Hidden below street level in downtown San Antonio, a romantic riverside world awaits. The Old World–style “Paseo del Rio,” or “River Walk,” is a series of pathways and bridges wending along a 15-mile-long stretch of the San Antonio River, roughly 5 miles of which flow through downtown. Hotels, outdoor cafes, shops, and restaurants line the bustling downtown tourist areas, but you can also find places of quiet along the curving riverbanks, shaded by cedar, cypress, oak, pecan, and willows, with an occasional palm tree or two. Rio taxis, river-cruise tour boats, and floating dinner barges slowly follow a circular section of the Downtown Reach.
The River Walk was originally part of a 1939 federal WPA project designed by architect Robert Hugman, with cobblestone pathways, arched bridges, and entrances steps from street-level locations; its development expanded just in time for the 1968 HemisFair exposition. In the decades since, many feared that the River Walk would become so overdeveloped and crowded that it would lose its charm. But subsequent expansions have ensured that the River Walk has plenty of quiet stretches and revitalized green spaces. The Museum Reach section extends up the Pearl/Broadway Cultural Corridor, while the Mission Reach section runs down through the South Side.
There are numerous entrances to the River Walk by stair or ramp, with about 50 ADA-accessible spots along the way, as well as elevators that take you to river level. Maps line the route, so it’s hard to get lost. Mornings are a good time to visit the main part of the River Walk, when there are fewer crowds and light filters softly through the trees. At night the River Walk takes on a different character, with sparkling lights reflected on the water. The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) offers downloadable maps and information on the natural attractions and associated sports; the San Antonio Riverwalk Association covers the more commercial aspects of this multi-use thoroughfare.