Tips for Visiting San Antonio
On our first visit to San Antonio it took us a few days to get acclimated. For those of you also visiting for the first time, we hope that these tips will be helpful for planning and enjoying your stay.
Traveler’s World RV Park (our review)
Don’t be nervous about the reviews you read about this park like we were. Some reviews suggest that it is in a bad, seedy and unsafe part of San Antonio. Not true. Yes, we would agree that the surrounding area is not the prettiest part of town, but it felt perfectly normal and safe to us and we were very close to almost anything we needed, plus centrally located to the main tourist attractions.
This big rig friendly park is also people friendly with decently spaced sites (for the most part) and is located only 3.5 miles from downtown by bus or car, or about a 5 mile bike ride on the Riverwalk (there is an entrance to the hiking/biking trail right next to the office). The bus stop is also right at the campground entrance. In our opinion it was an oasis in the midst of suburbia! Highly recommend staying here. Did we mention it is directly on the Riverwalk? On this map, the campground is marked at about the 5 mi “Museum Reach” mark, south of the Riverside Golf Course.
For big rigs, pull thru sites 83-103 are preferred (avoid 104 thru 105-1/2 which are narrow and have low hanging trees). Important note: when arriving here DO NOT follow your GPS, use the directions on the campground web site or you may find yourself at a very undesirable railroad crossing with a steep hump that may very well ruin your day.
Getting into the City
Driving: Because the park is located less than 5 miles from downtown, it is a very easy drive by car. During our stay, we drove in to do some sightseeing several times and took the bus a couple of other times.
Parking: Parking wasn’t a problem although the lots can be a little pricey, ranging in price from $5 to $20, some of the self pay lots offer reduced rates after 3:00 or 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. Do your homework by using websites such as Parkopedia or Best Parking or by downloading and using their free apps which are available on your iPhone or Android device. Put in the hours that you think you will be there and it will show you all the competing rates. On the day that we wanted to see the laser light show at the San Fernando Cathedral, we found a self pay parking lot on Main Street Plaza which was just a short walk from the Cathedral. After 3:00 p.m. the rate was only $7.00.
On Tuesday night, parking is free at any of the city-owned downtown parking garages, surface lots and meters from Tuesday at 5 p.m. until 2 a.m. (Wednesday). For more specific information see the Downtown Tuesday Parking website.
Public transportation: If you don’t want to drive and deal with the hassle of parking, you can take the bus (#42) which runs about every 30 minutes during the weekdays and stops right across the street from the campground. If you stay at Travelers World, a bus schedule is given to you in your packet of information when you check in at the office. Fares are $1.30 per person per way or $2.75 per person for an all day pass. The All Day Pass can be used on any VIA bus. Make sure to have exact change with you, the pay meter aboard the bus accepts both coins and paper bills.
Biking: Bring your bike and you will have plenty of territory to explore. From the campground you can ride about 5 miles of Riverwalk to the south and 10 miles to the north. Downtown is about 5 miles to the north.
If you don’t want the hassle of finding a place to secure your bike or if you don’t have your own bikes with you, you can rent a bike at any on demand San Antonio B-Cycle station located throughout the city. With a network of 24/7 on-demand bicycle stations throughout downtown, Museum Reach and Mission Reach, visitors are provided with an easy, fast way to navigate the city.
How does it work? Simply pick up a bike at any B-station and return it to that same station or any other B-station when you are done by rolling it into a dock and waiting for a blinking green light to confirm that the bike has been correctly secured. No additional charge if the bike is returned within 60 minutes, however, you can simply dock and undock at any station to reset the clock – so theoretically you can ride all day for the original fare. For more information and rates, check out their website. The only downside is there was no dock right at Traveler’s World campground, but there is one less than a mile north at the Riverwalk and Mission Rd. We decided, that for us, finding a dock every 60 minutes would be too inconvenient, plus we have our own bikes anyway.
Still not sure where to bike? Check out these five recommended routes, ranging from a quick spin to those that will require more pedal power on this map.
For what it’s worth, here’s our humble opinion about biking on the Riverwalk. Although bike riding is permitted most places on the Riverwalk, you might want to curtail your Riverwalk biking to the less crowded and wider sections of the walk south of downtown, definitely not in the more congested downtown “loop” area or to the north of downtown. The paths there can be narrow and many a biker or pedestrian will end up in the river – this is a daily event! Also parking your bike while touring downtown might be a hassle, so for that activity we recommend leaving your bike at the campground and driving or taking the bus instead.
Similar to other popular tourist destinations, San Antonio has a variety of options for touring the city including several trolley tour companies as well as a double decker bus tour, each with different offerings. We didn’t take any of these tours so we can’t really comment on them except to say that one of the major operators favors the downtown attractions and another encompasses travel to all the Missions.
However, we can comment on the Go Rio Narrated Cruise on the Riverwalk. Between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m., catch an interesting and informative 35 minute narrated Cruise (ADA accessible) which is a very relaxing way to see the downtown “loop” section of the Riverwalk. The cost is $12 pp or $9 for seniors. There are three ticket booths where tickets can be bought. A map of the tour route and the location of their ticket offices is available on their website.
Also there are a number of restaurants that offer dinner cruises on the River Barges such as Boudreau’s & Casa Rio. The boats are not covered so if you are thinking of booking a dinner cruise check the weather report first!
Getting around via the Riverwalk
Before deciding the best way to navigate the Riverwalk, it is important to know that the Riverwalk is divided into four main segments—the 3.6-mile Museum Reach featuring urban parks and museums (north of Downtown); the historic, 3.2-mile Downtown Riverwalk “loop” section where most of the shops and restaurants are located (see map below, the Downtown “loop” is in the center); the one-mile Eagleland section anchored by the Blue Star Arts Complex and the Southtown and King William neighborhoods (south of downtown); and the eight-mile Mission Reach (way south of downtown). Any of these segments can be accessed by walking or biking. Also check out this detailed map. Only Downtown and the Museum Reach can be accessed by the Rio River Taxi boats. The Rio Barge Tour boat only covers the Downtown loop.
Walking: This is a very enjoyable experience and best way to stop often to admire the artwork and scenery.
Go Rio River Shuttle: When your feet get tired or you just want to take a relaxing cruise along the river (although when the boat is really crowded, the ride might not be all that relaxing), flag down the Go Rio River Shuttle. Not to be confused with the Go Rio Narrated Cruise Tour boats which look the same, the Rio River Taxi boats have checkered flags displayed at the stern. Buy tickets on board with cash or credit. There are various options available for purchase:
- A one way ticket to a single destination is $10
- A one day pass for the downtown area for $12
- A one day combo ticket along the Downtown AND Museum Reach for $16
- Upgrade to a three day pass for an additional $9 at one of their ticket offices. Note this must be done by 9:00 p.m. on the same day that you purchased the one day combo ticket.
Before buying any tickets, best to have some idea of what you want to see and when you want to see it. That will help you determine what type of ticket you want to purchase. We didn’t realize that we could buy a 3 day pass until we had been to the Riverwalk several times and wish we would have discovered that sooner. A three day pass will give you plenty of time to explore at your leisure.
A map of all of the River Taxi stops can be found here. Be sure to take a scenic ride north on the taxi to the Museum Reach section and “The Pearl” where the former Pearl Brewery was once located. To get there the taxi has to pass through a dam and lock which is fun. Today the Pearl neighborhood has 324 apartments, fifteen restaurants and cafes, thirteen retailers and eighteen resident businesses as well as a twice weekly Farmers Market.
If you take the Rio River Taxi, you can get to the Alamo by getting off at the River Center Mall. Go straight into the mall and follow the signs for the Alamo. It is just a short walk. Or if you want to go to the Tower of the Americas, get off at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and follow the signs to the tower.
Note that sometimes there can be a long wait for a boat to come by so don’t plan on it being an efficient and fast method of transportation, it’s more of a fun way to travel so you may want to forgo the boat if you are in a rush. Don’t be afraid to flag down the River Taxi wherever you are – there are fixed stops but they seem to be willing to pick you up or let you off anywhere it is safe. Also note the Taxi boats have a fixed route so depending where you get on, which direction the boat you get on is traveling, and where you want to go, it may take quite a while to get there. However, we observed riders getting a direct transfer to a boat traveling in the opposite direction to speed up the journey, so be sure to tell your captain where you are going and if you would like to get there by a certain time.
Below is a 40 second time lapse video taken from the Rio River Taxi. It starts at the locks, proceeds south down the Museum Reach and goes about halfway around the Downtown Loop. Not a complete tour, but will give you a good idea of what the Riverwalk is like.
Art & Museums
Lots of art and history to explore here, in fact I would say the Riverwalk is a work of art in and of itself. But there are plenty of historical hotels, buildings and other structures. The Briscoe Western Art Museum is located on the downtown loop and was offering free admission on Tuesday evenings while we were here. Check out this site for a more comprehensive list of historical attractions.
The Riverwalk itself is also loaded with art of all kinds. You’ll find mosaics everywhere and many other kinds of public art. We particularly liked the fish hanging from the underside of the I-35 bridge (north of the locks and on the way to the Pearl) and the “Sound Art” we heard going under another nearby bridge.
All the missions are worth a visit and all are free. Of course the Alamo is the most famous and is an easy stroll from the Riverwalk. Plan to spend at least an hour or two there. The other Missions are all south of Downtown. In order, heading south they are; Concepción (3 miles), San Jose (5 miles), San Juan Capistrano (7 miles) and Espada (8.5 miles). This map shows all of them. All are accessible from the Riverwalk, but at least one is a couple of miles from the path.
Honestly, we would suggest the best way to visit them all is by car or bus, save your feet for walking the grounds. All had free parking and none were very busy when we visited. Figure on at least an hour for each. Note that most, if not all, still have active congregations and you may arrive during a funeral, wedding or other service so keep that in mind.
Of the five, we found the Alamo to be the busiest and the best for interactive displays and reenactments, but San Jose gets our vote for the best representation of a complete Mission. The entire grounds and fortifications are still mostly intact at this property, most of that is missing at the Alamo. Espada was unique with the still intact Acequia (Aqueduct) and is a National Historic Landmark.
As with most touristy areas, dining out here can be quite expensive plus it can get quite busy along the Riverwalk after 5:00 p.m. We found having a late lunch was much less costly than having dinner. At some restaurants, delicious appetizers, even sandwiches or tacos are offered during happy hour. And be sure to check at the information centers or campgrounds as they often provide coupons for certain restaurants which can also reduce dining out costs.
A full rundown on the restaurants we visited can be found in San Antonio Eatin’!
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