Photo of Hemisfair Tower

Downtown San Antonio public art walk

This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of RIO Magazine, the official magazine of the San Antonio River Walk Association.

Just when you think that 10,000 steps a day is enough to help stave off diabetes and heart disease, it turns out that 15,000 steps is what we actually need to maintain a normal body mass index and metabolic profile.

Instead of enduring a ho-hum treadmill to get your steps in, enjoy this 3,500-step jaunt through downtown San Antonio while taking in more than 10 of the Alamo City’s hundreds of public art pieces.

Photo of Bistro seating at San Fernando Cathedral.
Photo by Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D.

The distance between San Fernando Cathedral and the Tower of the Americas is 1.1 miles long and will take you approximately 25 minutes to complete. If you retrace your steps, you’ll be almost halfway to your daily goal!

San Antonio, first called Yanaguana by the Payayan Indians, was renamed San Antonio in 1691 when Spanish explorers came upon the river on the saint’s feast day, June 13. What better place to start our walking tour than at a marble sculpture of St. Anthony de Padua just outside of San Fernando Cathedral in the heart of downtown?

The statue, completed in 1955, features St. Anthony holding a book (knowledge) in one hand and a spray of lilies (purity) in the other. The sculpture was designed by Louis Rodriguez, a San Antonio native, who also worked on the Alamo Plaza’s Cenotaph.

Photo of Portal San Fernando park.
Photo courtesy the City of San Antonio

From the statue, head east and walk across Main Plaza and down steps to Portal San Fernando, a park that connects the plaza to the River Walk, to learn some history of the San Antonio River. Artist Cecilia Alvarez Muñoz’s work is featured along six landings that lead down to the river. My favorite is one that reads “I was tamed, río amanzado, to yield, to feed, to foster. Me nombraron [they named me] San Antonio who finds the lost.” For those not acquainted with Catholic lore, St. Anthony is the go-to guy for help in finding things you’ve misplaced.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the treasures that Muñoz installed throughout the park’s pathways. Cross the river via the Portal San Fernando footbridge. Go down to the River Walk and take a right to pass under the Dolorosa Street bridge. Continue walking and turn left through a red-tiled tunnel. When you exit, continue along the River Walk and under the St. Mary’s Street bridge. See if you can spot the gargoyle-like faces in the Tower Life Building across the river.

Continue east along the river to the Navarro Street bridge, where you’ll see a tile mural titled “Old Mill Crossing” created by Ethel Wilson Harris in 1942 as part of the Work Projects Administration (WPA).

Photo courtesy the Briscoe Western Art Museum
Photo courtesy the Briscoe Western Art Museum

When you cross under the South Presa Street bridge, you won’t be able to miss the 2-ton bronze sculpture in front of the Briscoe Western Art Museum titled “Camino de Gálvez” by T.D. Kelsey that features a grizzled cowboy and longhorn steers. Take time to tour the Briscoe’s McNutt Sculpture Garden alongside the River Walk for free.

From the Briscoe, continue east and cross Rosita’s Bridge, named for beloved Mexican-American singer Rosita Fernández, over to the Arneson River Theater, another WPA-era project completed in 1941. The theater is named for Edward Arneson, the WPA’s regional engineer who helped secure funding for the Paseo del Rio (River Walk).

Turn left after you cross the bridge and head toward the 21-story Hilton Palacio Del Rio that was built in 202 days for the start of the 1968 World’s Fair, HemisFair. Depending on the time of day, drop into Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub, a replica of one in Limerick, Ireland, to quench your thirst. The pub is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. and noon to 2 a.m. on Sundays.

Photo courtesy the City of San Antonio
Photo courtesy the City of San Antonio

From Durty Nelly’s, go up the stairs for a view of the 65-foot bright red Torch of Friendship, a sculpture by Mexican artist Sebastián that symbolizes two cultures, two languages and two roads merging into one. The Mexican government gave the sculpture to the City of San Antonio in 2002.

Go down the stairs and take a right toward the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Just before the Commerce Street bridge, you’ll find another statue of St. Anthony de Padua, this one a gift from Portugal for the 1968 World’s Fair, or HemisFair.

Take a right over the footbridge and continue toward the convention center. On the left up high, you’ll see a 110-foot by 22-foot color stone mosaic by Mexican artist Juan O’Gorman titled “The Confluence of Civilization in the Americas” that was created for HemisFair.

Photo of the Lila Cockrell Theatre's artwork by Ansen Seale.
Photo courtesy Ansen Seale

Along the river level of the convention center, you’ll see “Homage to Shigaraki,” a glass glaze ceramic mural–the largest in the world–by Stephen Knapp. Inside the Lila Cockrell Theater, don’t miss Ansen Seale’s “Confluence” series that celebrates water and the ensuing cultures in and around San Antonio.

The convention center is a good place to take a restroom break and rehydrate. While there, be sure to check out Glenna Goodacre’s bronze statues of famous Texans, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Barbara Jordan, José Navarro and more.

Return outside to the river level and head up the stairs through the Lonesome Dove Grotto and waterfall before continuing on the sidewalk that runs between UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and the Mexican Cultural Institute.

Tower of the Americas_Courtesy City of San Antonio copy
Photo courtesy City of San Antonio

Just beyond UNAM, take a left toward the Tower of the Americas, San Antonio’s tallest structure at 750 feet. Designed by local architect O’Neil Ford, the tower was the centerpiece of the 1968 World’s Fair.

Photo by Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D.
Photo by Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D.

At the tower, take a left and stroll over to the niches filled with art. Since the walking tour started with St. Anthony, it’s only fitting that it ends with St. Anthony. Local artist Cakky Brawley’s decorative metalwork, “Grotto de San Antonio,” concludes our journey. If you lost anything along the way, retrace your steps and ask St. Anthony for some help!

Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D., author of “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die,” has been blogging about San Antonio at sanantoniotourist.net since June of 2010. Her love affair with the Alamo City began at HemisFair in 1968. Walking and exploring are two of Denise’s life joys.

For even more ideas of fun things to do and see in San Antonio, visit Barnes & Noble, The Twig, Whole Foods, Half Price Books on 410 across from North Star Mall and on Broadway near downtown, San Antonio Museum of Art gift store, and Fiesta on Main to purchase “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die” by yours truly. Please like my Facebook page to stay in the loop on every San Antonio Tourist post.

2 thoughts on “Downtown San Antonio public art walk

  1. What an outstanding resource you provide, not only for our culture but also to fortify our healthy lives to enjoy it!!!

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