The Texas Traveler: San Antonio's Fiesta

(Note: We're starting a new occasional feature on travel suggestions within Texas for these economic times when you put off that two-week jaunt to Tahiti. Today: The Fiesta in San Antonio -- Not just a supermarket!)

The economic downturn may have dented your vacation budget, but gas prices are below two bucks a gallon and there are plenty of Texas destinations to explore relatively cheaply. As April winds down, consider heading west to a vibrant city with a large annual festival and central district near a waterfront -- Austin! San Antonio!

But why San Antonio? You can walk along dirty water and eat Mexican food here in Houston. (Although to be fair, you're probably going to encounter fewer homeless people along the River Walk than around Allen's Landing.)

Anyway, to answer your smart-assed question, it's Fiesta time. Alt-weekly the San Antonio Current's readers rated Fiesta San Antonio the Best Place to Get Arrested in 2008; the Current called it "city's biggest drunkards' bash." Of course, there are plenty of family-oriented activities during the 11-day festival in addition to the events at which one can get publicly hammered.

Another perk: hotels are relatively cheap right now. Even during the festival, you can get a motel room near downtown for less than $70 a night, and a much fancier rooms on the River Walk starting at $130.

We'll run down a few highlights of the last weekend of Fiesta for you. For a full schedule, visit www.fiesta-sa.org. For some intriguing non-Fiesta attractions, from the hardest public golf course to the best dance club, check out the Current's 2008 Best of San Antonio (works best with Internet Explorer).

Friday, April 24
If you want to relax with some music the night you arrive, you've got a couple Fiesta options. The World Class Jazz Festival is a free, all-day affair sponsored by St. Mary's University's Music Department. No mystery here -- if at this point in your life you don't know whether you like large doses of jazz, then we're not sure what to tell you. 1 to 10 p.m., One Camino Santa Maria. Alternately, there's a Fiesta Under the Stars Leonard Bernstein tribute from 7:30 to 10 p.m., with a supper in the UT-San Antonio University Center Ballroom at 6:30. This one requires tickets; call 210-458-4357 for info.

On the more active (and expensive) end of the spectrum, Chips 'n' Salsa offers casino games, a silent auction, appetizers and salsa dancing from 7 to 11 p.m. at the El Tropicano Hotel. The cost is $50 pre-sale and $75 at the door. All proceeds go to San Antonio Youth Centers, so you'll be gambling for a good cause. Explain to the host or hostess how the name is a fun play on words and you'll get an extra $10 in gambling "money."* (* No, you won't.)

Saturday, April 25
The King William Fair & Parade takes place in the artsy district of San Antonio and features Victorian homes, fine art, music and gender-bending. Mark Jones, the Current's calendar editor, describes it to us as "a parade in the morning with occasional cross-dressers and then indie bands playing on the streets." Sounds a little like the Westheimer Block Party, except you'll be free to really cut loose in a new town where your good name has yet to be sullied. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., King William Historic District. For info: www.kwfair.org.

The Fiesta Flambeau Parade is the largest nighttime lighted parade in the country -- some 700,000 people come out to downtown San Antonio to see it, with another 1.5 million watching on TV. The theme of the "People's Parade" this year is Las Vegas -- perhaps that will help you remember that what falls in the River Walk, stays in the River Walk...for a short time before going to jail. ¡Qué tonto! The UT Longhorn band kicks things off around 7:45 p.m. Check www.fiestaflambeau.org for info, including special seating prices.

Sunday, April 26
Things wind down a bit on the last day of the festival, but the San Antonio Blues Society's "Black and White Blues" concert provides a good musical option (and a chance to alleviate a potential hangover with an afternoon beer). The covered event at Sunset Station in the Historic St. Paul Square District will go forward rain or shine. Noon to 6 p.m., 1174 E. Commerce St. Tickets are $12. Info: www.sanantonioblues.com.

For something that'll keep kids happy, check out St. Luke Catholic Church's Fiesta Finale. Fiesta's official final event only costs $5 (free for 12 and under) and features carnival rides, food, live music, a flea market, bingo and more. No mention of sideshow attractions, but after a full weekend of festivities -- make that nearly two weeks for locals -- your fellow Texans should provide plenty of fodder for people-watching. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., 4603 Manitou Drive. Visit the Fiesta site for info and a music schedule.

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