Is everything really bigger — and better — in Texas? It sure does feel like it, especially when you’re in San Antonio, the most colorful city in southern Texas.
San Antonio’s unique blend of Texan, Mexican, and Native American history and traditions gives the city a vibe all its own. From San Antonio-specific celebrations like Fiesta San Antonio to classic Texas traditions like getting fitted for a cowboy hat (and everything in between), here are eight big Texas experiences in the city you won’t want to miss.
1. Attend The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo
Due to the large ranches throughout Texas, it’s no surprise that rodeos have come to be associated with the state. Texas holds some of the biggest rodeos in the country in terms of both number of events and number of spectators, making attending a rodeo a must-do experience when visiting San Antonio.
Held for the first time in 1949, the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo takes place at the AT&T Center every February. Now attracting more than 2 million visitors each year, it was originally intended to provide educational opportunities for younger generations of Texans. Children can learn about agriculture and livestock and even pursue scholarships at the rodeo.
For everyone else, however, the rodeo is a fun place to watch livestock shows you can only witness at a rodeo. Rodeos are best known for their bull-riding events, but you’ll also see steer wrestling, mutton racing, and barrel racing. Additionally, the rodeo is a fantastic place to shop for boots, jewelry, and quality leather products from a variety of vendors.
The nights usually end with live performances by famous country artists. Past performances at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo have included Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, and Kelsea Ballerini. Don your cowboy boots, grab a chilled drink, and enjoy the show!
2. Chow Down On Texas Barbecue At 2M Smokehouse
With 248,800 ranches and farms in Texas, half of them focused on raising cattle, it’s no surprise that beef is a huge staple of the state’s diet. You can’t leave Texas without trying some of the state’s meat, and that meat is at its best when it’s prepared with care at a classic Texas barbecue joint.
At 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio, hot, fresh meat is sold by the pound or in sandwiches or tacos. The joint stands out from the pack for its unique rub — cumin is the not-so-secret ingredient. Other flavors at 2M come from the glaze, which is sweetened with molasses or honey mixed with fiery spices. The best way to enjoy this big Texas experience is to purchase a quarter pound of each type of meat and take a wild taste test. The meat costs $4.50 to $20 per pound.
3. Get Fitted For A Cowboy Hat At Paris Hatters
If it ain’t from Paris Hatters, you ain’t a real cowboy! Practically a San Antonio institution, Paris Hatters has been outfitting people with beautiful handcrafted hats since 1917. The business has been in the owner’s family for three generations.
Not only has the store been featured on the Travel Channel, but word has gotten out to prominent folks as well. Paris Hatters headgear has been spotted on Pope Saint John Paul II, Tommy Lee Jones, Garth Brooks, Paul McCartney, and presidents including George W. Bush, Harry Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
The store’s specialty? Cowboy hats, which the owners claim to have sent to every country in the world except for Cuba. Hats line the store’s shelves; they range in price from $20 all the way to $7,000, depending on the design and quality of materials.
Getting fitted for a cowboy hat is an involved process that ensures your hat is the perfect size and shape for you. It includes fitting the hat to your height, weight, shoulder width, and general build. Afterward, the hat is styled and creased to keep its distinct shape. Whether you want a cowboy hat as a fashion statement or as a souvenir to display at home, this is a fun and unique experience to have while in San Antonio.
4. Buy A Pair Of Cowboy Boots At Little’s Boot Company
If you want to feel like a real cowboy in the Lone Star State, buy a pair of leather boots to sport around town. Little’s Boot Company has been creating custom-fit boots since 1915, when Lucien Little, a traveling shoe salesman, settled down in the Alamo City.
Over time, Little developed his own special way of determining the perfect fit. His reputation for making excellent, long-lasting boots spread to the point that ranchers and cowboys would seek out his services.
During the job boom in the 1940s, ranchers started moving away from the country and into the city. Accustomed to their comfortable boots, they demanded cowboy boots that could be worn in offices, stores, and factories. Little delivered, turning out cowboy boots that were not only utilitarian, but also fashionable.
Customers can now choose from five toe styles, four heel styles, and six leather types at Little’s Boot Company. The store also offers a wide variety of materials, from traditional calfskin, crocodile, and alligator to more exotic lizard, kangaroo, elephant, and ostrich. Depending on fit, material, and style, your new cowboy boots could cost you anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
5. Remember The Alamo
Texans are extremely proud of their state’s rich history. One of the most notable events of that history was the Battle of the Alamo in February of 1836, in which several hundred Texans — including the legendary William B. Travis, James Bowie, and Davy Crockett — attempted to hold the mission-turned-fort against the 1,500 troops led by the Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna. All of the Texans, vastly outnumbered, were killed, but their fervor sparked several other battles throughout southern Texas that eventually led to the state’s independence from Mexico.
Admission to the Alamo is free to allow everyone to honor the memory of the fallen. Inside the main building, you can read about each room’s purpose and see a miniature model of what the area looked like during the time of the famous battle. Another building features a museum, a gift shop, a concession stand, and a short History Channel segment that brings the battle to life.
The Alamo may look small compared to the downtown skyscrapers, but it is much more significant than any other building in town. It’s said that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas have limited the construction of hotels around the Alamo so that the buildings do not cast a shadow on this important landmark. A visit to the Alamo is perhaps the biggest of big Texas experiences!
6. Enjoy Authentic Tex-Mex At Paloma Blanca
When it comes to dining in San Antonio, Paloma Blanca is one restaurant you shouldn’t miss — it serves up Tex-Mex at its finest. But what is Tex-Mex, anyway? The difference between Tex-Mex and Mexican food is in the ingredients. While Northern Mexican food centers on chicken and corn tortillas, Texans are generally more interested in beef.
In the early 1900s, Mexican restaurants started playing to the desires of Texas settlers by adding beef, yellow cheese, vegetables, and flour tortillas to their dishes. Tex-Mex grew in popularity in the 1970s, when Diana Kennedy wrote The Cuisines of Mexico. Like much of San Antonio’s culture, Tex-Mex showcases the relationship between Northern Mexico and Texas.
Paloma Blanca has all the classic Tex-Mex items, including cheesy nachos, vegetable fajitas, and ground beef enchiladas. Try the queso fundido with its chorizo, molten Monterey Jack cheese, fresh shrimp, tomatoes, and poblano peppers. Dishes cost between $7 and $20 each.
7. Two-Step At John T. Floore’s Country Store
Quick, quick, slow, slow — you can’t visit San Antonio without learning the Texas two-step, and John T. Floore’s Country Store is the perfect place to practice.
On the outskirts of San Antonio, this “store,” actually a dance hall and restaurant that serves delectable tamales and homemade bread, has hosted some of the biggest names in music. Not only was it Willie Nelson’s musical birthplace, but it’s also seen performances by Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and B.B. King! Tickets for performances start as low as $15, but the price depends on the artist. So, grab a partner, sip a cold beer, and dance the night away.
8. Celebrate Fiesta San Antonio
Fiesta San Antonio began in 1891 as a small parade of women who banded together to honor those who fought at the Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The celebration has since come to include more than 100 events, hundreds of performers, and millions of fiestagoers! In fact, Fiesta San Antonio attracts 3.5 million people annually.
Usually held in April, Fiesta San Antonio will take place from April 16 to April 26 in 2020. Although many of the events held during Fiesta San Antonio are free, some have fees in order to raise money for different charitable causes. These events include some of the best parades of the season. The Texas Cavaliers River Parade — with its 50 floats drifting down the San Antonio River and its more than 250,000 spectators — is always a treat.