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Every year, my husband, Jim, and I pack up our minivan and trek to Texas to visit family. Whenever possible, we include a detour to San Antonio for its beautiful River Walk, fantastic food and one-of-a-kind festivals. Because I can't walk, I get around in a 350-pound power wheelchair. Navigating a historic destination can be a challenge, but 300-year-old San Antonio continues to improve accessibility for folks who have difficulty walking or use a mobility device like me.
Here are a few tips.
Pedestrian traffic can be congested and moves slowly in the compact downtown core of the River Walk, which is full of hotels, shops and restaurants. Occasionally, routes narrow to a width that accommodates a single wheelchair user, pedestrian bridges can be steep, and the absence of handrails requires caution. But once beyond this hub, newer sections (Museum Reach and Mission Reach) have wider sidewalks and smoother surfaces.
Yellow Cab’s accessible vans cost the same as standard cabs, and up to three additional passengers ride for free. Whenever possible, book in advance to avoid long delays. Many cities do not offer this service or require booking it hours or sometimes even days in advance.
We also often catch the VIA VIVA culture bus, which includes stops at 20 of the city’s most popular attractions (museums, theaters, art galleries, zoo and parks), in front of the Alamo. An unlimited Day Pass costs $2.75 or a Seven-Day Pass costs $12, and the new air-conditioned buses, which run approximately every 15 minutes, can transport two wheelchair users per ride.
Things to do
San Antonio’s River Walk. This linear public park, located 20 feet below street level, opened in 1941— decades before the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Originally reachable only by stairs, the city installed elevators and ramps so visitors who can't walk can stroll the winding paths lush with tropical plants and giant cypress trees. Before visiting the River Walk, download maps that show the location of ramps, elevators and accessible paths from the City of San Antonio’s website. Often the most direct route is street level followed by an elevator.
GO RIO Cruises on the San Antonio River. The new colorful boats welcome wheelchair users and ride higher on the water for better sight lines during the 35-minute narrated River Walk tour (tickets $12; $9 for people 60 and older).
San Antonio Botanical Garden. The 38-acre garden offers delightful blooms in the spring, and the unique Texas Trail includes period homes. Its winding paths can be quite steep, but my power chair made the climb.
The Witte Museum. The Smithsonian-affiliated museum in Brackenridge Park just completed a $100 million sophisticated expansion. Exhibits focus on Texas history and culture, nature and science. Don’t miss the rooftop view of the San Antonio River. Wheelchairs are available upon request.
McNay Art Museum. A little north of the park sits the first modern art museum in Texas. Housed in a wheelchair-accessible, 24-room Spanish Colonial-Revival house built in1927, it boasts an impressive collection in a beautiful hillside setting. All of the art can be seen, thanks to the addition of ramps and elevators.
San Antonio — The Saga. This is a dazzling video production with choreographed music and images projected on the facade of San Fernando Cathedral, one of America’s oldest churches. The million-dollar art installation by French artist Xavier de Richemont tells the story of San Antonio’s history, and is a free event performed under the moonlight every Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Main Plaza. Wheelchair users should go early and sit near the front.
Where to stay
Hyatt Regency. The hotel’s dedicated River Walk elevator is an ideal entry point for wheelchair users, located a block from the Alamo.
Home2 Suites by Hilton San Antonio Downtown. Hotel suites provide more space than a standard hotel guest room, and the sleeper sofa is a plus for families or those traveling with a companion.
The St. Anthony, a Luxury Collection Hotel. If you can go high-end, this glamorous historic hotel built in 1909 has been made wheelchair accessible with the addition of elevators, ramps and ADA-configured bathrooms.
Where to eat
Don’t be discouraged if a restaurant appears inaccessible; many River Walk establishments have alternate entrances for wheelchair users. Call to ask about access or have a companion inquire.
Ocho. Hotel Havana’s romantic pan-Latin restaurant, open all day, is enclosed in a glass conservatory that overlooks a quiet stretch of the San Antonio River steps from the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. You can order salads and small plates (enchiladas, chorizo con queso), and full meals such as pan-seared salmon. The restaurant entrance is on the left side of the hotel and requires rolling or walking up a short and somewhat steep curving brick path, which may be difficult for some wheelchair users.
Boudro’s. Easy to access, with outdoor tables under umbrellas, Boudro’s — a Texas bistro — is a good choice for its wood-grilled steaks and table-side guacamole for two. Be sure to order the pink Prickly Pear Margarita.
Pearl. A former brewery operating from 1883 to 2001 and now turned mixed-use development, Pearl offers a tantalizing selection of dining options — from Bakery Lorraine to Cured, a Bon Appétit nominee for America’s Best New Restaurants. The Pearl Weekend Market (a farmers market on Saturday and Sunday) brings out the dog owners and savvy shoppers. We always eat breakfast at the market and pick up great “thank you” gifts for the house sitter. Everything here is wheelchair-friendly, including the newly opened cellar-level music club and bar Jazz,TX.