Address: Downtown San Antonio
Cost: Free for the River Walk
Appropriate Age: Any age
Our Review: My family and I visit the San Antonio River Walk each year at Christmas time. We schedule it around work, the holidays and the Alamo Bowl. The River Walk is a public park, open every day of the year, and is a network of walkways with restaurants, shops and bars along the San Antonio River. The Alamo is on one end and the Pearl Brewery is on the other, and there is a lot to do in between.
Each year we stay on the River Walk so we have direct access to the fun. This year we stayed at the Holiday Inn, for one night, with Priority Club points. The Christmas time rate in 2011 was $120 with $18/day parking. (Unfortunately, parking is expensive in all of downtown. It is free up by Pearl Brewery.)
The Holiday Inn is nice and recently renovated. We were on the 20th floor and had a balcony that made my knees weak. Joe’s favorite part of the entire trip was the hotel room. He likes to set up an office and pick the best bed. He also loves to eat breakfast at hotels and talks about it for days. Lucky for me, kids eat free at the restaurant with an adult purchase. For breakfast I got the buffet for $12.99, minus 10% for being a Priority Club member, and both of my big kids ate free. Joe had the buffet and had two bowls of cereal, a bowl of oatmeal, 2 pancakes, eggs and a glass of milk. And he ate lunch soon after.
Through the back door of the hotel and down some steps is the River Walk. Sidewalks curve along both sides of the river and are lined with benches, waterfalls, restaurants, shops, hotels and bars. You can walk around and see the Alamo, Rivercity Mall, the art museum and Pearl Brewery. Each area has its own unique bridges, landscaping and art. Some parts of the sidewalk run right next to the water, with no barrier, which makes me more nervous than the 20 story balcony. Fortunately, the kids managed to stay above water, despite their constant desire to walk along the very outside of the ledge.
Another way to get around the River Walk is by boat. You can take the guided tour or the water taxi. Last year we took the tour and my kids still remember it. The tours take 30 to 45 minutes and cover 2.5 miles of the downtown portion of the River Walk. The tour guide talks about the history of the River Walk and the buildings on the banks.
The tour is $8.25 for adults and $2 for kids. It is well worth the money but there are some negatives. The boats are generally very crowded during the holidays and there is often a wait for the ride. Also, with the tour, you only get to ride one time and it is only in the downtown section of the River Walk.
If you want to cruise along the museum and downtown parts of the River Walk, and get on and off as you please, the taxi is the way to go. To get a taxi, look for the markers along the side of the river. When a boat with the checkered taxi flags comes near, just wave it over. On board you can buy tickets with cash. You can get one way tickets or all day tickets. For the all day tickets, you get tickets for downtown only or for downtown plus the museum area. We purchased tickets for downtown and the museum for $15 each. The kids are also $15, which is much more than the tour, be felt that they were worth it. (There was no charge for the 3 month old.)
Taxi tickets are as follows:
Downtown Reach (Up to Lexington Street)
Rio Taxi Yellow One Way: $5.00
Rio Taxi Yellow 24-Hour Day Pass: $10.00
Rio Taxi Yellow Three Day Pass: $25.00
Rio Taxi Red 24-Hour Day Pass: $10.00
Rio Taxi Red Three Day Pass:$25.00
Downtown and Museum Reach
Combination Red/Yellow 24 Hour Pass: $15.00
There are many advantages to the water taxi. The taxi can be less crowded than the tour boat (but not always). You can jump on and off where ever you want (like when the kids get antsy). Also, the taxi drivers also give tours, so they know the history of the buildings and the river. On the taxi, many drivers will announce buildings that you are passing and river facts. Other drivers can answer all the questions you have about the river. (Some are not quite as outgoing, but you can always just get off and try another boat.)
The biggest advantage is that you can tour a bigger section of the river. The taxi goes through downtown and the museum area. And you get to go through a lock to get there. Your boat goes into the lock, the doors close on both sides, and the water level gradually rises or lowers 9 feet over 3 minutes. The kids thought it was amazing. On the museum side of the lock you can stop at the San Antonio Museum of Art, in the former Lone Star Brewery building, or the Pearl Brewery. The area around the brewery is being developed now to include more restaurants and shops.
The downside of the taxi is the timing. Although you do not need to wait in a long line, like the tour, you are never really sure when the next taxi will arrive. The frequency is every 30 minutes and you might need to call the number on the sign to see when the next one will arrive. Our strategy was to walk along the river until we saw a taxi and then wave it down. I thought I might have had to make a water rescue if I let my kids play at the stop for 30 minutes.
On the boat or walking, we enjoyed the lights of the River Walk. Over the holidays the trees were wrapped with lights and even the river had under water flood lights. This year San Antonio switched from incandescent light bulbs draped over the water to LED lights around the trees. We missed the lights reflecting in the water, but we learned that they were able to add more lights and still save money with LEDs this year. Maybe they can put LEDs over the river next year.
There are a ton of restaurants to chose from on the river. We went to Ritas on the River for dinner and The Republic of Texas for lunch the next day. We ordered fajitas and kid meals at both. The Republic of Texas has the advantage of having tables right on the water (instead of across a sidewalk) but Ritas was better. The food was just a little better and more reasonable. The margaritas were $6 for 16oz and $12 for 32oz. The veggie fajitas, which we shared, were $14.99 at Ritas. It also looks like you can get coupons on their website and vouchers at Restaurant.com.
By the time we had spend 24 hours on the River Walk, we were ready to head back home to Houston. There is much more to see in San Antonio, but my kids could not have handled one more ounce of excitement. Good thing San Antonio is just a few hours away. Joe says he wants to go back again soon. And Brooke repeats what he says. And James just goes along with anything.