Saddle Up for Fun: The Scoop on the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo

There are seasons to life in the Alamo City, and come February, it’s rodeo time. Everyone unleashes their inner cowboy or cowgirl—and celebrates rodeo day at school—or so it seems. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and its celebration of all things cowboy runs February 9–26 this year, so there’s plenty of time to join in the fun. Don’t have cowboy boots and aren’t sure about wrangling kids through the rodeo grounds?? 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. Really.

Before everything kicks off, the rodeo takes over downtown San Antonio with the Western Heritage Parade & Cattle Drive on Saturday, February, 4th. The mile-long route is an opportunity to imagine what Texas was like back in the days of cowboys and vaqueros herding cattle from ranches to stock yards, so you’ll see cowboys, cattle, and fun roaming through downtown. The parade route ends at Alamo Plaza where there will be kids’ games, family fun, and chuck wagon biscuits and gravy from 9:00 A.M.–1:00 P.M. The parade starts at 11:00 A.M.

The rodeo itself saddles up February 9th and features different livestock shows, competitions, and activities every day. Honestly, the full schedule, broken down by day on the rodeo’s website, is overwhelming, but there’s a reason the rodeo has been named the PRCA Large Indoor Rodeo of the Year 12 times. If you don’t speak cowboy, that means the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association gives our San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo top honors.

So how do you get in on the fun? Most days have activities that run from 7:00 A.M.–9:00 P.M. and later. Even this rodeo veteran stares at the schedule and gets glassy-eyed, so to help you navigate, let’s talk basics.

Look, it’s a “stock” photo.

While we all call it the rodeo, it really is the stock show and rodeo—it’s more than just the rodeo competition. So the entire area around the Freeman Coliseum and the AT&T Center become stock show and rodeo heaven during February. 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. If you want to check it out, here’s a map that shows what you’ll find where.

Rodeo fun breaks down into events (like the goat show, the swine show, the milking demonstration, barrel racing, etc.) and entertainment (like Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley, Rascal Flatts, and more), then all of the grounds activities that are open every day (like the carnival, the petting zoo, stunt show, and more).

You don’t have to buy a rodeo show ticket to get in—you can just enjoy the stock show and the rodeo grounds and never venture into the AT&T Center for the bull riding, barrel racing, and concerts. Or, you can pick a show, buy tickets to that and enjoy the grounds before the action starts in the rodeo arena (your ticket gains you access to the grounds, not just the AT&T Center).

We’ve been rodeo regulars since my son was two, enjoying his delight and wonder at all things animal and more. The rodeo is a celebration of things that make Texas, well, Texas, and all things livestock. But it’s also Texas wildlife, kids’ activities, BMX demonstrations, every variety of food on a stick, funnel cake, carnival fun, and tractors. And in the eyes of kids, it’s must-do fun.

Confession: We actually don’t go to the rodeo—we go to the rodeo grounds. That means we don’t usually go into the AT&T Center and watch the rodeo competition. That’s changing, as our son wants to see what cowboys “do.” He’s six, and I feel like he can sit through the competition, but we won’t be staying to see the entertainment (bedtime and mama’s sanity are a must).

Grounds admission to the rodeo is $10 for adults, $5 for children 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 26th.

Oh—and good to know before you go: parking is $10. Park & Ride is available on weekends. Details on parking and the park and ride options 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 is the carnival. Area 6, which flows from the Family Fair area, is the Texas Wildlife Expo and a huge favorite.

So what is there to see? The barn area features any 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.

Checking out baby chicks in the Animal Adventures area.

Also, don’t miss the Animal Adventures area in the livestock barns—it’s an opportunity to learn more about agricultural animals and how they touch our lives. And if you have a child who is into horses, be sure to check out Horse Discovery in the Horse Show Arena.

Rodeo Tip: We usually take our stroller, but our newly minted six-year-old will be walking this year. I have a feeling I’m going to miss the stroller. There’s a lot of walking around the grounds and strollers make that easier on little legs. Be warned: your stroller may roll through some animal poop—and yes, your kids will notice it and talk about it ad nausuem. 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 or you’ll have to return it to the car before the show.

Also, you will be walking. A lot. So will the kids. No matter how cute the cowgirl outfit may be, make sure it’s comfortable or you’ll end up carrying those little feet and boots around.

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. 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 kids see the rides, all hope is lost. Most of the rides aren’t small child-friendly, but there is a carousel and pony rides and a few others that smaller kids can enjoy. There are also carnival games with the standard ridiculously HUGE stuffed prizes, etc. Our son is still not a fan of most rides but begs to play the carnival games.

Cotton candy!! Can you say sugar rush?!?

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 $171.4 million to Texas youth through scholarships, grants, endowments, auctions, and more. And most of the folks you’ll see wearing stock show uniforms are volunteers—they donate countless hours to the stock show to make everything you see happen.

The Family Fair area 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 or 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 kids walk.

    Llamas, pigs, goats and more. And yes, the goats will try to eat your clothes. And the animals will poop in front of you, hence the look of surprise.

  • 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. New for this year is Agricadabra, an agriculture-based magic show that entertains and educates.
  • Cowboy Boot Camp—An area for kids to try their hand at being a cowhand, the boot camp has stuffed horses to lasso, mini-tractors to ride, horseshoe games, and more. This feature was added a few years ago and is a big hit with the smaller ones.

Showing off some horseshoe skills.

  • BMX Stunt Show—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).

    One of the stunt performers from last year.

  • Swifty Swine Pig Races—really no need for explanation here. Similar to naked toddlers on the run, the pigs are much faster than you think, especially when they’re going after an Oreo. They also squeal really loud.

Right next to the Family Fair is the Texas Wildlife Expo, where you’ll find any array of reptiles, snakes, lizards, frogs, and tarantulas, as well as animals usually seen in the wild across our state, including a bobcat, a 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. New for this year:  Zoomimagination, “where the wild kingdom meets your imagination.” With macaws, warthogs, and sloths, it’s on our must list to check out.

The Expo also has a catch-and -elease tank filled to give kids 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 hook and help put the fishy friends back in the tank, so parents can stay fish-free.

New family attractions at the rodeo this year:  

  • Innovation Station, hands-on activities that are STEAM-based (I always like it when art is included alongside of science, technology, education, and math). It includes activities for kids to “build, create, ignite and explore,” which is great because our young rodeo fan is going to miss the Lego activity that was featured last year. We’re excited to see this new addition, and my guess is that it will be a big hit with little hands. 
  • Sandy Feet, where you can watch professional sand sculptures create masterpieces. 

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.

Now, let’s rodeo, San Antonio! And be sure to tell us your tips and tricks for making the most of your rodeo fun.

Head to the rodeo and let your little cowboy (or cowgirl) have fun!

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