Enjoy parades, street fairs, music, and delicious cuisine during this 11-day colorful spring celebration in San Antonio, Texas.
As the sun prepares to set on another busy day along San Antonio’s River Walk, crowds of people line the meandering path of the San Antonio River. They’re claiming coveted spots to watch the Texas Cavaliers River Parade. Even for a river that hosts tour boats on a daily basis, this parade is greatly anticipated each year. It’s one of the signature events that’s part of Fiesta® San Antonio, the annual celebration held each April in this charming south Texas city.
It’s a challenge to describe Fiesta, but if New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade had a baby, you’d have Fiesta San Antonio. However, this paints only a partial picture of the color and pageantry that’s part of the 11-day festival. The overall celebratory vibe that permeates the city during Fiesta is a bit like holiday cheer experienced during Christmas.
Fiesta’s commemorative medals or pins and the enthusiastic trading of these trinkets are reminiscent of Disney fans and their robust collectible communities.
Finally, there are the civic mindedness, ethnic, and historical aspects to Fiesta that are woven into San Antonio’s fabric. This city is a great vacation destination any time of year, but add Fiesta, and I dare you to not have a good time.
Something for everyone
During Fiesta, which will be April 16–26 this year, everyone will find something to enjoy. From parades to street fairs, exhibits to Mexican rodeos, 114 events are scheduled for this year’s Fiesta.
Fiesta starts in grand fashion at Alamo Plaza from 5–9 p.m. on April 16. Entertainment, Fiesta royalty, and special guests are part of the party. Trade pins and medals at Pin Pandemonium. Break cascarónes (colorful eggs filled with confetti) for good luck. Fireworks cap off the night.
Everybody loves a parade, and the first–Fiesta Especial® 5K & Parade–will be April 18 at 8 a.m. in the City of Windcrest. The race and a one-mile walk lead off with the parade following. This event raises awareness and money for Reaching Maximum Independence, an organization to help developmentally and intellectually disabled citizens.
The Texas Cavaliers, a civic organization that honors the memory of Alamo heroes, will present their 62nd Annual River Parade from 7–9 p.m. on April 20.
Hear the best mariachi school groups perform on barges that float along the River Walk during the Mariachi Festival from 7–9 p.m. on April 21–24.
The Battle of the Flowers Parade rolls at 12:30 p.m. on April 24. The first was held in 1891 to commemorate the victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, which gained Texas its independence from Mexico. Organized entirely by female volunteers (unique in the country), the parade floats are bedecked with colorful flowers made of paper and foil.
“There are actually specific people that are hired to make all of the flowers by hand each year,” said Shannon Huntington Houghtaling, director of communications and consumer marketing for Fiesta.
The 17th Annual Fiesta Pooch Parade is at 9 a.m. on April 25 in the Alamo Heights neighborhood. The 2.5-mile parade is presented by Therapy Animals of San Antonio.
Fiesta Flambeau® is the final parade. It will be from 7:30–10 p.m. on April 25. Illuminated floats are part of the 150 units that will travel almost three miles through downtown San Antonio.
Parades are colorful and fun, but the royalty of Fiesta adds sparkle. There are several events that crown kings and queens, but the biggest is the Coronation of the Queen of The Order of the Alamo, which will be at 8 p.m. on April 22.
Dozens of duchesses, young women from San Antonio or other Texas cities, are presented at court. The royal princess is presented just before the queen is crowned. It’s quite the spectacle that’s held at the Majestic Theater and it’s open to the public.
Every year, the Witte Museum presents a Fiesta exhibit, “Jewels of the Court: A Journey through Fiesta’s Coronation,” which showcases the glittering gowns and crown jewels associated with The Order of the Alamo coronation. An expanded exhibit–which runs throughout Fiesta–will showcase more than 30 bejeweled gowns, each a stunning work of art.
On the flip side of the royalty glitterati are the street fairs of Fiesta. I joined the fun at Fiesta de los Reyes at historical Market Square. It’s one of the largest free events of Fiesta. Here, participants shop the Mercado, watch folk dancers, listen to Tejano music, and fill up on Mexican cuisine. There’s an army of food booths at this event, but make sure to stop in at Mi Tierra restaurant and bakery. Explosions of color hit you as you walk through the landmark restaurant’s door. Open round-the-clock, Mi Tierra features satisfying and fresh Tex-Mex cuisine and strolling musicians. Family members of founders Pete and Cruz Cortez operate the restaurant and bakery, which was started by the family in 1941.
Other popular street festivals are A Night in Old San Antonio® (NIOSA®), which will be April 21–24 at La Villita Historic Arts Village, and the King William Fair on April 25 in the King William neighborhood. Both fairs charge admission.
San Antonio has so much to do and see outside of Fiesta activities, but any visitor–whether a first-timer or a returning friend–needs to spend time at the River Walk. It’s the city’s heart. With dozens of restaurants–some on the river’s banks–and shopping venues, the River Walk is the city’s top attraction.
Hotels dot the river’s meandering path, but for a truly luxurious stay, consider the Westin on West Market Street (AAA Four Diamonds). The location right on the river couldn’t be more convenient. Hop on a river taxi and explore the city. Take high Latin tea in the afternoon overlooking the River Walk below. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or an outdoor aperitif–as I did–and watch people along the River Walk.
The River Walk was recently lengthened to 15 miles, stretching to the Museum Reach to the north and to a natural area with hiking/biking trails that lead to four Spanish missions to the south.
It’s estimated 2.5 million people visit the Alamo each year, and the site’s historical significance is a big part of Fiesta. Visit on April 20 to witness the Pilgrimage to the Alamo, which begins at 3:30 p.m. Since 1925, various groups and schools representing the city silently process with floral wreaths from Tobin Center to the mission. The wreaths are placed around the grounds, the Fiesta military coordinator addresses the crowd, and “Taps” ends the ceremony.
Drive south from the Alamo to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which is comprised of four historical missions: Conception, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada. Bus service also stops within ¼ or ½ mile of the missions, and tours advertised through the convention and visitors bureau are available to purchase. The sites interpret colonial history for visitors, and the beautiful architecture and grounds make for many photo opportunities.
Additionally, San Antonio’s museums, culinary scene, and family friendly attractions give a visitor more choices than pieces of confetti in a cascarón. It’s party time deep in the heart of Texas, and it’s not to be missed.
Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Midwest Traveler magazine.
March/April 2015 Issue
Hill Country Calling
Spring brings Fiesta® to San Antonio, but the Texas Hill Country region is having a party of its own. Stunning bluebonnets and other spring wildflowers color green fields. Baby animals make their debuts at farms and dude ranches. Scenic beauty and small-town charm call people out of the city into the country.
Texas Hill Country, comprised of 19 counties, is a diverse mix of culture and natural beauty. Rivers, state parks, and caves call to outdoor enthusiasts. Family friendly attractions appeal to those seeking a getaway over spring break. And the wildflowers beckon painters or photographers, but if you want to see the bluebonnets, you’ve only got about a month-long window between mid-March to the first or second week in April.
Boerne and New Braunfels are an easy day trip from San Antonio. Both are about a 40-minute drive; Boerne is northwest via Interstate 10, New Braunfels is northeast off state Route 87. And about 40 minutes north of Boerne is another charming town, Fredericksburg. All three embrace Germanic roots, because German-speaking farmers and artisans settled in Texas from the 1830s to 1900, attracted by ample land and religious freedom. – Deborah Reinhardt
Spend a few hours exploring the great boutiques, shops, and eateries along South Main Street. Fickle Pickles has a small selection of interesting antiques, but most come in for the famous pickles–sweet or spicy but always crunchy. The Boerne Wine Company is a relaxing spot to savor a good selection of fine wine from around the world. Sip in the tasting room or on the beautiful patio. The self-service wine dispenser is a nice touch, and knowledgeable staff can help you select the right wine for your palate.
Families will want to see the caverns (Cascade and Cave Without a Name) and Enchanted Springs Ranch, an Old West-themed attraction. The Agricultural Heritage Museum interprets early rural life in Boerne.
Boerne Convention and Visitors Bureau, (888) 842-8080, www.visitboerne.org
Wineries, history, and German heritage are here in Fredericksburg. Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the country, according to Texas Hill Country Wineries. In Fredericksburg, you can sit and sip a spell at Fredericksburg Winery on West Main Street and Fiesta Winery Fredericksburg (there’s also a location in Lometa) on East Main Street.
Traditional German sausage, beer, bread, and pastries are served at places such as Friedhelm’s Bavarian Inn, as well as Fredericksburg Brewing Company.
History buffs will want to see the National Museum of the Pacific War State Historic Site located in the historical Nimitz Hotel that was built in 1855.
Pull on your western boots and kick up your heels at the famous Luckenbach Dance Hall near Fredericksburg.
Fredericksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, (888) 997-3600, www.fredericksburg-texas.com
The town’s German history is preserved at Conservation Plaza and Heritage Village next to the plaza. Mid-19th-century buildings, including half-timbered houses–were relocated to re-create a pioneer village at the plaza. Heritage Village often hosts living history demonstrations.
Fish or float the beautiful Guadalupe and Comal rivers, or see impressive caves at Natural Bridge Caverns. The Historic District of Gruene just outside of town has wine tasting and shopping. Test your two-step at the famous Gruene Hall.
Families flock to the wonderful Schlitterbahn waterpark, with 65 acres of fun.
Fill up on schnitzel and other German cuisine at some of the traditional restaurants in town, such as Friesenhaus German Restaurant and Bakery. Stop by the New Braunfels Smokehouse to take home some hickory-smoked meats.
New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, (800) 572-2626, www.innewbraunfels.com
Schlitterbahn waterpark offers dozens of slides, pools, and chutes. Schlitterbahn photo
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