Take it from two Texas transplants - if you are visiting San Antonio, you absolutely must “remember the Alamo” and spend time meandering along the River Walk. In fact, the Alamo and the River Walk are so close to the Convention Center, they are almost impossible to avoid!
We don’t pretend to be experts on the city, but we can tell you it is darned easy to find something to do and have a good time here. And with mild January temperatures, you’ll enjoy being outside – no ice and no snow! As relative newcomers, our aim is to provide folks heading to ALA Midwinter with a bit of advice for that first San Antonio experience.
The River Walk is one of San Antonio’s best-known attractions. The official website is: http://www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/, as opposed to the slick, less informative website, http://www.sanantonioriverwalk.com. Winding along below street level and looping around the downtown area, the River Walk boasts unique scenery, shops, and a plethora of eateries and nightclubs. The River Walk is easily accessible from the Convention Center, downtown hotels, and street corner stairways. Strolling along the River Walk is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or evening. If you’ve been walking all day, you can relax by catching a ride on one of the San Antonio river barges ($6.50).
Here are a few helpful hints about the River Walk:
- Some of the most popular restaurants on the River Walk are known to have less than optimum cuisine, relying primarily on their location and ambiance to draw tourists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a good meal. At the extremely popular Paesano’s, stick to house specialties like the Shrimp Paesano; more traditional Italian fare, like the Eggplant Parmigiana, can be less than inspiring. There are numerous Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants, all offering similar menu selections and atmosphere. We recommend shopping around for the best prices if you are on a budget (as most of us are!). Most River Walk restaurants post their menus outside so that passersby can easily determine whether the venue is to their liking and most establishments offer both outdoor and indoor seating. There are numerous bars and nightclubs along the River Walk if you are in the mood for a margarita or a martini. If you want to splurge, stop by Boudro’s for a Prickly Pear margarita and guacamole made tableside. (And invite us along – who can pass up fresh guacamole? Seriously, invite us along!)
- For the budget-conscious, the Food Court at the
Rivercenter Mall offers standard food court fare. If you make a hobby of visiting the Hard Rock Cafés wherever you travel, never fear, San Antonio’s Hard Rock Café is located nearby. For local flavor, Schilo’s Delicatessen, two blocks from the Rivercenter Mall, offers inexpensive breakfasts, soups and sandwiches, beer and rootbeer.
- Shopping along the River Walk provides mixed opportunities – there are touristy shops, arts and crafts places, and other pricey options. If you prefer to purchase inexpensive trinkets, such as San Antonio River Walk T-shirts or mugs for friends back home, head to the Rivercenter Mall on the east apex of the River Walk, very near the Convention Center. By the way, for those who may be seeking alternative parking during Midwinter, note that the Rivercenter Mall also has two large parking garages (Crockett and Commerce entrances) with very reasonable fees.
- Although San Antonio has been working hard over the last few years to improve handicapped access to the River Walk, the situation is still less than ideal. A number of elevators and ramps are available (though some elevators are located inside of hotels); however the River Walk itself, with its slick paths and frequently narrow passages, still proves difficult to traverse with wheelchairs or strollers. The
San Antonio Disability Access Office website has links to maps of the River Walk showing handicapped entrances. For those who would like a view of the River Walk without descending to river level, there are several restaurants that offer both river-level and street-level dining, including the aforementioned Hard Rock Café.
- One thing to remember about the River Walk is that while it seems like a simple route on paper, once you begin to wander, you can find yourself quickly confused about where you started and where you’ve ended up. There are numerous places to cross from one side to the other and there are sections of the River Walk (beautifully landscaped but mostly empty of shops and restaurants) that seem to take you away from the action before you even realize you’ve rounded a bend and left the beaten track. It is easy to get lost, but also easy to find your way again. Keep aware of the path you’ve followed and you should easily be able to return to where you started. If you’ve been at river level too long, there are plenty of opportunities to pop up to street level to get your bearings and reorient yourself. Additionally, the Alamo City Amigos patrol the River Walk and Alamo areas to offer guidance to lost tourists. The Amigos look a little bit like park rangers and are always handy with a map and directions.
Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about the Alamo – you can actually get to river level across from the Alamo, where the path runs through the Hyatt lobby. The Alamo is well lit in the evenings if you want to sit outside and contemplate the vagaries of history. You can also wander into the historic Menger Hotel on the next block and enjoy the old photographs of Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders or relax in the cozy Menger Bar.
Other activities in easy walking distance from the Convention Center include visiting the artisan shops at La Villita and strolling through the King William district. If you roam through King William in the morning, you’ll be near the Guenther House which is worth a breakfast stop, especially if you like biscuits and gravy. If you explore the area in the evening, stop at the Blue Star Brewing Company which is a reasonably-priced brewpub and restaurant. If you’d rather ride a colorful VIA trolley around the downtown area (80 cents per ride), you can stop off at Market Square to enjoy the colorful shops and grab a pastry at local landmark Mi Tierra. And what librarian could pass up an opportunity to visit another city’s public library? Stop by the Central Library to enjoy the Dale Chihuly "Fiesta Tower" glass sculpture, murals by Jesse Treviño, and check out the beautiful enchilada-red color of the building’s exterior. If you have time and transportation to get a little bit further out, you may want to visit some of the historic missions in the area or go wild at the Lenny Kravitz / Aerosmith concert at the SBC Center on January 25th.
We know – you’ll be busy with ALA Midwinter meetings, sessions, and exhibits, but surely you’ll be able to take some time to stroll along the River Walk, enjoy the weather, and visit the historic Alamo. And remember, if you’re going for the fresh guacamole, invite us along! Have a great conference!