Let’s rodeo, San Antonio! Sounds fun, but not sure where to start, especially with little ones in tow? Don’t worry—the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo has something for everyone, it’s not difficult to navigate, and you’ll have a good time.
Like the commercials say, the rodeo is more than an eight-second ride. We’ve been rodeo regulars since our little was two, enjoying his delight at the large and small animals, and of course, large and small animal poop! (Yep, you read that right. Why are kids so amazed and amused by poop?)
The rodeo is a celebration of things that make Texas, well, Texas, and all things livestock. But it’s also Texas wildlife, snakes, crocodiles, armadillos, every variety of food on a stick, funnel cake, carnival fun, and tractors. And in the eyes of littles, it’s must-do fun.
The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo runs through February 28th this year, taking over the AT&T Center and Freeman Coliseum, as well as the grounds around the two. The area that usually seems likes miles of parking lots bursts with activity during the rodeo. Did you know there’s a cattle barn, horse show arena, horse barn, auction barn, swine barn, and more surrounding the home of the Spurs? And all of those buildings come to life during the rodeo.
Confession: In years past, we didn’t actually go to the rodeo; we went to the rodeo grounds. That means we didn’t go into the AT&T Center and watch the rodeo competition. That’s changing this year, as little wants to see what the cowboys do. No offense to the talented barrel racers and cowgirls out there, but he REALLY wants to see a cowboy riding a bull. He doesn’t want to see anyone singing, so we’ll be leaving without seeing a performance. The rodeo offers great performances, though, so if you want to check out a show, here’s the full line-up of entertainment for this year.
Grounds admission to the rodeo is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 3–12, and free for children 2 and younger. Seniors (65 and older) are $5. Fridays and President’s Day are Dollar Days, so grounds admission, rides, hot dogs, popcorn, and sodas in the carnival area are only $1 each. The discount is valid 8:00 A.M.–6:00 P.M. Fridays are also Military Days at the rodeo, featuring complimentary grounds admission for anyone with a valid military ID (including retirees and National Guard). Other promotions and special offers can be found here, including details on Family Day at the rodeo, Sunday, February 28th.
Oh, and good to know before you go: parking is $10. Park & Ride is available on weekends. Details on parking can be found here. And if you want to have all of this info at your fingertips, there’s an app for that! You can download the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo app here.
The rodeo grounds are divided into areas, grounds maps are easy to follow, and volunteers are everywhere to answer your questions. The best areas for families: Area 2 is where the barns are located, Area 4 is where you’ll find the food court (though there are food options throughout the grounds), Area 5 is home to the Family Fair, and Area 6 includes the carnival. Area 6, which flows from the Family Fair area, also includes the Texas Wildlife Expo, a huge favorite.
So what is there to see? The barn area features a variety of livestock, including bulls, goats, pigs, longhorn cattle, horses, and more. You can walk the barns and see whatever is being shown at the time, all proudly raised and cared for by kids hoping to earn scholarship money. Walking the barns is a fun way to connect with what fuels the stock show. But please mind your manners and don’t touch the animals—these barns aren’t for petting, and some of the animals could get easily get spooked. Do talk with the owners/caretakers—they’ve worked hard to get their animals to the show. If you’re there at the right time, you might see the cows getting a bath or any other number of things being done to keep them ready for show.
Rodeo tip: We always take our stroller. There’s a lot of walking around the grounds, and it makes it easier on little legs. So your stroller may roll through some animal excrement (a big word that our little likes to say instead of “poop”). It all rolls off, but watch the wheels before you toss the stroller back in the car. Strollers cannot be taken into the AT&T Center, so if you’re going to the competition or a performance, you can’t have your stroller with you.
Food: The food court, and the rodeo itself, includes anything you can eat on a stick, huge turkey legs, ears of corn, and random finds like gator (on a stick, of course), Greek gyros (no stick) and funnel cake. The food court is huge, so you’re sure to find something you like. On Dollar Days, hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, and drinks can be purchased for $1 each in the carnival area. Warning: the cheap food may cost you a fortune in carnival tickets, as once your littles see the rides, all hope is lost. Most of the carnival rides aren’t small child-friendly, but there is a carousel (found in the food court this year) and pony rides and a few others that smaller littles can enjoy. There are also carnival games with the standard ridiculously HUGE stuffed prizes. Our guy is still not a fan of most rides, but there’s so much else to keep us busy that we don’t even notice them.
Oh, and a fun stop for ice cream or shakes: the Dairy Center, located in Area 2, in the middle of the barns. There are samples of dairy products and milking demonstrations, too. We also like the pineapple whips available across from the car display in the Family Fair area. (Not quite the same as the ones that Disney fans crave, but on a hot day at the rodeo, they’re pretty tasty.)
FYI, all food and drink booths accept cash—credit/debit cards are accepted at the vendor’s discretion. ATM machines are located throughout the grounds if you need to get cash. Carnival rides require tickets, and ticket booths are located at the entrance to the carnival.
By the way, you can feel good about the money you spend to eat and enjoy the rodeo. The entire San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is a fundraiser. To date, it’s contributed more than $160 million to Texas youth through scholarships, grants, endowments, auctions, and more. And most of the folks you’ll see wearing uniforms are volunteers who donate countless hours to the Stock Show to make everything you see happen.
The Family Fair is where we spend the bulk of our time. A few stops you should definitely make:
- The Petting Zoo—filled with goats, sheep, donkeys, llamas, deer, chickens, and a wallaby or two.
Good to know: there can be a line to get in, but it moves quickly. You can’t bring in food, drinks, or your stroller. There’s a hand-washing station to clean up when the petting’s done. And while the staff works to clean up after them, the animals do poop, so watch where you and the littles walk.
- Little Buckaroo Farms—designed to help kids understand where their food comes from, it highlights farms/gardens, as well as showing chickens and eggs, beehives, and more. Our little likes to take a basket, gather fake produce, and then get an H-E-B (the Buckaroo sponsor, of course) bandana to take home.
- Brick Fest Live!—New for the rodeo this year, Brick Fest Live! feeds the soul of all of the Lego lovers out there, including our little. There are bins and bins of Legos to build, merchandise to buy and some large Lego displays to enjoy.
- Cowboy Boot Camp—An area for the littles to try their hand at being a cowhand, the boot camp has stuffed horses to lasso, mini-tractors to ride, horseshoes to throw, and more. This feature was added in 2015 and is a big hit with our little.
- BMX Stunt Show—Also new for this year, the stunt show performs a few times every day (check the daily rodeo schedule available on the grounds or find the schedule on the app).
- Swifty Swine Pig Races—really no need for explanation here. Similar to a naked toddler on the run, the pigs are much faster than you think. They also squeal really loud.
Right next to the Family Fair is the Texas Wildlife Expo, where you’ll find Brad’s World Reptiles, home to a terrific display of creepy crawlies, including snakes, lizards, frogs, and tarantulas. You’ll also have the opportunity to see the Expo building itself includes the Texas Zoo, featuring animals usually seen in the wild across our state, including a bobcat, coyote, and an ocelot, which is endangered in Texas, giving us an opportunity to talk with our little about animal preservation and what we need to do to be good neighbors for our animal friends.
The Expo also has a catch-and-release tank filled with perch to give your little a chance to check out the world of fishing. The hooks have been clipped so they hold food, but don’t harm the fish. Volunteer staff are there to bait the hooks and help put the fishy friends back in the tank, so parents can stay fish-free.
Rodeo tip: Like every other mom, I’m always armed with hand sanitizer, but for the rodeo, I make sure I’m fully stocked. There’s a ton to see, do, and touch, and no one wants animal germs. There are also hand sanitizer stations throughout the family area.
So wait are you waiting for? Saddle up and get out and enjoy the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo before it’s too late. And if you have any rodeo tips or favorites I didn’t list, please share—I love to hear how others make the most of their rodeo adventures.