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Touring the River Walk


storyPic_riverwalk-downtown.jpgThe San Antonio River symbolizes the heart and soul of the city. Hundreds of years ago, the river was a gathering place for Native Americans. The first civilian Spanish settlers built their homes here in the 1700s. In the late 1920s, the San Antonio Conservation Society, local government officials and business leaders realized what an asset the river could be to the growing city. Architect Robert H. H. Hugman developed River Walk plans that eventually led to construction of a 21-block section from Nueva to Lexington, completed in March of 1941, just in time for Fiesta. The project transformed downtown through beautification, preservation and flood control.

Further revitalization took place in advance of Hemisfair ‘68, the world’s fair held in San Antonio to celebrate the city’s 250th anniversary. New hotels were built and older buildings were renovated. The River Walk was extended from South Alamo Street to the convention center. Passenger river barges began operating for sightseeing tours and dining. The River Walk received national attention and set the stage for what has become one of the state’s top visitor destinations.

Today, in addition to river barge cruisers, visitors can tour the River Walk by bike using the city's bike share program, B-Cycle.  With more than 50 stations throughout downtown, you can tour on two wheels through both the Museum and Mission Reach.  And if you are looking for a more adventurous way to tour, visitors can now kayak through the Mission Reach and South Town area of the River Walk.

The Museum Reach

In the mid 2000s, city leaders dreamed of expanding the River Walk to ultimately span 15 miles. The Museum Reach section was completed north of downtown in 2009. This 1.33-mile extension features visual and aural works of art, terraces landscaped with native plants and pedestrian access to the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the historic Pearl Brewery complex. River taxis pass through a lock and dam system to transport visitors to and from the original River Walk area.


The Mission Reach

To the south, the one-mile Eagleland section from Guenther Street to Lone Star Boulevard incorporates ecosystem restoration, a walking path and hike and bike trails. The Mission Reach section extends eight miles from Lone Star Boulevard to Mission Espada. Key to this segment is restoration of the river and its banks for aquatic life and wildlife, along with 15 miles of recreational trails, picnic and seating areas, pedestrian bridges, pavilions and portals to four Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada.
Today, the River Walk exemplifies San Antonio’s passion for historic preservation and adaptive reuse of centuries-old buildings. As you tour the River Walk, look for these and other notable buildings:

  • Most of the caliche block and stucco structures in La Villita Historic Arts Village, a collection of boutiques, art galleries and restaurants, date to the mid-1800s when European immigrants lived and worked there. The area was first restored in 1939 by the National Youth Administration.
  • The Briscoe Western Art Museum is housed in the restored historic1930s art deco/neo classical former San Antonio Public Library. Today the Briscoe features nine galleries on three levels including the new, three-story Jack Guenther Pavilion which was designed by nationally recognized architecture firm Lake|Flato.
  • Robert H. H. Hugman, architect and visionary of the River Walk, maintained a river level office in the Clifford Building, constructed on Commerce Street in 1893 and designed by Bexar County Courthouse architect James Riely Gordon. The white brick and masonry structure with the round tower now houses a coin shop and The Republic of Texas restaurant.
  • The Drury Plaza Hotel on South St. Mary’s Street is in the former Alamo National Bank Building, an art-deco skyscraper built in 1929. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as is the nearby San Antonio Drug Company office building, which dates to 1919 and is now the Homewood Suites by Hilton.
  • storyPic_guenther-house.jpgOverlooking the San Antonio River in the King William Historic District, the private residence of Carl H. Guenther, founder of the Pioneer Flour Mill, was built in 1860 and remodeled in 1917. The Guenther House restaurant, a popular destination for breakfast and lunch, opened at the location in 1988. The restaurant, museum and store are owned by C.H. Guenther & Son, Inc., the oldest continuously operating milling company in the U.S.
  • In the 1860s, Giraud also designed many of the buildings for the Ursuline Academy and Convent on Augusta Street, which now houses the Southwest School of Art. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
  • Two former breweries built along the San Antonio River—Pearl and Lone Star—are now accessible on the Museum Reach section of the River Walk.
    • The Pearl Brewery complex on E. Grayson is a mixed-use commercial and residential development that is also home to the Culinary Institute of America—San Antonio, along with acclaimed restaurants and specialty stores. The brewery was founded in 1881 as the J. B. Behloradsky Brewery and the City Brewery. The first Pearl Beer was bottled there in 1886. 
    • The Lone Star Brewery on Jones Street was completed in 1904 and remained in operation until 1918, when Prohibition was enacted and the buildings were then used for storage and warehouses until 1957. The site was acquired by the San Antonio Museum Association in the 1970s. The San Antonio Museum of Art opened in 1981, renowned for its collections of Latin American Folk Art and Asian Art.


Travel Tips:

  • Historical markers and plaques help you uncover the city’s past
  • Informational signage points you in the right direction
  • Ambassador Amigos, knowledgeable folks sporting brightly colored shirts and straw hats, can provide assistance as you explore