Welcome to me first official debriefing. This is where, at the end of each operation, I will review all of the places I have visited over the course of my journeys. I talk about things I like, things I dislike, places within the 1000 Places book, and even places outside of it that I enjoyed. I give each of the 1000 Places a star rating out of five. Things that affect the scale include can vary, anything from local climate to the presence of tourists. Of course, this is my opinion on these locations, however I mean to use these to prioritize what a traveler on a limited time and budget should see. And note that the star ratings apply exclusively to locations from the 1000 Places book, however don’t assume that I won’t talk about exemplary places that exist outside of the book.
Operation Fiesta took me to San Antonio, a colonial city deep in the heart of Texas. I arrived during Fiesta, a cultural festival celebrating music, heritage, and lots of alcohol. But the centerpiece of my journey was the River Walk, a tree-lined channel of plazas and shops along a tranquil riverbank. During Fiesta, we discovered traditions such as medals, halos, and lively music. From the historical significance of the Alamo to the markets of El Mercado, it was a great city we had visited at a great time of year.
Book Entries Visited:
- River Walk: San Antonio, USA 4/5 Stars
Book Locations Visited:
- Alamo 5/5
- River Walk 4/5
- Smoked Shrimp and Gulf Crab Enchiladas, Boudro’s 5/5
- Watch River Life Go By 5/5
- Alamo: The Price of Freedom Film 4/5
- Alamo Cenotaph 4/5
- Fiesta San Antonio 4/5
- Market Square 4/5
- El Mercado 4/5
- Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery 4/5
I gave the San Antonio River Walk four out of five stars. Four stars, which corresponds to a great location. My first impressions of the River Walk concerned me, because at first I noticed how it felt like a tourist trap… almost like the gambling halls of low-end Las Vegas casinos. There were a bunch of people seemingly embracing the “clueless tourist” stereotype, the air smelled like cigarettes, the riverbanks were lined with bars, and it became wilder as the night went on. However, this can be interpreted two ways. While it was busy with throngs of tourists, it did provide for great people-watching- the best I’ve seen in the United States thus far. Boudro’s and Casa Rio, two classic restaurants on the eastern stretch, have waterfront views of the people and the barges that cruise by. If you want to do a barge, it’s fine, but to enjoy the River Walk it’s not mandatory, and it’s more fun to see the boats themselves.
The River Walk is a rough rectangle. The vertical bank, north-south, has better nightlife, atmosphere, but is more frequented. The southern horizontal stretch, while I wouldn’t go there when it gets dark because not a lot of people go there, is beautiful during the day, with the best foliage, swimming ducks, and sculptures. It’s merely yards from the busy vertical bank, but is quieter and tranquil. From the River Walk, a ten minute walk conveniently takes you to the Alamo, the monument to Texan Independence, contains a patriotic display of exhibits and historical buildings. The nearby Alamo Cenotaph is a worthy memorial to the heroes of the Alamo who died resisting overwhelming numbers commanded by Mexican General Santa Anna. To the west of the River Walk is Market Square, a lively market. Halfway between the two destinations is the Spanish Governor’s House, which makes for a fine optional detour for about half an hour.
Market Square is a lovely area with plentiful shops and food stalls, including El Mercado, an atmospheric indoor market displaying Mexican pottery and clothing. Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery is a local establishment decorated with an organized cafe with assorted pastries to where you can return multiple times and still enjoy fresh, fruit-flavored treats. All this was intensified because our visit coincided with Fiesta San Antonio, a musical celebration when the city, including Market Square, overflows with bright colors and decorations. The banners with pink and blue flags hung over the square, and you could see people with flowery paper halos as well as huge Fiesta fans wearing sombreros adorned with multiple “fiesta medals” which can be purchased at many a local restaurant or attraction. Fiesta medals were the neatest because some people were decked out like generals overseeing the party.
I’ll turn my attention back to the River Walk. It is, after all, what I’m reviewing. The man-made “river” itself isn’t very clear, but the body of water matters less than what is alongside it. Ducks run wild along the water, and sometimes crawl next to your table. Whether this is a pro or con is up to you, however in hindsight it was a bit uncomfortable. I like how many of the hotels and cafes give you riverside views, which are aided by the fact that few pedestrian bridges cross the canal, leaving the vistas unobstructed. The barges also add a nice touch and add to the aura of activity. Another thing we noticed is that, even though numerous bars are on the eastern part of the River Walk, portions of the riverbanks have no railings, which I presume drinking alcohol here could be a liability if one lost his or her footing. On the other hand, the lack of railings do give the area better views as opposed to gazing at dull metal chains.
That’s what makes the River Walk fun. Located one level below city streets, it is artificially made, however it never feels dull or unnatural. It feels like a park, with towering trees, riverside gardens, and ducks along walking paths. Nature seamlessly spills over into old Spanish-style buildings, colored umbrellas, and Texan flags. Yes, sometimes this can be interrupted by overpasses and busy sections (note that it appears that the River Walk could be a challenge for anyone in a wheelchair or other physical disability), but overall it is unspoiled and at its quietest during the day. And as I said, the people here are good fun to observe. In fact, the River Walk is all about visuals; creating beautiful views and engraving memories.
So the River Walk gets four stars, on account of its beauty, history, culture, convenience, and nature. “Cloak and Dagger” was nice to film here, as it promises stunning views for photographers and people who come to look. Fiesta also brought character to this multicultural town. “But Will,” you may ask, “if it’s so great, why did it get four stars?” First of all, don’t believe that I’m insulting the River Walk. Just because it didn’t get the full five doesn’t render it unworthy to your visit. However, a few things held it back from the maximum rating. The eastern stretch felt like a drinking zone reeking of smoke, reminding me of a combination of certain parts of Las Vegas and New Orleans’ French Quarter. The gift shops felt a bit tacky, and the overcrowding is not for everyone. But what sets the River Walk back is an element that cannot be helped. The five star rating is reserved for those sights that just “blow my mind” as the kids say. Sights with universal appeal I could see again and again. It doesn’t feel correct to put the River Walk up there with the Sydney Opera House and New York City. It isn’t for everyone, albeit there is much to enjoy. It’s definitely worthy of a revisit someday, and I’ll be glad to return. In conclusion, the relaxation and cultural appreciation one encounters at the River Walk earns it a respectable four stars. WillTravel will be back soon.