Blog · San Antonio · Cowboy Culture: Your Guide to the San Antonio Rodeo Plus Year-Round Western Fun

Cowboy Culture: Your Guide to the San Antonio Rodeo Plus Year-Round Western Fun

November 15, 2023
San Antonio Rodeo

San Antonio has a unique, multicultural vibe that blends many traditions. One of those is cowboy culture, and as an inclusive and welcoming city, anyone can enjoy, celebrate, and learn about the various aspects of being a cowboy. 

The biggest explosion of cowboy culture comes to town in February with the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, but there’s Old West fun to be found in town year-round if you know where to look. 

San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
Photos courtesy of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is held every February at the AT&T Center. Whether you want to check out the animals in the barns, ride carnival rides and sample fair food galore, enjoy musical entertainment, or hoot and holler for bucking broncos and barrel racers, this nearly month-long celebration delivers so much fun and excitement. 

Upcoming dates: Feb. 8-24, 2023

Here’s what you need to know.

How to visit the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

The rodeo is a huge event with many moving parts. If you plan to visit San Antonio during February, get familiar with the rodeo calendar and make plans as far in advance as you can. Most locals buy rodeo tickets based on the evening’s musical entertainment. 

The nightly show is divided into two parts:

  • The PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) portion
  • The headline act

Most, although not all, of the musical acts feature some type of country music, and many are famous or well-known entertainers. Whether you’re most interested in the PCRA portion or who’s playing after the cowboy antics are finished, just know that the headline act will drive the crowds and availability of tickets.

The PCRA portion lasts about 90 minutes, after which there is a short break where the performer’s stage is assembled. The musical entertainment lasts for about 75 minutes. 

The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo begin releasing info on musical acts in early fall, and the full roster of performers is usually available by mid-December. However, the timing of the announcements can vary.

Local tip: Expect crowds, dirt, and mud if there have been recent rains. And, while cowboy boots are a totally appropriate footwear choice, make sure your boots are properly broken in because you’ll be doing lots of walking and standing. 

San Antonio rodeo tickets

San Antonio rodeo

You can buy tickets online through the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo’s website, Ticketmaster, or at the rodeo box office in person. Make sure you read the fine print because there are a lot of ticket options:

  • Season passes
  • VIP experience tickets
  • Rodeo tickets
  • Fairgrounds-only tickets
  • Parking passes

A rodeo ticket includes admission to the fairgrounds and seats for the PRCA rodeo and the nightly show. A fairground-only ticket includes entrance to the barns and midway and doesn’t include rides or food and beverages.

San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

Parking isn’t included in your rodeo ticket, but parking passes are available online. I recommend purchasing them as soon as you’re sure of your plans because they usually sell out. Prices range from $10-$25 per car, depending on how far away from the venue you park, so carpooling is a great way to save some cash. 

The closest off-site public parking lot is the Phillips Parking Lot across from the AT&T Center, which is well-lit and secure and will run you about $25 to park there. If you have even the slightest doubt about whether or not you can park somewhere in downtown San Antonio, your answer is not to park there. If you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be, your car will get towed, especially during rodeo season. 

Local tip: Take a ride-share. This isn’t the cheapest option, and prices will vary based on where in San Antonio you start from and whether or not Uber or Lyft have surge pricing in place, but it can be the fastest option for getting in and out.

The ride-share drop-off point is about a 1/4 mile from the fairgrounds entrance, so be prepared to walk a bit. Also, brace yourself for longer end-of-the-night waits for ride shares, especially on weekends. If you’ve ever taken a ride-share to a major sporting event or a concert, the rodeo is a comparable experience.

San Antonio Rodeo

Events leading up to the San Antonio rodeo

The rodeo kicks off with a series of events to celebrate the rodeo coming to town. These events are beloved by locals and are a great place to experience the warmth and camaraderie of San Antonio’s cowboy culture.

  • Stampede 5K: The Stampede 5K travels the same route as the Western Heritage Parade. Run or walk the race, and you’re in a perfect spot to watch the parade. 
  • Western Heritage Parade: This free parade runs through downtown San Antonio and celebrates Texas and Old West heritage. The San Antonio Riverwalk manages this parade.
  • Cowboy Breakfast: This is an unofficial event but is considered to be the rodeo’s kickoff. WellMed Medical Group sponsors the Cowboy Breakfast.
  • Vaquero Cook-Off: Vaqueros, aka Mexican cowboys, are considered Texas’ first real cowboys. They show off their cooking skills by making dishes in four categories: Cook’s Choice, Chili, Menudo, and Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice).

How to save money at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

Plan and buy as much as you can in advance. Parking, fairground admission, and ride wristbands can be purchased online via the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo’s website, and the online price is nearly always cheaper than at the gate.

Stalk the rodeo’s website and talk to locals about how to save money. There are typically $2 days — $2 fairground admission, $2 rides, and $2 select food items — three to four times a season. Texas businesses such as Whataburger and HEB usually have some type of partnership with the rodeo. These special days and promotions are usually publicized closer to the event, so don’t be afraid to ask someone what the cheapest way to enjoy the rodeo is. 

Military members also get free admission to the fairgrounds with appropriate ID.

Fair food is fun. After all, who doesn’t love a deep-fried, footlong corn dog? However, going on an empty stomach will cost you the big bucks. Have lunch or dinner before you go, and limit yourself to one or two treats to save money. 

Local tip: The rodeo is cashless. While you may find a fairground vendor willing to take folding money, everything inside is generally card or electronic pay.

Keep up with the rodeo’s website and information on social media for the most up-to-date information and event dates. 

More cowboy culture in San Antonio

The annual rodeo is San Antonio’s biggest Western-themed event of the year, but there are plenty of ways to get into the spirit all year long, from food to museums to shopping.

Here are some ideas to inspire your trip to San Antonio, even if it’s not in February.

Visit the Briscoe Western Art Museum

If you want to combine a love of cowboys and horses with a love of art, the Briscoe Western Art Museum is the place to be. This three-story museum has multiple paintings, sculptures, and photographs that depict the people — both cowboys and Native Americans —  landscapes and animals of the Old West. Saddles and a covered wagon are also on display.

Check the museum’s website for details on current and traveling exhibits and current admission and discounts. Allow at least one hour to see all the exhibits, more if you want to dig into the plaques that describe all the artwork. 

Fun fact: The Briscoe Western Art Museum is located in the same San Antonio building that housed the Hertzberg Circus Museum for over 50 years.

Stop by the Institute of Texan Culture

The Institute of Texan Culture is operated by the University of Texas at San Antonio. It pays homage to the history of the people who settled in San Antonio and the surrounding area. You’ll learn about more than just cowboy culture when visiting, but it’s a fun, educational spot beloved by San Antonio since 1968. 

The Institute of Texan Culture is a Smithsonian Affiliate, so if you’re a member of any Smithsonian partner museums, you may qualify for free or reduced admission. Check out their website for information on hours, discounts, and traveling exhibits.

Local tip: The Institute of Texan Culture is home to two annual San Antonio festivals: The San Antonio Folklife Festival and the Asian Festival. The institute is open during the festivals and there’s never a bad time to check out this iconic San Antonio spot. Allow 2-3 hours to fully explore inside the museum.

Tour the Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum

This venue in downtown San Antonio offers two museums under one roof. One admission gets you access to both museums. 

The Buckhorn Saloon dates back to 1881 and is said to be one of the oldest watering holes in San Antonio. Known to many locals as “The Hall of Horns,” this venue takes its nickname from its extensive collection of taxidermy and furniture made with antlers. The animal displays are fun to check out, and it’s easy to imagine cowboys dusty from the trail, bellied up to the cherrywood bar for a drink. Theodore Roosevelt and Pancho Villa were both rumored to have visited this bar, and it’s easy to picture both icons in this setting.

The Texas Ranger Museum was added in 2006 and tells the stories of early Texas law enforcement officials. It’s a great, immersive Texas history lesson, although kids will probably enjoy the Hall of Horns more. Allow two hours to explore everything fully. If you’ve got kids — or taxidermy enthusiasts — with you, you’ll likely spend the bulk of your time in the Hall of Horns. 

The Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum is open every day. Check their website for hours and admission info. 

Dress the part

Cowboy hats and boots
Credit: Joseph Hersh

Even if you’re not a real cowboy or cowgirl, it’s fun to look the part. Cowboy hats and boots, as well as denim and fringe, are in style in San Antonio any time. Whether you’re checking out the livestock at the rodeo or going for a night on the town, cowboy chic is never the wrong choice. 

If you want an epic souvenir of your time in San Antonio, go for a custom hat fitting at Paris Hatters. The experience of going to Paris Hatters is almost as cool as getting a new cowboy hat, so even if you’re just browsing, their Broadway location is a fun stop. Open since 1917, the family-owned shop hasn’t changed much, and the business still uses a hand-cranked cash register. Hat prices range from $35 to $7,000, so you can go budget or splurge big. They also sell boots so you can complete your look in one fell swoop. 

Like Tex-Mex and BBQ, western wear is one thing you won’t have trouble finding in San Antonio. Here are some additional choices for cowboy/cowgirl finery:

Learn the Texas Two Step

There’s nothing that will make you feel like a real cowboy or cowgirl than doing the Texas Two Step in a honky tonk. This easy-to-learn shuffle is easily Texas’ most popular dance step.

While you can do the Two Step anywhere there’s music, here are some popular San Antonio spots to kick up your heels.

  • Cowboys Dance Hall: This Northeast San Antonio area dance club offers free dance lessons on select nights. Although the lessons tend to focus more on line dances, ask your instructor to show you the basics. It’s not hard — I can manage it and I consider myself fairly clumsy. 
  • Wild West Night Club: This dance club on San Antonio’s Northside is adults-only.
  • John T. Floore’s Country Store: This old-school dance hall in Helotes has live music and has hosted greats such as Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson. Generally family-friendly before dark.
  • Gruene Hall: Texas’ oldest dance hall is located 35 miles north of San Antonio in the town of New Braunfels and is worth the drive. If you want to practice your dance steps to the beat of live music, you’ll find it daily at Gruene Hall. 

Visit The Alamo’s Living History Encampment

The Alamo
Credit: Gower Brown

The Alamo is synonymous with San Antonio and tops most people’s lists when it comes to San Antonio area attractions. While a visit to the Alamo and the adjacent Alamo Collections Center is a great place to learn about San Antonio and Texas history, the Alamo’s Living History Encampment gives visitors a slice of what 1830s life was like for cowboys and early settlers. 

While younger visitors might find a walk through the Alamo boring —  most kids are not going to find displays of antique weapons and descriptions of battle strategies very exciting —  people of all ages love interacting with the living history participants at the encampment behind the Alamo’s church. The participants vary from day to day, but a particularly popular topic is frontier medicine. Medical treatments, sanitization, or lack of it, are fascinating to anyone familiar with modern medical practice and a fun way to be immersed in the Old West culture.

Visit the Alamo’s website for hours, tour information, and necessary reservations.

Eat some down-home Texas BBQ

If you want to cowboy up to a plate of hearty brisket or tangy pulled pork with all the fixings, San Antonio is just the place to do it. 

Here’s a short list of where to find excellent BBQ when you’re in town. You can also ask a San Antonian for their recommendations that might be flying under the radar. Texas BBQ is notoriously good in hole-in-the-wall type places a visitor might not think to visit. 

But whatever you do, I recommend trying more than one restaurant. The more, the merrier! A food tour is a great way to sample a few of the best San Antonio flavors.

  • Tex-Mex food tour: Come hungry to sample different kinds of Tex-Mex at the place where it began. From margaritas and mariachi music to souvenir shopping and learning how chili con carne came to America, this food tour has it all.
  • 2M Smokehouse: You can’t go wrong with any SA BBQ joint, but 2M is the one that consistently tops everyone’s “must eat here” list, and with good reason.
  • South BBQ and Kitchen: They serve all the standard BBQ favorites — brisket, chicken, ribs — plus Tex-Mex sides like Spanish rice and borracho beans. 
  • Barbecue Station: You’ll find the traditional BBQ meats and fixings here. The chopped beef sandwich is a crowd favorite, and if you eat in and order the pinto beans as your side, the beans come with free refills.
  • Pinkerton’s BBQ: Pinkerton’s is located adjacent to the Historic Pearl District, a fun place to shop, walk, and discover other food finds.

This list is not exhaustive, and you’ll find BBQ on just about every corner in San Antonio. Don’t overlook food trucks, as that’s how a lot of barbecue greats get their start. And although the restaurants listed above are BBQ-specific places, many San Antonio menus have BBQ offerings on them. 

Local tip: BBQ is a controversial subject in San Antonio — yes, really — so if you ask someone for BBQ recommendations, don’t be surprised if a bystander jumps in to offer their two cents or even argue about why the BBQ another San Antonian just recommended isn’t where you should go. 

I think there is no bad barbecue, which is also probably a controversial statement, but you really can’t lose.

Year-round cowboy fun

San Antonio Rodeo

February visitors who plan ahead to attend the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo are going to get the biggest San Antonio dose of all things cowboy, but you can get a strong sense of cowboy culture all year long.

San Antonio is home to all sorts of delicious food and activities to enjoy indoors and out. The winters are mild and perfect for outdoor exploration, and the city’s many museums are your go-to to escape the super-hot summer days.