The esterase RhEst1 from Rhodococcus sp. ECU1013 has been reported for the enantioselective hydrolysis of ethyl (S)-(+)-2,2-dimethylcyclopropane carboxylate, producing the building block of cilastatin. In this work, error-prone PCR and site-directed saturation mutagenesis were applied to RhEst1 for activity improvement, with the pH-indicator assay as a high-throughput screening method. As a result, RhEst1(A147I/V148F/G254A), with mutations surrounding the substrate access channel, showed a 5-fold increase in its specific activity compared with the native enzyme, as well as a 4-fold increase in protein solubility. Combined with the determination of protein structures and computational analysis, this work shows that the amino acids around the substrate channel play a more important role in the activity evolution of RhEst1 than those in the active site.