San Antonio: Riverwalk and Downtown


It seems like everybody loves downtown San Antonio.  Unlike other cities, San Antonio is alive and vibrant, for tourists and residents.  And you don’t even need to know much about the city, to figure out where you need to go, and what you need to see.  You just need to find the river, and start walking.

I headed straight for downtown San Antonio, after arriving at the San Antonio airport on Day 1 of this trip.  I had the entire afternoon to explore, but my parking meter only allowed me two hours of walking.  It turns out, this was plenty of time (even enough to visit the Alamo, which I’ll cover on the next page).  I parked a few blocks away from the busiest part of the River Walk (you’ll see it on a map as a loop, that breaks off from the river’s main route through town).

The River Walk was pretty busy, and at first, I figured this was just a normal day.   Then, the water turned green, bagpipes started playing, and I realized I had stumbled into San Antonio’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration (even though it was only March 12).

Here, the floats actually float.  The St. Paddy’s Day Parade travels down the River Walk, instead of city streets.  All the people who had lined up along the water’s edge were waiting for boats like this one to pass.

As I mentioned, not all of the River Walk is as busy as the part that’s in the center of town.  The area near my parking space (near the Greyhound station on St. Mary’s Street) was much quieter and relaxing, though there weren’t as many businesses and restaurants along this stretch.  There were some sketchy looking people at street-level, but the River Walk itself felt quite safe.

Along the River Walk, you’ll see some nice architectural features, like this old exit to the street (now blocked)…

… and a waterfall that tumbles down into the San Antonio River.

Houston Street

Exit onto the street level at Houston Street, and you’ll find another tourist-friendly area.  It’s better to walk along Houston Street than to drive it, because it gets congested with traffic.  But on foot, it’s quite inviting, with many restaurants and hotels…

… and the old Majestic Theatre. The Majestic was built in 1929, and for many years was the largest theater in Texas, and second-largest in the U.S.  It’s now home to the San Antonio Symphony, and also hosts many Broadway plays.

The Aztec Theatre is just a few blocks south of the Majestic, on Commerce Street.  It’s three years older, built in 1926. Competition from the Majestic and other theaters caused the Aztec’s management to install a 2,000-pound, 2-story tall chandelier in 1929.

Hike down Commerce a few blocks, headed east…

… and you’ll see two of the city’s most recognizable vertical landmarks.  In the foreground, the “Torch of Friendship” stands 65 feet tall, and weighs 50 tons.  It was a gift from Mexico, as a sign of friendship.  Behind it, and about a half-mile away, is the Tower of the Americas.  It served as a centerpiece of the 1968 World’s Fair, the HemisFair, and it was the tallest observation tower in the U.S. until the Stratosphere in Las Vegas was completed in 1996.

For $11 (2011 price), you can take a ride to the top of the Tower of the Americas.  Your ticket also lets you ride a 4-D attraction at the tower.  I didn’t have enough time on the parking meter to walk over to the tower, then ride to the top and enjoy the view.  Later, I discovered that parking at the tower cost $11 (higher than the normal $8 rate, because of a special event).  It didn’t seem worth $22, so I skipped it.  You can check current prices here.

At Commerce St. and Alamo St., you’re only about a block away from the Alamo.   Walk north on Alamo Street, and you can’t miss it.  I’ll cover my visit to the Alamo on the next page.

A bit further on Commerce Street, and you’ll pass by the front of St. Joseph’s Downtown Church, surrounded on three sides by a shopping mall (the church didn’t want to move to make room for the mall, so they built around it).

Walk down to the edge of the creek that runs along Commerce Street for a better view of St. Joseph’s.

After visiting the Alamo, I headed back to my car, alternating between the River Walk and the streets.

Fortunately, I was at street-level as I passed by this neon beauty — the Walgreens at Houston and Navarro Streets.

And back along the River Walk, I admired the artistic tile work around something that would otherwise be an eyesore — a storm drain outlet in the wall.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive around San Antonio, starting at the airport and continuing through congested downtown SA:

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