You’ve heard of Mardi Gras, and you’ve heard of Burning Man, but have you heard of Fiesta San Antonio? If you haven’t, you happen to be in good company. Lovingly dubbed “the biggest party you’ve never heard of,” Fiesta San Antonio is the single biggest annual event held in the Alamo city and one of the biggest festivals that occur in the United States with more than 3.5 million people in attendance each year. And yes, we used the word “biggest” three times in that sentence for a reason - in the world of parties, Fiesta is a colossus! To help you make the most of Fiesta’s 10 days of raucous merry-making, we have put together a thorough guide to Fiesta San Antonio so you can be prepared to experience all the fun San Antonio has to offer. Viva Fiesta!
What is Fiesta San Antonio?
Fiesta San Antonio (colloquially known simply as Fiesta), is a 10-day celebration held to commemorate those lost at the Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto (more about these below). Celebrations are varied and include a number of major parades, carnivals, food and beverage heavy (VERY beverage heavy) fairs, musical events, and brightly colored clothing and decorations. And that’s just the city-sanctioned events.
Businesses, schools, and organizations all around the city will also host their own Fiesta-themed celebrations for employees or students. Individual families will get in on the fun by hanging brightly colored Fiesta wreaths on doors everywhere to observe the season. It’s not an understatement to say that in the month of April, Fiesta touches the whole city of San Antonio in some way. When we say Fiesta is big, we mean BIG.
And yet, outside of the general vicinity, Fiesta San Antonio just isn’t widely known – and many SA residents will tell you that’s how they like. Whereas Mardi Gras draws visitors from all over the world, Fiesta is all about celebrating the city and culture of San Antonio. As such, it has stayed a mainly “local residents of San Antonio only” type of celebration. And in a city with so many iconic associations to it (the Alamo, Riverwalk, and tacos, just to name a few) that are recognized and lauded the world over, having something that is just our own feels oh-so-right! Fiesta is really about as puro San Antonio as you can get.
What is the history of Fiesta?
Fiesta got its start back in 1891 when a group of SA residents decided to honor those lost at the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto (when General Sam Houston and his soldiers soundly defeated General Santa Anna, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to be formed, followed by Texas becoming the 28th state of the United States). Residents held a parade with horse-drawn carriages, bicycles decorated with fresh flowers, and parade floats carrying children dressed as flowers. Participants threw flower petals at one another, and the first Battle of Flowers parade took place.
The parade was a massive success, and more events were added in the following years including balls and “coronations” for Fiesta royalty. As events were added, traditions were established, and the modern-day Fiesta was born. Fiesta has been celebrated every year since with the only exceptions occurring during the first and second world wars and the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
When is Fiesta San Antonio 2023?
Fiesta San Antonio usually occurs in late April. This year, the official dates of Fiesta are April 20 – 30, 2023.
What events take place at Fiesta San Antonio?
So, so many. You could literally spend every waking moment at a Fiesta event between the 20th and 30th of April, but here are a few of the most popular official Fiesta events.
Kick things off with the opening party (a Fiesta Fiesta, so to speak) held in Travis Park from 4 pm to 10 pm on April 20 with food vendors, games, fireworks, and live entertainment. This event is free and open to the public.
Photo Credit: Betsy Newman Photography
A Taste of New Orleans
Come sample the best the Big Easy has to offer from its food to its jazz. Tickets are $17 and kids under 10 get in free of charge. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.
Fiesta Oyster Bake
Fiesta Oyster Bake held on April 21 and 22 from 5 pm to 11 pm each night, will be serving up more than 100,000 oysters (raw, baked, or fried) and 36,000 servings of Chicken on a Stick to hungry Fiesta revelers. Admission is $20 online or $25 at the gate. For information on how to purchase tickets or the lineup of bands scheduled to play at Oyster Bake, click here.
Photo Credit: Facebook Fiesta Oyster Bake
Alamo Heights Night
Alamo Heights Night offers a family-friendly outdoor block party with food, games, music, and rides. Alamo Heights Night will open at the University of the Incarnate Word on April 21 from 5:30 pm to 11:30 pm. For ticket info, visit the Alamo Heights Night official website.
Texas Cavaliers River Parade
Scheduled for Monday, April 24 from 7 pm to 9 pm, the longstanding Texas Cavaliers River Parade offers a spectacle on the water with more than 50 floats. Cash prizes are awarded for the best music and best float decorations. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Texas Cavaliers website.
Fiesta de Los Reyes
A Night In Old San Antonio (NIOSA)
NIOSA celebrates San Antonio’s diverse food culture by transforming La Villita into a sprawling food and beverage fair. NIOSA is the rowdiest of the Fiesta options, so only plan to check this one out if you like getting drunk with teeming crowds of people. Tickets are $20. For more information, please visit the NIOSA website.
Photo Credit: NIOSA
Battle of the Flowers Parade
Produced exclusively by women, the Battle of the Flowers Parade was the parade that started it all. The Battle of the Flowers will be held on Friday, April 28 from 9:30 am to 12 pm. Tickets are required for assigned seating and will go on sale online here.
Fiesta Flambeau Parade
King William Fair
The King William Fair takes place on April 29 in the historic King William District and includes vendors, live music, a parade, and numerous kid-friendly activities such as arts and crafts and bouncy houses. Tickets for 12 and over are $20 and can be purchased by visiting the King William Fair website.
For more information on the 90+ events happening over the course of Fiesta, please visit the Fiesta Events Calendar for a daily rundown on festivals, fairs, and more.
Photo Credit: Facebook King William Fair
What are some of the Fiesta traditions?
Many traditions with decades of history behind them have developed around Fiesta and are rigorously upheld as Fiesta staples. Here are just a few of the most beloved Fiesta traditions.
To pull off Fiesta each year requires the work of tens of thousands of individuals and many Fiesta commission member organizations. These organizations are often local non-profits and charities that benefit and serve the community of San Antonio. Many of these organizations were formed and began contributing to Fiesta in the early 1900s and they developed the tradition of naming individuals to join the court of Fiesta Royalty.
Each organization has its own process for selecting court members and once selected, Fiesta Royalty nominees are then featured in the parades and events of Fiesta. One of the most well-recognized organizations is the Order of the Alamo, which selects an individual to serve as queen for one year, along with 12 duchesses from San Antonio and 12 from out of town. The Order of the Alamo queen and her court are known for their breathtaking, ornate gowns which often feature 18-foot trains and can weigh up to 100 pounds. The gowns are worn during coronation and the Battle of the Flowers parade and are then donated to the Witte Museum which runs exhibitions of the dresses on a frequent basis.
A few other notable members of Fiesta Royalty are King Antonio, nominated by the Texas Cavaliers, and El Rey Feo (which is Spanish for the ugly king and based on the medieval tradition of peasants getting to select one of their own to be king for a day), nominated by the Rey Feo Scholarship Foundation. For information on all of the Fiesta Royalty, click here.
Photo Credit: Kin Man Hui - San Antonio Express-News
This tradition, which started on a very small scale, has become one of the biggest and most popular Fiesta traditions with thousands of medal options for sale each year. These military-style medals got their start in 1946 when the reigning King Antonio tossed coins from his parade float to local children. Coin tossing then became a major part of the Fiesta parades and children would bring their personal coin purses along to collect as many as they could. Then, in 1971, the reigning King Antonio, Charles Orsinger, punched holes in the coins for the children so that they could be worn as necklaces and the Fiesta medal tradition was born.
Today, Fiesta medals are a big business and can be purchased, traded, or acquired from stores, artisans, and organizations all over the city. These medals are a must-have accessory for any Fiesta go-er, adorning not just shirts, but sashes, hats, and vests. And when it comes to Fiesta medals, there is no such thing as too many. Unlike Office Space, we are all about the flair here and fully support crazy, over-the-top displays of Fiesta medal pride.
Photo Credit: Betsy Newman Photography
Show Us Your Shoes!
This tradition got its start when the women riding on Fiesta floats in elegant (albeit super heavy) dresses under the oppressive sun decided to forego their high heels in favor of more comfortable footwear options and began wearing sneakers and boots. Over time, the crowd got wind that this was happening and began yelling “show us your shoes!” to passing floats and any amenable women would hike up their dresses and proudly display their shoes to the delight of spectators.
Today the phrase “show us your shoes!” has become almost synonymous with the Battle of the Flowers parade and members of the court will go to great lengths to acquire or fashion creative, colorful, and stylish footwear to proudly display to the masses anytime the crowd yells the magic words.
Photo Credit: Matthew Busch
What should I wear to Fiesta?
When dressing for Fiesta, consider the “3 Cs” – colors, comfort, and cool.
At its core, Fiesta is a celebration (hence the name), so don’t be afraid to dress in vibrant, bold colors. In fact, color is the name of the apparel game when it comes to Fiesta. From the parades to the medals to the wreaths – everything will be embellished with bright colors. So don’t be afraid to dress the part and don brightly colored shirts, hats, or dresses.
Whatever you choose to wear, make sure it is comfortable. As the bulk of the Fiesta events occur outside and require walking, dress in a way that is comfortable for you. With the exception of the Fiesta royal court, you won’t see a single person in formal, semi-formal, or business attire. Just keep it casual.
And cool! By the end of April, average temperatures will hover around the high 80s or low 90s, and with the added humidity, it will be hot! Dress accordingly. Shorts, short-sleeved shirts, knee-length dresses, sandals, and linen are your friends here. Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen will also go a long way to help you manage the heat.
Ladies who are really looking to dress the part can pair a brightly colored Mexican Pueblo dress that has been embroidered with colorful flowers and a Fiesta halo or headband decorated with crepe paper flowers. Men can join in the fun with a colorful button-down shirt or guayabera (an embroidered collared shirt with four front pockets) and a pair of light slacks or shorts.
Of course, don’t forget that ever-so-important Fiesta medal. No outfit is complete without it.
Where do I buy tickets or find more information about all things Fiesta San Antonio?
The official Fiesta Commission’s website is your one-stop shop for tickets and information on all things Fiesta. While each member organization will sell tickets to its own events, you can search the events calendar and link to each organization directly from the Fiesta commission’s website.
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