San Antonio River Tour: Getting the Lay of the River

by Gray Cargill on March 13, 2013

River Taxi in San Antonio

You know how when you visit a new city, you always want to take the first day to get the lay of the land on foot, by bus, or even by driving around? Well, in San Antonio, the San Antonio River (and the Riverwalk) is such a central part of the city, that one of the first things you’ll want to do here is get the lay of the river. (I’m not actually sure anyone’s ever substituted the expression “lay of the land” for “lay of the river” before, but there’s a first time for everything, right?)

Rio River Taxi Stop

After wandering off in the wrong direction in the dark the night I arrived in town, it was a priority for me to take the river tour the next morning to figure out where everything was. I grabbed a river taxi at the very convenient Rio Taxi stop outside my hotel to take me to the boarding area for the Rio River Tour. (Yes, the same company that offers the tours also runs the taxis up and down the river.) As a bonus, because he knew I was headed for the tour, he didn’t charge me for the ride. (Thanks dude whose name I never got!)

Aztec Theater

As directed by my taxi driver, I went into the Aztec Theater (at the Riverwalk level) and found the ticket booth toward the back. Here, I bought my tour ticket for $8.25 (totally worth it). I was lucky enough that a tour was about to start, so I didn’t have to wait at all.

Restaurants along the Riverwalk

The guide on my tour was a native San Antonian named Alfred. Sometimes it was a little hard to understand Alfred, because he spoke very fast. But when I did understand him, he was funny. (Then again, I’m an easy audience when people are trying to be funny. I know how hard it is.) Alfred told us a lot of information about things he was pointing out along the way, but honestly, I’ve retained very little of it. I wasn’t taking notes, I was taking pictures!

Riverwalk

This tour was a great way to get a feel for just how big the loop of the downtown Riverwalk really is (so I’d know later on how much walking I’d be doing to get back and forth to various places) and gave me a better sense of what was where along the Downtown stretch of the Riverwalk. All along the way there are access points to street level, so you can get to most places downtown by either street level or river level–though river level is definitely prettier.

La Villita

The River tour helped me identify some of the neighborhoods of the city (such as La Villita, pictured above) that are accessible from the Riverwalk. And Alfred pointed out landmarks that later helped me get my bearings, such as the Torch of Friendship (a gift from the Mexican government to the city of San Antonio) shown below.

Torch of Friendship

Along the way, we passed by the Rivercenter Mall and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and its gorgeous mosaic mural depicting the life, culture, and history of San Antonio.

Riverwalk

Mosaic Mural

One of the things that became obvious to me is just how well the city has utilized the resource of its river compared to most urban areas. This is thanks to Robert H. H. Hugman, a visionary architect who presented a plan to the city of San Antonio in 1929 to develop along the river a commercial neighborhood which also felt park-like. He believed that:

“Our Little River should be treated as a stage setting on which people are transported to the unusual; that all future architectural growth avoid modern styles; that the river’s tempo must be jealously guarded, remaining slow and lazy, in complete contrast with the hustle and bustle of street-level modern city life.”

He even put his money where his mouth was by opening his own office at river level. People thought he was crazy at first, since the river was known to flood on occasion. But the city eventually bought into his vision, and the rest is history.

Along the Riverwalk

One place the Rio River Tour does not take you is up to the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk. However, the Rio Taxi does go there (see route/pass prices below). I’d recommend making that trip as well, because it’s got a totally different vibe than the downtown area.

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This section of the Riverwalk was formerly an industrial neighborhood that housed the Pearl Brewery. Today, it is a revitalized mixed-use residential and commercial area with shopping and dining opportunities. It’s very picturesque and quiet—a great place to go for a walk, read a book, grab a bite to eat and cold beverage at La Gloria restaurant, or just sit and contemplate the meaning of the universe.

What You Need to Know about the Rio River Taxis and Tours

Tour Price: $8.25 (with discounts for locals and senior citizens)

Hours: 9am to 9pm

See website for locations where tickets can be purchased, or purchase yours online.

Taxi Prices:

Downtown Reach (Rio Taxi Yellow) – One-way $5, Day Pass, $10, 3-Day Pass $25

Museum Reach (Rio Taxi Red) – 24-hour pass $10, 3-Day Pass $25.

Combination 24-hour Pass (Downtown/Museum Reach) – $15.

Hours: 9am to 9pm

Tickets can be purchased aboard the boat.

*Be sure to double-check current hours and prices on their website.

Photo credit: That picture of me at the Riverwalk was taken by Teresa Vincent, The Joyful Journeyist.

 Duck

Alouise March 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm

San Antonio looks really beautiful. And a taxi boat on the river – that’s so cool.

Gray March 17, 2013 at 8:29 am

Yeah, it was very cool, Alouise.

Teresa Vincent March 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

WOW! Excellent article with lots of great information and pictures. I LOVED everything you had to show and say (even before I saw my mention at the bottom for the pic) 🙂 You really have a gift for sharing useful knowledge and making it an interesting read. I feel so fortunate that I was able to spend an afternoon with you in my great city! Looking forward to coming to yours the end of May. Hope you’ll be around to share some of your faves with me!

Gray March 13, 2013 at 7:59 pm

You are too kind, Teresa. I had a great afternoon, too. You were a generous host. Email me about May. I’m out of town for part of it. Hope it’s not the same part when you’re coming to town!

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