The annual San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is one of the city's biggest events, bringing in over two million visitors per year. The event takes place over a few weeks every February, with the final weekend often being the most exciting time to go. Many of the competitions are in their final stages, which means you’ll get to see the best of the best.
How to Buy Tickets
Tickets can be purchased through the rodeo’s website, at the AT&T Center Box Office or by phone at (210) 225-5851. If you just want to attend the carnival and not the rodeo, carnival-only tickets are available at any gate.
How to Decide What to Do at the Carnival
Of course, if you’re bringing kids, you could easily spend the entire day going from ride to ride, but there are several other worthwhile options too. The best way to get the most up-to-date information and location-specific recommendations is through the rodeo’s mobile app.
For my money, the pig races are a must-see. The pigs race around a small track, squealing all the way. And the announcer is a pretty good comedian if you enjoy pig-related puns. You can even get your picture taken while holding a piglet.
One of the new attractions this year, Innovation Station is an entire building full of fun activities that are also educational. Kids can build their own miniature cars and race them on a gravity-driven track. It’s a great way to learn the connection between the car’s weight and speed. Also, some of the cars smash into pieces at the end of the course, and that’s fun to watch. The Innovation Station is also home to the Dino Dig, where little ones can poke around in the sand to find dinosaur bones.
Another hands-on activity is the Lego art station, where kids can create their own Lego artwork and hang it on the wall for all to see. The little ones can also learn about static electricity by grabbing a big ball that makes their hair stand on end. The presenter does an excellent job of describing how the frizz-maker works, yet there’s one mystery he could not explain: why does it work better on redheads?
Just a few steps away from Innovation Station, the petting zoo is also a favorite among the kiddos. There are several friendly goats, a miniature donkey, a llama and an alpaca.
Nearby in the Buckaroo Farms building, young children will enjoy the Agricadabra magic show. It’s a highly interactive presentation in which the magic is interspersed with information about the all-important agriculture business in Texas. Kids can also grab a basket and shop for their own fruits and veggies while learning about how they’re grown.
At the Texas Wildlife Expo, sand sculptor Lucinda Wierenga has built amazing sand sculptures, including a full-sized napping horse and a massive gorilla. She offers a couple of sand sculpting workshops during the day. A variety of native Texas wildlife is also on display, including a one-eyed eastern screech owl and a highly endangered ocelot.
For the adults, there are multiple shopping areas on the festival grounds. In addition to the expected leather goods and trinkets, there are a few unusual booths, such as the face sculpture station. In just a few minutes, the artist can create a near-perfect 3-D recreation of your face.
Rodeo Viewing Tips
Rodeo newcomers and novices might be concerned that they won’t understand what’s going on in the middle of the arena. Fortunately, the PA announcer explains the basics of how each competition works. For bronc and bull riding, the rider must stay on for at least eight seconds to receive a score. The rider can receive additional "style points" for maintaining his hands, feet and torso in the proper positions. The animal also receives a score based on how difficult it makes those eight seconds for the rider.
A massive TV screen in the middle of the arena offers replays with close-up shots, and scoreboards at either end of the arena will help you follow the scores and times to beat. The rodeo portion of the show can last up to three hours, but the time flies by. In between the serious competitions for rodeo pros, there are a series of fun events featuring young kids and teens, such as the calf scramble and mutton bustin’. Since it can be a bit of a challenge to get in and out of the rows for bathroom breaks, you may want to limit your consumption of liquids during the show.
You don’t want to be stuck waiting in line during the concert, which serves as the night’s grand finale.
History of the San Antonio Rodeo
In all the day-to-day excitement of the rodeo and carnival, it can be easy to overlook the real reason the staff and volunteers work so hard. Since the rodeo’s inception in 1949, education and scholarships have been among the event’s key driving forces. Through the years, the rodeo has donated more than $170 million for scholarships, junior livestock auctions and educational programs. The legacy of one of the rodeo’s early founders, Joe Freeman, can still be seen in the Freeman Coliseum. Originally the rodeo’s primary facility, the coliseum is now dwarfed by the surrounding buildings, but it continues to house the main shopping area.
How to Get There
Several parking lots border the AT&T Center, but the largest ones are located at the corner of East Houston Street and AT&T Center Parkway. The rodeo also offers shuttles from other nearby parking facilities at 300 Gembler Road and 200 Noblewood Drive. Uber is also offering discounted rides to and from the rodeo.
Where to Stay
The rodeo is steeped in tradition, so it only makes sense to stay at a hotel that also oozes history and tradition. The St. Anthony Hotel is located only about five miles from the AT&T Center. As one of the rodeo’s sponsors, it is also home base for many people connected with the event. Originally built in 1909, the hotel was restored to its former glory with a major renovation in 2015. The award-winning onsite restaurant Rebelle offers everything from top-notch steaks to more exotic cuisine such as goat kebabs and Spanish octopus.
After the rodeo, you can wind down at Haunt, a sleek bar serving signature cocktails such as the Lady in Red, with hibiscus liqueur, vodka and grapefruit juice.