The Best Riverfront Towns To Visit In America

Take a look at towns worldwide, and regardless of what continent they're on, what language their population speaks, or what their economic status is, one theme emerges — many of them are built around rivers. That's no accident. When many of these towns were founded centuries ago, rivers offered endless resources to residents. Rivers provided fresh water, homes to local animals and plants that could be used as food sources, cleanliness since they could remove waste, and cheap transportation of goods from food to building materials.

The same applies in America, where rivers have not only allowed towns to make it to modern times but have also served as tourist destinations, offering art havens, restaurants, shops, historic sites, tours, and outdoor activities. To create this list of the best riverfront towns in the country, Explore researched the many riverfront towns in America through tourism websites, blogs, and travel guides. Our mission was to find the ones with the most attractions that also use their rivers to formulate their identities, as detailed at the end of this article.

San Antonio, Texas

When missionaries and Indigenous people called what's now San Antonio home, they relied on the freshwater of the San Antonio River every day of their lives to cook, drink, eat, travel, and more. Today, the modern city of San Antonio still uses the river similarly to its former residents through the San Antonio River Walk, which includes 8 miles of pathways around the river. Surrounding the river and lining the River Walk, which is also Texas's most-visited destination, are countless restaurants, hotels, shops, museums, and more. Plus, depending on the season, it's also where San Antonio's river parades, artisan markets, holiday lights, and kids' activities take place. Unsurprisingly, this municipality is known as one of the underrated cities in America's South that you shouldn't skip visiting

One of the best ways to get an overview of the River Walk is to hop on a river taxi tour, which takes visitors to the various points of interest surrounding the River Walk that go far beyond a place to grab lunch or shop clothing racks. Near this UNESCO World Heritage site, tourists will find the Alamo, a historic mission where the Battle of the Alamo occurred during the Texas Revolution. Another popular spot lining the San Antonio River is the Japanese Tea Garden, a quiet city respite and place to escape the city's heat and the hustle and bustle with its 60-foot waterfall, a pond full of koi fish, and gardens in bloom no matter the month.

Augusta, Kentucky

Visitors to Augusta, Kentucky, can see the Ohio River in much of its untouched, small-town glory. Augusta, named the most picturesque town in the state by USA Today, has less than 1,200 residents and plenty of hometown charm along its 9 miles that line the river. The city got its start nearly 240 years ago as a river trading post, and many of its attractions date back nearly as long. 

These include the 226-year-old town clock and the 225-year-old ferry service, one of the oldest on the Ohio River. The ferry service takes visitors between Kentucky and Ohio on either side of the river, as well as their vehicles. If they're lucky, they'll see the American Countess paddle wheeler, which visits Augusta five times per year and is always heartily welcomed by crowds.

Not far from the Ohio River in Augusta is also the Baker-Bird Winery and Distillery, home to the biggest and oldest wine cellar in the country, having been collecting spirits since before the Civil War. What's known as the most historic spirits site in the United States dates back nearly 200 years. You don't need to venture far to find even more history in this Norman Rockwell painting-esque town, either. Within less than 1½ square miles, visitors can see historic homes like the former abode of Rosemary Clooney, a singer and actress famous for songs like "Come On-a My House."

New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz music. It's an epicenter of Cajun and Creole cuisine. It's one of the most haunted cities in the world. It's home to America's most famous Mardi Gras celebration. But without the Mississippi River, which the city's famous French Quarter sits on the banks of, it might not be here. New Orleans was founded more than 300 years ago due to its ideal location on the river as a port for trade. Today, it remains an important port city in the United States since it's the final port before reaching the Gulf of Mexico, where items like oil, cars, coffee, and meat are shipped.

Whether visitors are going on a ghost tour, enjoying po' boys and Hurricanes, checking out the floats of Mardi Gras, or listening to live jazz music on Bourbon Street, the Mississippi River just steps away from New Orleans on the Bywater. However, that can be easy to forget in a city with so much activity. That's why each September, New Orleans celebrates the Downriver Festival at the New Orleans Jazz Museum, next to the river. 

Here, residents and visitors gather to sample fresh seafood caught in nearby waters. They also listen to live music while remembering the important impacts that the river has had on everyday life in New Orleans for centuries. Plus, if you visit, consider hopping on a New Orleans riverboat tour to see the Mississippi River in action. 

Cincinnati, Ohio

Today, we think of Cincinnati as a booming city that's the perfect place to catch a ball game, dig into a steaming bowl of chili, and enjoy a taste of Germany across the pond, which is also why it's quickly becoming a top tourist destination in the Midwest. However, the city got its start due to the Ohio River, which, due to trade and the invention of steamboats, helped propel Cincinnati into the future starting in the 1850s. 

Many of the city's attractions are just a stone's throw from the river, which runs through the southern part of Cincinnati. One includes the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a museum focused on the history of the Underground Railroad. Cincinnati's particular location even played a role in the Underground Railroad — once enslaved people crossed the Ohio River into the North, they were known to be free.

Also on the banks of Cincinnati is Coney Island, a park with rides, pools, swimming lessons, cabanas, and more. Less than a half-mile from that is Riverbend Music Center, which attracts countless people per year to its outdoor concerts overlooking the Ohio River. To see another important piece of Ohio River culture and history, check out the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, the longest bridge on the planet. Connecting Kentucky and Ohio, this bridge stretches over 1,000 feet and dates back 156 years, making it a National Historic Landmark.

Memphis, Tennessee

Memphis, Tennessee, is the home of blues, rock n' roll, and soul music, as well as the former home of Elvis Presley, the legendary king of rock n' roll. But Memphis is also the home of the Mississippi River, where one of the city's most famous music festivals takes place — the Beale Street Music Festival. The festival, hosted annually on the river banks at Tom Lee Park, is a three-day music extravaganza held each May overlooking the Mississippi River. But Beale Street, which begins at the river and runs into downtown Memphis, is a music destination no matter the day. Here, you'll find live blues venues, as well as authentic Southern restaurants and chic shops.

For a much tamer afternoon enjoying the river, visitors can hop on a paddle wheeler, allowing riders to see the city and its surrounding nature while learning about its storied history and points of interest. Also, at Tom Lee Park, visitors can walk across the Mississippi River thanks to the river's new pedestrian bridge – the longest bridge people can walk across at any spot on the river. Cross the bridge by foot or bicycle from Memphis, and you'll find yourself in an entirely different state: Arkansas. Plus, depending on when you stop by the river, you'll also find lots of other activities, like yoga classes, roller skating, holiday markets, and firepits. Memphis is also known as one of the best riverfront towns on the Mississippi River.

Savannah, Georgia

If you walk down Savannah's Riverfront and cobblestoned River Street, which lines the Savannah River, you're literally walking past history. That's because the buildings that now house some of the city's best restaurants, bars, and shops were once cotton warehouses centuries ago. This Southern city exported more cotton than any other city on the planet thanks to its location on the river. After the final cotton office shut its doors nearly 70 years ago, the city got to work bringing the riverfront back to life, and did they ever. Today, it's an 80,000-square-foot mecca of activity and culture, all lined with the beautiful backdrop of the Savannah River.

Although there's far too much to see and do on River Street in a single visit, make sure you stop at Fiddler's Crab House for lunch or dinner, which is located inside a former cotton warehouse dating back to the 1850s. Or, for more casual comfort eats, head to Spanky's, where the first chicken finger was born. But make sure you finish off your meal at River Street Sweets, which has been named the city's best candy store countless times — the pecan pralines are its specialty. To pick up other souvenirs besides sweets, the River Street Market Place is a must-visit. Located inside a re-imagined circa-1800s market, it is full of artisans selling homemade items like beef jerky, handcrafted jewelry, hot sauce, signage, wind spinners, and more.

Hood River, Oregon

Unlike the other towns on this list, Hood River, Oregon, isn't surrounded by big buildings or crowds. It's life on the wild side here, where Hood River is the attraction, as it brings tourists to hike, bike, and ski on its outskirts. Hood River is even known as the windsurfing capital of the world, and newbies and experts flock here to try their hand at this exciting sport. 

To see the river and its stunning gorge from the land — as well as its fields of wildflowers — hop on the Coyote Wall Trail or the trails of Mount Hood Meadows. In the wintertime, Mount Hood Meadows becomes a skiing epicenter since the area is home to the longest ski season in the country. That means that in a single trip to Hood River, you can both windsurf and ski, making for a one-of-a-kind destination surrounded by natural beauty.

But if you need a breather from an afternoon spent on the river, take a tour of the Hood River Fruit Loop. Due to the volcanic soil of nearby Mount Hood, the area is a grower's paradise, and it has more than two dozen wineries, breweries, fruit stands, and cideries. Some of the most popular include Evoke Winery, which offers a wine for every palate made from Pacific Northwest grapes. There's also Hiyu Wine Farm, situated in a river valley surrounded by lush foliage and farm animals.

Richmond, Virginia

Bustling Richmond, Virginia, is full of important sites like the Poe Museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia State Capitol, and the Science Museum of Virginia. For a break, Richmond residents, about 226,000 people, can take a stroll along the Canal Walk, which stretches over a mile along the city's riverfront and is accessible to all. It's also easy to reach since people can get on the Canal Walk on nearly every corner for a dozen blocks.

The Canal Walk runs along the James River and is often full of people walking, biking, or running atop the walk's 22 bronze medallions, which mark historic sites. If you don't want to track all 22 medallions by foot, one of the best ways to see the Canal Walk is by stepping onto a canal boat, which is available for historic tours and private charters. On a 40-minute historic tour, visitors will leave having learned about the Triple Crossing railroad, the city's former tobacco warehouses, the Low Line gardens, and more. 

After your trip, head to one of Canal Walk's trendy restaurants, like Casa Barco, a modern Mexican destination, or the Southern Railway Taphouse, a gastropub with tons of draft beers on tap. On your way, you'll likely spot some of the Canal Walk's public art, such as The April 1865 exhibit, which marks when the Confederacy was defeated by the Union Army, located on a bridge adjacent to the James River.

Asheville, North Carolina

Hopheads have long been flocking to Asheville, which has more breweries than any other American city. But they may not realize that they have Asheville's French Broad River, one of the oldest rivers on the planet, to thank for the city's delicious beer. The river's water is very clean and has the perfect pH level needed for brewing beer. For a taste of what all the fuss is about, check out Wedge Brewing Company, located in the city's River Arts District alongside the French Broad River. The arts district, housed in former empty warehouses, is now the city's 2-mile epicenter for art, all with stunning views of the river. More than 200 artists have studios here and take creative inspiration from the French Broad River.

Asheville visitors can also see the French Broad River firsthand through tons of outdoor activities, like tubing, canoeing, fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. To go for a float on the river and help support keeping the river clean, book a trip with Asheville Outdoor Company, which opened on the river nearly three decades ago. Dave Donnell, who started the company, works with local organizations to protect the river and also helps people experience the French Broad River for themselves with floating adventures. Bike rentals are also available for tourists who want to see the river in all its glory without getting wet, as trails run along some riverbanks.

New Hope, Pennsylvania

You don't need to venture far to experience the Delaware River in New Hope, Pennsylvania — the town's Main Street runs alongside it. As a result, visitors have river views, whether staying at one of the town's many quaint inns, visiting one of its restaurants, or shopping at its many eclectic boutiques. And every step they take is dripping with history. New Hope, which was formerly known as Coryell's Ferry, dates back two centuries and is home to historic sites like the circa-1784 Parry Mansion and the Bucks County Playhouse, where legendary names like Grace Kelly and Dick Van Dyke once performed.

But the real joy in New Hope is simply perusing its lively Main Street, which always has both visitors and residents strolling the area, no matter the season. For some of the best river views in town, grab a bite at Stella, a refined small-plate eatery housed inside the Ghost Light Inn and named after the owners' dog. Diners and shoppers can also readily cross the New Hope-Lambertville Bridge, a 1,000-foot-long bridge that leads them right into Lambertville on the other side of the Delaware River. This is another riverfront town with lots to see and do. 

For a quieter stroll, take a walk or bike ride along the Delaware Canal State Park towpath. This is part of a park with a 50-acre pond, access to the river's shores, and nearly a dozen river islands, all undisturbed by humans and brimming with nature and wildlife.

Great Falls, Montana

The name "Great Falls, Montana," isn't a joke. There are 5 massive waterfalls throughout the 7 miles of the Missouri River that call Great Falls home, which attract the city's 60,000 residents and visitors alike. However, the falls that gave this city its name weren't great for everyone. Lewis and Clark had a particularly rough time traversing the waterfalls during their famous journey more than two centuries ago. 

Still, today, visitors love seeing the same spots that these explorers did. One of those sites includes Ryan Island Park, which offers a phenomenal view of the Great Falls from its highest peak. Keep in mind, though, that the falls of the Missouri River that Lewis and Clark witnessed were much more massive — today, they are controlled by various dams.

To do more than just see the river and its falls, visitors can enjoy outdoor activities on North America's longest river, like kayaking, fishing, paddleboarding, and more. Thanks to Montana's freezing temperatures, people can also go ice fishing on the Missouri River, and due to local vendors specializing in it, they don't have to manage the preparations themselves. Since Great Falls often has tourists during the warmer months, ice fishing is a great way to see the Missouri River in its winter glory and get some peace and quiet.

Leavenworth, Washington

During the holiday season, the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, Washington, might as well be the North Pole. Although only 2,400 people live here, millions flock to Leavenworth annually, eager to check out its Christmas lights, German wineries and breweries, reindeer farm, nutcracker museum, and more. But everyone visiting in the winter rather than the summer is missing out on one of the best parts of Leavenworth — the Wenatchee River. This is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts looking to hike, bike, and raft, with stunning Washington mountain views in the background.

Here, there are tons of companies that offer all the gear needed for visitors to spend a day out on the river with tubes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. For people who want an extreme whitewater rafting experience, the Wenatchee River is also the perfect place to go. Depending on the season, the waves can be massive on this 14-mile river, and only those who don't mind getting soaked are recommended to embark.


To determine which riverfront towns in America were the best to visit, Explore combed through dozens of tourism websites and blogs created by travel experts who detailed a town's attractions. These websites shared the history of a town, as well as its perspectives based on personal travel experiences. With this information, Explore ascertained which towns had the most varied list of attractions — ranging from whitewater rafting to a pleasant afternoon shopping — and recognized the importance of the river in their communities. The towns on this list not only have a river but also honor it and its history and carve their cultures around it.