Insider's Guide to the River Walk

Skip the guidebook; let our resident expert lead you to his favorite San Antonio spots.
Les Thomas

It's as lively as the sound of a flamenco guitar and as romantic as a love song. The minute you step onto San Antonio's River Walk, it wraps you in its spell.

"There's magic here," says Bill Lyons, sitting in the dining room at Casa Rio, the oldest restaurant on the river. "In the morning when I walk down these steps, I feel I'm in something special."

Ever expanding, the River Walk loops through the city for more than 3 miles. With all the activity, deciding where to stroll can be daunting. To help you get started, here's our guide for a visit and some hidden gems you won't want to miss.

Morning―Biscuits and a Boat Ride
Get up early, and take a half-hour stroll to the Guenther House to enjoy one of the best breakfasts in the city. To get here, head west from the Hilton Palacio del Rio, and turn south along the main course of the river past the historic King William neighborhood. You'll see Pioneer Flour Mills at the river's edge. Savor buttermilk biscuits with sausage gravy ($3.50), fluffy pancakes, and pastries made with the mill's own flour; (210) 227-1061.

After a leisurely breakfast, stroll back to a river landing near the Hilton Palacio del Rio to board a riverboat with Rio San Antonio Cruises. On the 40-minute tour, you'll see landmarks and learn about work to beautify the River Walk that began in 1939. Cruise tickets are $6.50; 1-800-417-4139.

Noon―Guacamole Salad and Prickly Pear Margaritas
Lunch starts with a bang at Boudro's when you order guacamole salad ($8, serves two). A waiter wheels up a cart of avocados and other colorful ingredients and makes it at your table. Served with chips, the finished product tastes spicy, delicious, and full of flavor. For another treat, order a prickly pear margarita ($7); (210) 224-8484.

Take an afternoon stroll to see some of the city's major attractions. Watch artists at work in the shops of La Villita. Find handwoven shawls, rugs, and hammocks at Village Weavers. Follow the river extension east near the Hilton to see Rivercenter mall, where there are more than 125 stores and restaurants. When you pass through the mall to the nearby Menger Hotel, it's just a few steps down the Paseo del Alamo through the lobby of the Hyatt Regency, and you're back on the River Walk.

Around the bend from the Hyatt rise two of the city's newest and most luxurious hotels. La Mansión del Rio Hotel operates the posh Watermark Hotel & Spa and the stylish new seafood restaurant, Pesca on the River. Hotel Valencia Riverwalk features lobby seating with a vaulted ceiling. Below the hotel, chef Lisa Wong operates Ácenar Modern Tex-Mex. If you come here for dinner, try the Entomatadas, chicken-and-sweet potato-filled tacos ($11.95).

Hotel rates tend to run high on the River Walk, but dining bargains are plentiful. "Our average check is $10," says Bill Lyons, owner of Casa Rio; (210) 225-6718. Crowds line up to order standards such as the regular plate ($5.85). It's the same dish with cheese enchilada, tamale, chili con carne, Mexican rice, and refried beans that the restaurant has been serving since 1946.

Night―Root Beer and Dancing
For an inexpensive treat this evening, climb the steps to street level to Schilo's (SHE-lows) at 424 East Commerce Street. At this classic German deli, diners order specialties such as bratwurst ($6.95) and sauerbraten ($8.95). Cool off with a frosty, refreshing mug of the homemade root beer ($1.25); (210) 223-6692.

Head back down to the River Walk in time for Fiesta Noche del Rio, the evening show at the Arneson River Theater. Performances are at 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday May 20-August 13; (210) 226-4651. Dancers whirl and a singer lifts her voice on a stage at the water's edge. In this place of beauty down by the river, every day seems magical and enchanting. Why don't you come on down and join the fun?

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-252-6607 or www.sanantonio visit.com. For a printable walking tour map, including our editor's picks of the River Walk, click here.

Our Favorite Things To Do

  • Take a guided river tour with Rio San Antonio Cruises; 1-800-417-4139.
  • Go on an early-morning stroll before the crowds come out.
  • Order guacamole salad made at your table at Boudro's; (210) 224-8484.

Hidden Gems

  • Fluffy biscuits and other fresh-baked treats are served on an outdoor terrace at the Guenther House on a section of the river most tourists miss; (210) 227-1061.
  • You can order a daily lunch special for around $5 at Schilo's, a German deli just a few steps off the River Walk at 424 East Commerce Street; (210) 223-6692. (Park at the lot next door, and get your ticket stamped for a free hour.)
  • With charming hospitality, The Westin Riverwalk Hotel serves Mexican chocolate and cookies to guests 3:30-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. A Spanish guitarist plays on Fridays and Saturdays; (210) 224-6500.

Stay the night
The River Walk offers lodging to fit any budget.

  • A one-bedroom suite is a good choice for a family at Homewood Suites by Hilton Riverwalk. Rates usually start at $149, but Internet promotions sometimes drop as low as $99; (210) 222-1515 or www.homewoodsuitesriverwalk.com.
  • While high-rise hotels flank the area, the Riverwalk Inn's 11 rooms bring lodging down to people size. Rates start at $130; 1-800-254-4440 or www.riverwalkinn.com.
  • Guests love the charming atmosphere of La Mansión del Rio Hotel. Rates start at $199; 1-800-292-7300 or www.lamansion.com.
  • Ask about packages at the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk. The ultimate reality escape starts at $199 for two; toll-free 1-866-842-0100 or www.hotelvalencia.com.
  • If you really want to be pampered, book a spa room at the Watermark Hotel & Spa. Weekend rates range $369-$850; toll-free 1-866-605-1212 or www.watermarkhotel.com.

This article is from the May 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.