Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

River Walk Tour (Self Guided), San Antonio

The San Antonio River Walk (also known as Paseo del Río or simply The River Walk) is a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River, one story beneath the streets of San Antonio. A successful special-case pedestrian street, The River Walk winds and loops under bridges as two parallel sidewalks lined with restaurants and shops, connecting the major tourist draws from the Shops at Rivercenter to the Arneson River Theatre to La Villita and other prominent locations. This self-guided tour offers you a chance to explore some of the top landmarks along The River Walk in San Antonio.
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River Walk Tour Map

Guide Name: River Walk Tour
Guide Location: USA » San Antonio (See other walking tours in San Antonio)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: JohnB
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Arneson River Theater
  • Little Church of La Villita
  • Briscoe Western Art Museum
  • Esquire Tavern
  • Aztec Theatre
  • Casa Rio Restaurant
  • Shops at Rivercentre
1
Arneson River Theater

1) Arneson River Theater

True to its name, the Arneson River Theatre is an outdoor performance theater located on the San Antonio River Walk. This open-air venue was built in 1939-1941 to the design by architect Robert H.H. Hugman and was named for Edwin P. Arneson, the regional engineer for the W.P.A. who died before the construction began.

Many years later, bells had been added to the arches behind the stage that Hugman had designed, named after him. In a belated ceremony, the "Father of the River Walk" struck the bells for the first time, two years before his death.

The venue is best known for its outdoor performances, where the river separates the stage from the audience. The former is on the north side of the river, while the audience sits on the grass-covered steps on the south side with 13 rows of seats that can hold over 800 people.

A nearby stone bridge is often made part of the performance space as well. It is now called Rosita's Bridge in honor of Rosita Fernández, a pioneer of Tejano music, who performed here as a star of the summer-long Fiesta Noche del Rio for 25 years. The theater continues to be used all year round for a wide variety of performances, averaging over 200 per annum, including folkloric groups, festivals, music concerts, plays, dance, opera, and even weddings. Many of the river parades, held throughout the year, are televised from this unique open-air amphitheater.

The theater, along with several other San Antonio landmarks, was featured in the popular 2000 comedy film “Miss Congeniality” starring Sandra Bullock and Michael Caine.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Little Church of La Villita

2) Little Church of La Villita

Built in the 19th century in the middle of La Villita, the first settlement of San Antonio, right off the River Walk, this church has been the best known local landmark. With its cornerstone laid on March 2, 1879, the Little Church of La Villita was established by the local community out of need to have a place for worship, weddings and baptizing. Over the years, several denominations have held services here. Today, this is an active non-denominational temple, welcoming all visitors. Lovingly restored and maintained, this little gem in the heart of downtown San Antonio still features the original Neo-Gothic exterior introduced by European settlers.

While small in appearance, the limestone walled church with its beautiful stained glass backdrop
really isn't that small, capable of holding up to 50+ people comfortably. The surrounding area is a festive compound with art shops and the entrance to the nearby beautiful San Antonio River Walk. Right across the street is Hemisphere Park and Convention Center, and three blocks away is the Historic Alamo mission.

The first full weekend of each April, the Little Church puts on the Annual Starving Artist Show. Church services are held here every Sunday at 11am, and Prayer Service on Thursdays at 11am.
3
Briscoe Western Art Museum

3) Briscoe Western Art Museum

Sitting on the banks of the historic San Antonio River Walk, adjacent to the picturesque La Villita and the Arneson River Theatre, the Briscoe Western Art Museum brings to life the vibrant culture and heritage of the Western United States. With its permanent collection of Western painting, sculpture and mixed media depicting the American Cowboy, Indian, Vaquero and the many other cultures that forged the American West as we know it, the museum preserves the region's history, educating visitors with engaging exhibitions, educational programs, and public events.

One such exhibition is found in the McNutt Sculpture Garden, the museum’s lush public outdoor space, featuring a beautiful courtyard lined with bronze sculptures depicting iconic figures of the American West. Also, at the front of the museum campus, there are impressive works by the country’s leading Western artists to be found.

Also, The museum traditionally hosts the country’s premier Western artists and collectors to celebrate Western art during its annual Night of Artists Exhibition and Art Sale, showcasing hundreds of new works by visionary artists.

Opening Hours:
Monday – Saturday, 10:00am- 5:00pm; Sunday, 10:00am – 3:00pm.
Open all holidays except Easter Sunday, Battle of Flowers, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
4
Esquire Tavern

4) Esquire Tavern

One of San Antonio’s most loved watering holes, the Esquire Tavern is the oldest riverfront bar on the famous River Walk. Established in 1933 – the day after Prohibition ended, it has been operational ever since, with a short hiatus from 2006 to 2011.

At the time of opening, The Esquire was considered an opulent addition to downtown San Antonio, with its high ceilings covered in pressed copper, terracotta floor tiles and elaborate woodwork. Thanks to its central location, the place drew clientele from all walks of life, and eventually became an obligatory stop for visitors to the Alamo City who looked to enjoy an inexpensive drink. Also added to its popularity a whole new decorative concept, featuring taxidermy and patterned tile.

The storied bar has a bit of a reputation, with legends of gun fights, illegal gambling, and even a ghost roaming in the basement. Dark, cool, and redolent with history, it invoked a feeling of danger as you went through the doors, but more like reliving a movie scene in a seedy joint full of characters than fearing for your life. Old regulars perched at the bar smoking, a uniformed man frisking people at the door and the occasional over-served patron being escorted out just added to the charm.

Years on, the Tavern continues to be the standard-bearer of bar excellence in San Antonio. It boasts the longest wooden bar top in Texas - over 100 feet of beer-soaked wood, rubbed smooth by the elbows of a zillion tipplers. In 1988, the bar top was spotlighted by “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” when, in a publicity stunt, it had 5,973 Lone Star bottles placed upon.

The bar offers a full menu of drinks (curated bubbles, ice cold beer, wine and swanky cocktails) and excellent pub grub (especially the lavish charcuterie plate). House specialties, like the Commerce Street Fix - blanco tequila, chartreuse, pineapple, lemon and angostura bitters shaken and served on crushed ice - have earned it a Beard nomination.

At the lower level, there is an intimate riverside lounge, called Downstairs at Esquire, which opens straight onto the River Walk and has a totally different concept, with a cool decor inspired by Victorian botanical and zoological collections.

Opening Hours:
Tuesday & Wednesday from 5pm-12am, Thursday through Saturday from 5pm-2am.
5
Aztec Theatre

5) Aztec Theatre

One of the most decorative movie theaters in the United States, the Aztec Theatre is a premier historical multi-purpose entertainment and events facility. Officially opened on June 4, 1926, this theatre is one of the Alamo City's most cherished architectural and historical landmarks. Built at a cost of just $1.75 million, it played an important role in shaping San Antonio's cultural image as a notable example of the impressive exotic-theme motion picture palace constructed in the country during the economic boom of the 1920s.

Considered by many as a Meso-American architectural work of art, the Aztec boasts a dramatic combination of Aztec elements (massive columns, reliefs, sculpture and artifacts from ancient Mexican temples) with modern touches creating an authentic American look, complete with polychromed plasterwork, duplicating murals and other elements. From its stunning lobby and mezzanine to the glorious theatre and balcony, the Aztec offered an experience like no other. The centerpiece of its lobby was a three-ton chandelier, two stories tall and 12 feet wide, hailed as the largest in Texas at the time.

The Aztec was part of the Theater district which included the Empire (1914), the Texas (1926), the Majestic (1929), and the Alameda (1949). Although highly popular among locals for many decades, by the 1970s it had fallen into decline and been cut into three auditoriums as the Aztec Triplex, which only slowed the eventual. In 1989, the theatre was closed down. Since October 1992, the Aztec has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which helped save it from demolition.

With the assistance of local authorities and communities of art lovers, the theatre reopened in 2009 as a concert venue, rapidly regaining the reputation lost in the previous 30 years. Today, it is considered to be the second most visited Art-Deco landmark of the riverside walk.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Casa Rio Restaurant

6) Casa Rio Restaurant

Pioneering San Antonio River Walk with classic Texan-Mexican fare, margaritas & outdoor dining since 1946, Casa Rio restaurant was the first business to open its doors to the river. The founder, Alfred F. Beyer, dug up the floor-deposited mud from the basement of his struggling appliance store and built steps down to the river.

The place itself sits on the land to which the King of Spain first granted title as far back as 1777. The Spanish Colonial period hacienda became the core of the new business. The cedar door and window lintels, the fireplace, and thick rock walls, are still present inside the building and largely add to its vibrant atmosphere.

Another key asset, undoubtedly, is the picturesque riverside location. Canoes, gondolas, and paddle boats, evolving into tour and dinner boats, began here and helped create the River Walk as it's known today.

Combined with the authentic Mexican food, it provides a perfect setting for any dinner party, banquet, reception, family gathering or celebration. Casa Rio offers a daily, kids, vegetarian and gluten free menus, as well as kid-friendly menu and a full bar service. The main menu features a variety of appetizers, soups, salads, small plates, large plates and enchiladas. Casa Rio's main fare includes carne asada, pollo asado, tamale plate, crispy or soft taoplate, chile relleno and flauta plate. Yummy!!!

Opening Hours:
Mon – Thu: 12 pm – 8 pm; Fri: 12 pm – 9 pm; Sat: 11 am - 9 pm; Sun: 11 am - 8 pm.
Closed: Thanksgiving Day, December 9th for the Employee Party, Christmas Eve + Day
7
Shops at Rivercentre

7) Shops at Rivercentre (must see)

Shops at Rivercenter (formerly known as Rivercenter Mall) is a shopping mall situated along the River Walk in downtown San Antonio. A true centerpiece of the River Walk, this is a dining, shopping and entertainment mecca with scores of San Antonio specialty and gift shops or stores that are Texas specific, anchored by the likes of Macy's, H&M, as well as a 38-story, 1,001-room Marriott hotel.

The landmark 1871 St. Joseph's Catholic Church, that had stood on this site originally, refused to sell to the first developers, Joske's Department Store, in 1945, and so the store had to be built around it. The Shops at Rivercenter opened in 1988 as Rivercenter Mall, with San Antonio's first Lord & Taylor department store, an IMAX theater, as well as Dillard's (closed August 2008). Part of the downtown redevelopment included an extension of San Antonio's famed River Walk into the Rivercenter lagoon.

The structure that houses Dillard's, an AMC Theatres, as well as other shops, originally opened in 1887 as a freestanding Joske's at the corner of Alamo and Commerce streets. Several expansions from 1909 to 1953 brought the space to 551,000 square feet (51,200 m2). Joske's closed its flagship store for remodeling in 1987, planning to reopen it in 1988, to coincide with the Rivercenter opening.

In October 2006, plans were revealed to redevelop the property over a number of years. Five-star restaurants and more outdoor seating were to be added in the first phase of that redevelopment. San Antonio's Historic and Design Review Commission approved the redevelopment plan on October 4, 2006 with a grand re-opening planned for 2008.

In 2016, the old Joske's building was added as a new modern wing of the mall with notable tenants, such as Dave & Buster's, H&M, Starbucks, and Johnny Rockets, upon which, that same year, the mall was renamed Shops at Rivercenter. Presently, the place contains four floors. One of its coolest features is the food court at the bottom level, which is also the level the San Antonio River that just happens to run through. Overall, Rivercenter Mall is perfect for a specialty shopping hunt and River Walk relaxation, much as it is ideal for those who want to take a bit of San Antonio home with them.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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