This girl appreciates when a city can throw a good party. Crowded streets and noisy parades? Bring it. I live for that stuff.
When I was invited to San Antonio for their annual Fiesta, of course I jumped at the chance to go. An entire weekend of Mexican food and margaritas? I mean really, who would say no? I would have gone for the guacamole alone. However, I could not have prepared myself for what I was about to experience.
It was an EXPLOSION of color, music, and dancing. If it wasn’t all so completely fabulous, you probably would have found me hiding under the parade bleachers from overstimulation. There is literally confetti everywhere; honestly, if you don’t find it in your hair and subsequently your bed the next morning, you clearly didn’t have enough fun.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. I’ll get to Fiesta later, but let’s start with the River Walk.
Okay, so the San Antonio River runs right through the city, and it’s lined on either side with gorgeous walkways, shops and restaurants. In the quiet morning hours (when most of the city is sleeping off last night’s festivities) you’ll find runners enjoying a scenic jog along the water. Other times you might find couples smooching on a shady bench, or shoppers browsing the street vendors. There’s beautiful architecture, strategically placed waterfalls, and an abundance of sculpture and art to enjoy while you meander along. You find yourself enjoying the songs of the birds almost as much as the mariachi bands, and a bite to eat is never more than a few steps away.
We were staying at the historic Crockett Hotel, which is just a short walk to the river and a few steps from the Alamo (about the best location you could ask for in San Antonio!). On our first morning we walked from the hotel to the River Walk and hopped on a river barge tour. We were treated to an amazing traditional breakfast (courtesy of the Rio Rio Cantina) while our guide entertained us with stories about the history of San Antonio. The tour was awesome and I loved it, but honestly they had me at the huevos rancheros. And chips and salsa for breakfast?? Makes perfect sense to me. I was in heaven already and it was only 9 am.
After the amazing breakfast and tour of the river, it was time to head to the Battle of the Flowers Parade; this was when I really started to see what Fiesta was about. I somehow managed to fight my way through the sea of paper mache’ flowers to find my seat in the bleachers, and carefully wedged myself so that I could see between all the sombreros (these aren’t your typical sombreros, mind you; these things are so elaborate they could be their own parade floats).
Not only are these ladies sporting their Fiesta sombreros, but they are also wearing the traditional medals that are handed out by various organizations and societies throughout the 11 day event. Collecting as many as possible is a long standing Fiesta tradition!
So, the parade starts: marching bands, dancing clowns, the usual parade menagerie. Then the floats with the Fiesta royalty come by, and WOW. The gowns they wear are amazing! Apparently, each girl in the royal court knows a good 2 years in advance that she is chosen, and that entire waiting period is spent creating the masterpiece that she wears during Fiesta. The gowns are so elaborate and so heavy (with trains up to about 12 feet long) that it caused a unique tradition to emerge: the royal ladies began wearing casual, comfy shoes and slippers under their dresses and it became so wildly popular that now the spectators yell “Show us your shoes!!!”, whereby the ladies pull up their dresses to show off their fuzzy frog bedroom slippers, flip flops, Converse, etc.
Although, you’ll be lucky to see any of that through all the confetti flying around. Really, what I’m trying to say is it’s a LOT of confetti. I think at some point I may have even accidentally swallowed some.
Fast-forward through the over 200 parade participants in the line-up, a walk past the Alamo, and a stop to listen to another mariachi band, and we found ourselves at the Q Restaurant for dinner. Located in the Hyatt Regency on the River Walk, it’s a great place to relax for some awesome food and amazing drinks.
I don’t remember what this particular plate of yumminess was called, but that’s ok; the menu changes every 2 months or so to keep things fresh and interesting so chances are you won’t be able to order it anyway.
As if San Antonio hadn’t already proved to us that it was a top-notch party town, we were blown away the next day at the King William Fair. Located in the quaint King William neighborhood, this festival has it all: unique vendors with hand-made goods, all kinds of awesome food (placed on a stick for the ultimate in eating convenience), and the most interesting parade I have ever seen. Seriously, you know you’ve stumbled upon a treasure when you see a float sponsored by a gravestone company, people dressed as giant Twinkies, cross-dressing Egyptians and a 75 year old lady in a squirrel costume. Of course, I can’t forget to mention the family-friendly aspect of this event: kids pulling wagons of beer kegs and a little princess in a Cinderella carriage dancing to “Gangnam Style”.
The beautiful thing about this parade is that it’s all in good fun and it truly is for everyone (pets included; put Fido in a costume and he can be in the parade too!). It draws an estimated 50,000 visitors and raises money for different schools in the area. It’s really hard to tell who is having more fun: the participants or the spectators. I will admit it was probably my favorite part of the weekend; it is definitely a must-experience Fiesta event.
Enjoying festivals is hungry work, so we grabbed a bite at The Granary ‘Cue and Brew. I loved their home style cooking, and their root beer is a local favorite (it’s so good it deserves an entire article of its own, and I don’t normally like soda!). It’s just one of the many house beers brewed right there on site.
I don’t think any corn on the cob will ever measure up again, and can you say “chipotle lime butter”? Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin.
After lunch we made our way to the Witte Museum to enjoy their annual Fiesta exhibition called “Patriotism and Pageantry: Fiesta Honors the Military”, showcasing military-inspired Fiesta gowns throughout history. The Witte is home to over 200 Fiesta gowns, a handful of which are on display for 6 months out of every year on a rotating basis. They have a team of people who volunteer every year to carefully restore the gowns, painstakingly hand-sewing the beads and stones until the dresses look exactly as they did when they were worn.
Of course, there is much more to this museum than the gowns! The Witte specializes in the history, culture and natural science of South Texas. It has plenty for adults and kids alike, including an interactive exhibit on dinosaurs, a 3-story tree house for kids to play in, and an amphitheater with regular family entertainment.
Day 3 of my trip was a real treat, because it involved my favorite pastime: shopping! We started our day at Market Square, the largest Mexican Market in the US. Here we did some shopping (I found some great deals on things to bring home to my kids) and enjoyed Fiesta de los Reyes. It’s another free festival during Fiesta and has live music, food booths and tons of entertainment for the whole family. You can even sample a local favorite: tripa tacos. It’s extremely popular, and may or may not be made out of cow intestines.
Oh, COME ON! They top it with onions and guacamole! EVERYthing tastes good with onions and guac!
You can’t visit Market Square without stopping into Mi Tierra Café Y Panaderia. This is THE place to eat in San Antonio, and pictures don’t do it justice. Christmas lights hang everywhere, murals cover the walls, mariachi bands play music while you eat, and there’s even an altar to remember lost loved ones.
That was just the beginning of our fun. Next we headed to Charro Ranch to experience an authentic Mexican custom, a Charreada. It is the national sport of Mexico and is much like a rodeo, but with an interesting twist. One of the events is called the Escaramuza, where young ladies dress in beautiful Mexican dresses and perform in what can only be described as a horse ballet. They ride their horses in a carefully choreographed dance to live music, and it is definitely the highlight of the event. It’s quite beautiful, although a bit dusty. Take your allergy meds and enjoy. It’s an amazing sight!
Did you know that the Alamo is only one out of 5 missions in San Antonio? We spent the afternoon enjoying some of the other missions in the area, which are now part of the Mission Reach. This project is expanding the River Walk area from 3 to 15 miles, and will join the original River Walk area to the missions in South San Antonio. The project is almost finished and visitors will be able to walk or bike the entire length as early as this summer.
This guy has the right idea!
All that walking made us really hungry, so for dinner we stopped at The Friendly Spot on South Alamo. This place really lives up to its name! It’s kid-friendly, pet-friendly, and people-who-like-beer-and-sports-friendly. We dined outside on burgers and fish tacos while watching the NBA playoffs on the big screen. I got to love on a few adorable pups, watched kids playing on the fenced-in playground, and enjoyed some of the best sweet tea I’ve had in years (with free refills!). They also have 24 beers on tap and over 180 total (otherwise known as “180 reasons to make sure you have a ride home”).
I don’t have any idea how we were able to cram this much fun into 3 days, but we did it! San Antonio is truly one of the most family friendly cities I have ever visited, with something for everyone to enjoy. Fiesta itself is an amazing, vibrant and truly joyous event, and I already miss it now that it’s over. I love a great party, and perhaps next year I can bring my family to enjoy it with me.
Until then, Viva Fiesta!
A HUGE thanks to the San Antonio CVB for hosting me! For more information about the Crockett Hotel, all the amazing restaurants we enjoyed, the museums and the Fiesta events, go to www.visitsanantonio.com.