Hear me out: I don’t particularly like the idea of going to Fiesta.

To be fair, it takes me a minute to warm up to the idea of any festival. It might be the crowds of sweaty people, or maybe it’s because as soon as my feet hit the pavement I start remembering how comfortable my bed is.

Yet, pre-COVID, I still went every year. And once I’m there, I’m there. I’ll save you the debaucherous details.

If I was on the fence about going to Fiesta I wouldn’t ask a blind loyalist. No, I would want guidance from a San Antonio native who, like so many others come April 20-30, will be gingerly returning to the chaos for the first time since lockdown.

For anyone who is unfamiliar, I’ll put it this way: if Austin has South by Southwest and New Orleans has Mardi Gras, San Antonio has Fiesta. The “party with a purpose” dates back to 1891 as a way to honor Alamo heroes. It’s now the biggest event to hit our city every year, and many of its events raise money for an organization or a cause. Large areas of downtown get completely taken over with food booths, musical performances and other attractions. And it all culminates in a giant parade that organizations go absolutely wild with. 

Once you start seeing an abundance of people wearing multi-colored flower crowns and seeing businesses decked out in those iconic, retro orange, pinks and blue-greens, you know it’s Fiesta season.

But Fiesta will eat you alive if you’re not prepared, so make sure you’re ready before you head out. There are three stages of preparation you need if you want to finesse Fiesta like the royal entourage themselves.

Stage 1: Get your mind right

This is the most important stage. Fiesta is going to rock your socks off in the best way, but don’t even think about stepping out that door until you’re mentally prepared for what’s coming.

Know that driving is a big no-no. Besides the fact that you better not even think of touching a steering wheel if you’re drinking, parking will cost more than your first five drinks combined. Call an Uber or Lyft — or maybe even try riding the bus

Understand that you’ll be walking forever. Moving through waves of people to and from events could add up to hours of walking. Fiesta demands commitment, but it’s worth it. Try not to hit leg day beforehand.

And remember: Fiesta ain’t free. Sure, there are plenty of “free” events to attend. But you think you’ll be strong enough to pass up a giant boozy fishbowl and the leg of what could have only come from an ostrich on the way there? You’re not that guy. Get ready to pay anywhere from $10-$20 (or more) for some unique (and incredibly tasty) eats.

Stage 2: Pace yourself

The Fiesta website has a calendar of all the official events, and looking through it might be overwhelming. So, when in doubt, stick to the basics.

There are three main events that will give you the best bang for your Fiesta buck:

  1. Fiesta Fiesta kicks off the festivities in Travis Park on April 20, from 4-10 p.m. Free.
  2. A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA), which runs from April 25-28. $20 per night.
  3. The Battle of the Flowers Parade on April 28 at 9:30 a.m. $0-$35.

Don’t plan for more than three events in one day. And even that’s pushing it. Don’t forget, you will be walking. And when you realize the five events you planned to go to are as far apart as the River Walk is long, you will cry. Or, you’ll burn out and not come back the next day. 

Here’s a good rule: for every one of the main events, make sure you go to at least two events from local small businesses. They’re usually smaller and less crowded, but just as fun. There are plenty of unofficial events if you want to take a detour.

And don’t forget to get your medals at each event. Collecting medals is a sport, and some Fiesta veterans show off their collections with sashes covered with medals they’ve collected over the years.

Broadway street is alive during the Fiesta Flambeau parade.
Balconies along Broadway fill up for optimal viewing during the Fiesta Flambeau parade in 2019. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Stage 3: Double-check these. Or else.

  • Wear comfortable shoes, not nice ones.
  • Use the restroom before you go, and bring sanitary wipes if you plan to use many of the porta potties along the event routes.
  • Bring a patient and directionally aware Fiesta buddy (or three).
  • If only just for today, share your location. 
  • Travel light. Phone, keys, wallet, with both cash and your card.
  • Do not forget your ID.

And the most important rule of them all: If you don’t feel like going, stay home. For everyone’s sake.

Fiesta is downright gorgeous, but the real ones know it’s an excuse to let loose and get grimy with your fellow San Antonians. And after the last few years, we need it. In the wise words of Lil Jon, “turn down for what?” 

Because with just a little preparation, you too can survive Fiesta like a true San Anto legend.

Damien Dennis is a writer and community builder based in San Antonio, Texas. He's spent the last 7 years as copywriter helping brands and people communicate effectively. You can usually find him introducing...