Fiesta San Antonio

Celebrate Texas-style at this city’s biggest annual party and learn how to score tickets and which of the multiple flashy parades and decadent food booths shouldn’t be missed.


What if a city already devoted to food and festivals decided to throw an 11-day party? That’s exactly what San Antonio does each year with Fiesta, now in its 118th year. The event began in 1891 when local women paraded through the streets with flowers to honor soldiers at the Alamo and San Jacinto, and it has become a tradition that is more robust than ever, encompassing more than 100 affiliated events held all over the city. This year the celebration runs from April 16 to 26.

Though there is a mind-boggling selection of events, with wide-ranging titles like Fiesta Lacrosse Festival, Piñatas in the Barrio and Chips N Salsa (with “Chips” referring to poker and not the ubiquitous snacks), many Fiesta attendees focus on a handful of the most popular and enduring events, and mix in a couple of smaller or newer events each year as stamina and schedules warrant.

Fiesta Parades

The best-attended events are a pair of parades along the same downtown route: the daytime Battle of Flowers parade on Fiesta’s final Friday (April 24, 2009) and the evening Fiesta Flambeau parade the following night.

Each parade can draw more than half a million people to watch the floats and high school bands; while the best seats are ticketed, it’s possible to find decent views on sidewalks along the route. However, San Antonians take a peculiar pride in claiming their spots hours before the parade and making a sport of waiting, so if you arrive just prior to the parade, stand tall or be prepared to crane your neck quite a bit. Note: Battle of Flowers Day is a city holiday, so schools and a number of businesses—though not tourist-oriented ones, to be sure—close for the day (or at noon).

The third of the three noteworthy parades, traditionally held on Fiesta Monday, is the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, involving boats and barges on the San Antonio River along the River Walk. While its audience of 250,000 seems small compared to the other two parades, it’s in the more confined quarters of the River Walk, and only 17,000 of the seats are ticketed and reserved. As a result, parade goers either settle in at one of the many restaurants on the River Walk before it starts, or find vantage points on one of the many bridges looking down on the river at street level—wherever they can squeeze in.

Fiesta Food Events

The first weekend of Fiesta is dominated by two eat-and-eat more events off the downtown grid: the Fiesta Oyster Bake, a longstanding Westside tradition held at the St. Mary’s University campus, and the sole reason many San Antonians are adept with an oyster knife; and A Taste of New Orleans, which brings Cajun flavor to the Sunken Garden Theater in Brackenridge Park.

A Moveable Feast

Although the food events are popular, much of Fiesta’s appeal lies in its moveable feasts, and nowhere is this more true than A Night In Old San Antonio, called NIOSA by locals (pronounced nye-oh-sa or nee-oh-sa). NIOSA transforms La Villita, a quaint collection of shops and courtyards spanning several downtown blocks, into an encampment of food booths and music stages saluting the city’s myriad cultures.

At NIOSA, it’s possible to eat sausage in the German section, wander over and sample frog legs in the French corridor, and then walk to one of the many Mexican food booths for freshly made gorditas (like tacos, only with thicker tortillas). And while in the German section (housed in the Villita Assembly Hall), it’s practically mandatory to chicken dance, for the polka band holding court plays it every fourth song.

NIOSA lasts four straight evenings, starting April 21 this year; go early if you prefer (relatively) thinner crowds, later if you favor beer and merriment and don’t mind the occasional jostle.

Art Fairs

The best bet downtown on Fiesta’s first weekend is the Fiesta Arts Fair, featuring an impressive collection of arts and artisans—including some very skilled jewelry makers—on the gorgeous grounds of the Southwest School of Art & Craft.

Massive and yet quirky, the King William Fair celebrates the historical and artsy neighborhood just south of downtown, and serves as an extended Saturday morning and afternoon prelude to the Fiesta Flambeau parade. Starting with a 10 a.m. low-key and funky parade featuring artists, roller derby girls and the occasional drag queen (on April 25 this year), the event features plentiful food booths, arts and crafts displays, and various musical acts—though one of the main attractions is peeking in on the parties in the front yards of King William’s massive Victorian mansions.

Parade and event tickets sold separately. Sample prices include: $12 at the gate for Night in Old San Antonio; $4 for Battle of Flowers Band Festival; $10 starting price for admission to Texas Cavaliers River Parade. For the complete list of event dates and times call 877-723-4378 or go to

Destinations: San Antonio

Themes: Urban Endeavors

Activities: Arts and Entertainment

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