The party has started. Photo by Corey Leamon.
Garrett Heath

One of the highlights of living in San Antonio is the 10-day Fiesta celebration honoring the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. While this is event is well known in San Antonio and South Texas, growing up in West Texas I had never heard of it (in fact, after my first year experiencing Fiesta I finally understood the Spurs color scheme of the mid-90s).

Since arriving here some eight years ago, it has become one of the yearly events that I look forward to. As luck would have it, my birthday occurs right smack in the middle of the Fiesta, and there is no better party than NIOSA to celebrate.

While I have not been to every one of the parties or events, it is my goal each year to go to something new. Whether you are a recent resident, or a tourist, here is a primer on some of my favorite things to do at Fiesta.

A croup of especially passionate Fiesta revelers convene over drinks and flowers. Photo by Corey Leamon.
A croup of especially passionate Fiesta revelers convene over drinks and flowers. Photo by Corey Leamon.

 Go To Oyster Bake Today

 Located on the campus of Saint Mary’s University, Oyster Bake is a major fundraiser for the school and many student organizations. A mix between a carnival with rides and a music festival with many stages, I enjoy Oyster Bake the most during the day – it’s less crowded and you are able to find a spot to spread out a blanket, listen to music and eat fair food. Two of my favorites are chicken on a stick topped with a jalapeño and a fruit cup, literally a cup with cantaloupe, watermelon, grapes, honeydew and strawberries. This item is popular in the fruterías of South Texas and Mexico and is refreshing on a hot day. Make sure you squeeze lime juice over the cup and dust it with chili powder for the true experience.

Watch A Charreada

 An event that happens at 3PM on both Sundays of Fiesta, the charreada is a rodeo put on by the San Antonio Charros Organization as part of the Day in Old Mexico Celebration. Teams of Charros, or Mexican cowboys, compete against each other in a series of ranch games. The event is full of pageantry and bravado, charros wear traditional clothes, mariachi play classic songs and the circular arena is an intimate venue to watch the competition.

Midway through, the charros pause their competition and the Escaramuza takes place where women in beautiful dresses ride side-saddle as they weave their horses in and out of each other, performing intricate patterns through the ring. The Charreada culminates with the final event in the competition, El Paso de la Muerte, The Pass of Death. Several charros get a wild bronco to circle the ring and one brave rider pulls alongside the wild horse, leaping from his saddled horse onto the bareback bronco.

Dress The Part

 The colors of Fiesta are a symbolic of Spring arriving in full force. Women often wear embroidered Mexican/Oaxacan styled dress with brightly colored designs. Coronas are a crown of paper flowers in pinks, purples, yellows and blues that you can purchase at events or even HEB.

2013 "Fiesta Fiesta" revelers at the opening ceremony in front of the Alamo Cathedral. Photo by Iris DImmick.
2013 “Fiesta Fiesta” revelers at the opening ceremony in front of the Alamo Cathedral. Photo by Iris DImmick.

Fiesta hats are wide-brimmed sun hats that have colorful ribbons and ephemera attached. And of course there are sombreros: customize one yourself or check out the mariachi store on West Commerce for a non-touristy option. Guayaberas are popular with men, and Dos Carolinas can fix you up with a custom pattern. I personally love wearing shirts with calaveras (skeletons in a Mexican folk art style) and lotería cards.

Be Offended At Cornyation

If you can find a way to get tickets, you might want to check out one of the most irreverent events of all Fiesta. A drag show in which King Anchovy is crowned (a tongue in cheek take on Fiesta royalty), Cornyation is a show that will leave you in stitches as well as a few “Oh no…” moments. Cornyation revolves around presenting the king several sketches that satirize local, national and world events of the past year. You can only get a true understanding of Cornyation by seeing it; be sure to leave the kids at home for this one.

Go To NIOSA, At Least Once

 Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) is one of those events that locals either love or hate. True, NIOSA is extremely crowded, difficult to get around and hard to find a restroom, but it is worth it. Unless you have a strong aversion to crowds, I’d strongly advise you to go at least once.

A courtyard in La Villita during NIOSA – a bit crowded. Photo by Corey Leamon.
A courtyard in La Villita during NIOSA 2012 – standing room only. Photo by Corey Leamon.

La Villita is transformed into a huge party, divided into different areas that have food, drink and music of a particular culture that has impacted San Antonio. The festival benefits the San Antonio Conservation Society, and some of my favorite foods include sausage-on-a-stick, beignets, avocados topped with salsa/sour cream, arracheras and roasted corn. If you’re ready to eat, dance and party with thousands of your closest friends, this is the event for you.

Crack Some Cascarónes

Fiesta wouldn’t be complete without getting confetti in your hair. Cascarónes are painted eggshells filled with confetti that you break over a person’s head. Anyone who goes to an outdoor Fiesta event has a high probability of getting a cascarón cracked on them, whether they like it or not! While making a bright-colored mess is always fun, be sure to read about some of the cascarón etiquette before you get too carried away! And, if you find yourself in a place where you can’t get confetti all over the place, you can crack a cascarón on someone virtually with an iPhone app I made.

The party has started. Photo by Corey Leamon.
The party has started. Photo by Corey Leamon.

Watch (Or Run In) A Parade

 There are countless parades happening on the street or on the river during Fiesta, and you should check out at least one of them. If watching parades doesn’t pique your interest, consider running in one. The Fiesta Flambeau Night Parade is one of the largest illuminated night parades in the nation; I love it because I participate in the Fiesta Fandango Fun Run that kicks off the parade. Runners dress in crazy costumes (in the past, my group has done the Flintstones, Wizard of Oz and cereal boxes) and run the 2.6 mile parade route. There are prizes for the best costumes and it is a lot of fun to run in front of an estimated 700,000 people. You can still sign up and you better bring it with your costume!

Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and is the Average Joe that started SAFlavor. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and pop Mexican food restaurants. Find him on TwitterFacebook, Pinterest and Google+.

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Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace and is the Average Joe that started SA Flavor. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and pop Mexican food restaurants.