulties with the
first show) and returned for a third movie at half-price on another day.
Parking is free with a validated IMAX ticket.
The movie we saw first was "Alamo . . . the Price of
Freedom." It was good to view that before we toured
Alamo a few days later (the 18th-century Alamo is only a
block from the thoroughly modern, gleaming Rivercenter complex).
From the movie "Alamo . . . the Price of
Freedom" (courtesy Rivercenter's IMAX
For our free IMAX movie, we chose "Lewis and Clark:
Great Journey West," which was also interesting The
half-price show we saw on another day was "Deep Sea 3-D."
It was fun to try to "catch" the fish in front of our noses! We
rarely go to regular movie houses because of the hassle, noisy
people, and cost, so this was a real treat for us. The theatre
was virtually empty on the weekdays we attended, we saw three
shows for very little money, and huge IMAX screens are always
magnificent (this one is six stories high).
TIPS FOR VISITING SAN ANTONIO
For folks who purposely live in a rural area and love to run and
remote forests and mountains, we sure do enjoy visiting
cities on occasion!
Some of the shops along River Walk near
Alamo and Market Streets
Not just any city, though. We have our own varied criteria
(history, scenery, architecture, fun things to do, ethnic
restaurants, reasonable costs, ease of driving around, etc.). YMMV. San Antonio
isn't quite up there (on our list) with cities like San
Francisco and Washington, DC, for example, but we've really been
enjoying it. I've only begun to describe what we've seen here --
there will be four more entries about San Antonio, and that's
just scratching the surface of what you can do and see here.
We think this is a good time to visit -- in the winter months
when it is cooler (60s and 70s) and not real crowded. Numerous
special cultural and sporting events are scheduled
throughout the year, however.
River Walk looks like a tropical
paradise even in January
There are many ways to tour the city's famous
attractions and historic residential areas. We chose to either
drive or walk to see most things, but there are also water
taxis, riverboat cruises, city buses, Gray Lines tour buses, and
trolleys. Several companies offer narrated tours of downtown,
the Mission Trail, and residential areas, as well as attractions
beyond the city such as the scenic hill country,
Fredericksburg, and the LBJ Ranch.
These guys quack me up! There were even
more on the ledge but they won't all fit on this page.
If you visit San Antonio remember that the downtown street
system was laid out more than 150 years ago. Sometimes it
follows old cattle trails and has been likened to a "skillet of
snakes." Reminds me of Atlanta! At least in San Antonio, every
other street isn't named "Houston" like Atlanta's ubiquitous
"Peachtree" nomenclature. We did fine simply following the maps
we had and the ones we acquired free at various locations.
Next entry: how San Antonio's multicultural heritage
has influenced its wide range of architecture (examples from
downtown and an historic residential district)
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil