Lost in San Antonio: Rolling on the River Walk

City Travel, Cruise, Featured, Featured Getaway, Texas — By on May 16, 2010 at 6:02 pm

By Amanda Pressner
LG Executive Editor

This first time I caught a glimpse of The San Antonio River Walk, I did a bit of a double take.

Although I’d arrived in San Antonio with the understanding that city had some kind of entertainment district located on a body of water, I wasn’t expecting this thoroughly charming, almost European-style waterway and public space that curved and meandered through the heart of the downtown district. Two parallel sidewalks ran along the deeply shaded banks, and both were lined from end to end with outdoor cafes, galleries and shops. And since the River Walk was located one level down from the street and away from the traffic, it provided the perfect venue for couples, friends and families looking to enjoy an afternoon stroll.

My friends Meg, Jen, Courtney and I had opted to stay at The Watermark Hotel & Spa, located right along on the River Walk in one of it’s prettiest sections—by we realized that we’d need to do a little “cruising” if we wanted to see the city from another cool perspective. And so, right after our foray through the San Antonio Fiesta Arts Fair, we hopping in one of the red, blue and cream-colored tour boats (Rio San Antonio Cruises; $8.25 for adults, $2.00 for kids) and got psyched to roll through a new section of the River Walk known as “Museum Reach.”

Our driver Cliff explained that this addition, which opened in May 2009, had added 1.3 miles of walkways to the park and helped connect the existing River Walk to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the 125-year-old Pearl Brewery. To overcome a nine-foot difference in elevation, the city had to install a lock-and-dam system, the only one in Texas, which give this part of the River Walk the nickname, the “mini Panama Canal.” Of course, this one was very, very mini indeed compared to the one that Courtney, Meg, Jen and I visited when we were in Central America last summer, but then again, we didn’t have the pleasure of actually getting to ride on a boat as it went through!

At our request, Cliff regaled us with his rendition of Mac the Knife during the two and a half minute rise from the lower level to the upper one!

After Cliff dropped us off at the Pearl Brewery, we got out to walking around for a bit, and soon learned that compound that was once housed the brewery has recently undergone a major revitalization and restoration process. It’s now home to the newest branch of the Culinary Institute of America, a branch of the Aveda Institute (which was closed, sadly, so we couldn’t stop the tour to get highlights!), the Esther Vexler Yoga School and the AIA Center for Architecture. This funky urban village is also rapidly becoming the next hot spot for shopping, dining and loft-style living and working. Up and coming designers, photographers, actors and chefs are starting to call this place home—giving an ultra hip, arts district vibe to a destination that was once dedicated exclusively to the manufacture of beer.

Museum Reach may be the coolest new section of the River Walk, but city planners have only just begun their plans for expansion. With the help of the US Army Corps of Engineers, they’re embarking on a 384.5 million dollar, multi-year project to restore and enhance a full 13 miles of the San Antonio River, both north and South of Downtown. By the year 2014, there will a total of four “reaches,” segments of the river including Museum Reach, Downtown Reach, the Eagleland and the Mission Reach—and eight mile section of the river that runs past San Antonio’s most beautiful and historic landmarks.

While its sure to look entirely different in the next four years, the Mission Reach section of the San Antonio River is still accessible by bike and on foot. Stay tuned for Lost Girl Courtney Dubin’s next post on “Biking the Mission Trail.”

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