Holiday Goddess Vicki Arkoff went to the famous Texas city center on a quest for a pink cowboy hat but found much more to do, see, eat and buy.

Cafes line the river.

Millions of people visit Texas’ special River Walk area each year to enjoy this unusual urban sanctuary that winds along the San Antonio River in central San Antonio, one story below the bustling street level. The lush landscapes, quaint pathways, sparkling waterfalls, quiet pools, outdoor art and relaxing outdoor patios evoke the renowned public spaces of Europe.

What started in 1929 as the vision of a young architect has grown, over the decades, into one of the world’s most distinctive meeting places — old and new friends meet up, travelers pause, families congregate, lovers gaze — and weddings, reunions, business meetings spill over into the River Walk.

The top 5 things to do:

1)     Eat, Drink & Be Merry:  More than 50 restaurants, bistros, cafes, clubs, bars — most with quaint outdoor patios — line the River Walk as it meanders through downtown San Antonio. Here there is everything from stellar Tex Mex and Texas-style BBQ to haute cuisine.  There are restaurants of every kind and at every price point, so choose between locally-owned spots as well as popular international names like the Hard Rock Cafe.

2)     Take a Sunset Cruise: Lots of folks take a tour of the River Walk aboard an open-air river cruiser, but few know that you can take a sunset taxi ride from downtown, along the Museum Reach, to the Pearl Brewery. Only in the dark will you be able to appreciate the full impact of the art installations that line the banks, all of which use light in creative ways. They were created by some of the most interesting names in the art world. Museums, schools, residences and commercial buildings often are lit in startling and unusual ways.

3)     Land & Art Scapes:  Few visitors venture beyond the downtown River Walk but it’s well worth it. Explore the Museum Reach, north of downtown, and watch for the 12 art installations on the river banks. Stop along the way at the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Southwest School of Art. The boat ride ends at the 125-year-old Pearl Brewery complex, now home to restaurants, an outdoor amphitheater, a Saturday farmers market, eclectic shops and the Culinary Institute of America. If you go south from downtown, the south fork of the river meanders through the stately King William Historic District  all the way to the Blue Star arts complex, an eclectic enclave of creative souls, unusual shops and galleries, public art scattered about, and a brew pub.

4)     Discover Secret Shopping Gems: Don’t leave without a pink cowboy hat, of course. Just pick one up at any of the River Walk curio shops like gazillions of other visitors. But for something less obvious but also right on the River Walk head to La Villita Historic Arts Village, The Pearl Brewery, San Antonio Museum of Art Store, and Southwest School of Art Gallery Shop. For major mall goers, the Rivercenter Mall — with more than 60 stores including lots of retail chains — hugs the banks of the River Walk lagoon.

5)     Run, Walk, Hike or Bring Your Dog: The 8-miles-long River Walk is a linear park, beautifully landscaped, with great sidewalks. The less congested places are perfect for romantic strolls or serious exercising. In a few years, it will be a 15-mile masterpiece that weaves the city’s past and future together, starting north of the city at Brackenridge Park (San Antonio’s Central Park) and traveling south all the way to the four Spanish colonial missions south of downtown.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

It’s Texas, but not as we know it.

Onboard History Lessons: Learn about San Antonio’s rich history aboard a San Antonio river cruiser. The boat captains take great pride in their knowledge of the city and its past, so it’s a sublime way to learn more about San Antonio and its famous River Walk. Find boarding points anywhere on the stretch for tickets.

Texas’ Only Lock & Dam System: As the river winds north from downtown along the Museum Reach, a lock and dam system, the only one in Texas, overcomes a 9-ft. rise in elevation. Take a river taxi and navigate right through the lock and dam or watch from a bridge overhead. Watch a video that explains how it works.

People Watching: The River Walk commercial district in downtown San Antonio teems with people from every corner of the globe. Most of the restaurants have outdoor patios which are great vantage points from which to watch passersby, but there are dozens and dozens of pocket parks and welcoming benches — this whole stretch of lazy river is a public park, after all.

Images Wikimedia Commons

 

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