Family Fun is Easy to Wrangle at the Rodeo

Horses, cattle, pigs, rides, food, fun, LEGOs, and butterflies…this year’s San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo has it all. Yes, I said butterflies—further proof that the annual showcase of all things cowboy and cowgirl has something for everyone. And it’s great family fun, even—or perhaps even better!—with kids in tow.

A mama and her baby at the stock show.

We’ve been rodeo regulars since our little was two, enjoying his delight at the large and small animals and more. The rodeo has a fantastic array of family activities, most of which are free. The rodeo is all things livestock and ranching, but it’s also Texas wildlife, snakes, armadillos, every variety of food on a stick, funnel cake, carnival fun, tractors, and more.

The rodeo is an annual must for our family and has been part of our February schedule since my son was two. If you haven’t been—or don’t know where to start—read on for a mom’s guide to saddling up and enjoying all the rodeo has to offer.

Baby chicks at Animal Adventures, located in the barn area.

First, a primer: The “rodeo” is what we all call it, but it’s actually two things, and it’s all in the official event name, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Rodeo performances happen each night, when very talented cowboys, cowgirls, and amazing horses compete in barrel racing, bull riding, roping, and more. Each night (or matinee events on Saturday and Sunday) ends with a concert. The stock show portion is what runs all day, every day, showcasing different animals throughout the event. From swine, sheep, and goats to Brahmas, Holsteins, mini-Longhorns, and more, there’s an array of animals to see and admire throughout the stock show.

Schedule: The rodeo runs through February 25th this year, giving you plenty of time to take in the fun and make some memories. Hours vary, but you can see the details here. Note: hours/activities are different on weekdays vs. weekends. If the carnival is your thing, it doesn’t open until 4:00 P.M. most weekdays (not including Fridays). You’ll see that the grounds open at 8:00 A.M., but most of the fun isn’t available until 10:00 A.M., even on weekends, and the carnival opens at 11:00 A.M. on Friday/Saturday/Sunday. There are also different entertainment options coming/going this year. Through February 13th, there’s the Pompeyo Family Dog Show. Then there’s XPOGO, a stunt team, February 14th–19th, and Chicago Boyz Acrobat Team will finish out the rodeo February 20th–25th. To be sure you know all that’s going on when you’re there, pick up a daily schedule/grounds map from the easy-to-find volunteers/booths throughout the rodeo grounds.

Location: The rodeo takes over the AT&T Center and Freeman Coliseum, as well as the grounds around the two. The area that usually seems like 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 it sounds daunting, it’s not. The grounds are easy to navigate, so don’t let the size of everything—or the livestock!—scare you.

Admission: Here’s where it’s good to know the difference between the rodeo and the grounds. The action that happens inside the AT&T Center is a different ticket versus standard grounds admission. A rodeo ticket admits you to the grounds, so you don’t need to buy both, but a grounds ticket does not admit you to the AT&T Center.

Tickets for the rodeo performances can be purchased here. 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. New this year: guests with military IDs get in free every day (and it’s not just the military member—dependents are free too, even littles too young for an ID card). For military families like ours, that means our day at the rodeo cost us $10 in parking, but nothing else to get through the gates. That’s a real deal, and one we truly appreciate.

Corn dogs, and anything edible on a stick, make great rodeo nutrition.

Fridays and President’s Day (Monday, February 19th) 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. Yes, that means you and the littles can get in for $1 each, then enjoy carnival rides, hot dogs, popcorn, and sodas for $1 each. (FYI: the $1 food options are located in the carnival area, not throughout the grounds.)

Seniors (65 and older) get in free on Tuesdays and anyone with a college ID gets in free on Thursdays. Promotions and special offers can be found here, including details on Family Day at the rodeo, Sunday, February 24th.

Parking: Parking in the AT&T Center lots is $10 and as with all events at the AT&T Center, there are private lots available that have varying prices. 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.

A glimpse of carnival fun.

The rodeo grounds are somewhat divided into areas, the grounds map is easy to follow, and volunteers are everywhere to answer your questions. Everything in the Family Fair is detailed on the map, and it has a good guide to all that you can see re: animals and agriculture. You’ll also see where to find food options, including free sampling conducted daily on the grounds. (Don’t miss the cheese sticks in the Dairy Center, courtesy of H-E-B, or the General Mills sampling booth, sure hits with littles, as well as the Chuck Wagon sampling, where my son gave his opinion on both the peanut butter and vanilla icing samples—thumbs up to both, in case you were curious.)

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), pizza, Chinese food, kettle corn, and funnel cake. The food court is huge, so you’re sure to find something you like or feel like you have to try, like deep-fried candy bars (I haven’t been brave enough for that, but please let me know if they’re good). On Dollar Days, hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, and drinks can be purchased for $1 each in the carnival area. Most of the carnival rides aren’t small child-friendly, but there is a carousel (found in the food court) and pony rides and a few others that smaller littles can enjoy. There are also carnival games that never fail to lure us in.

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.

A hard-won championship buckle and ribbon from this year’s stock show.

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—they 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: When our son was little, we would always take our stroller. There’s a lot of walking around the grounds, and it makes it easier on little legs. Both strollers and wagons are welcome, and there’s stroller parking outside of events/activities that don’t allow strollers. Now that he’s seven, we make sure he wears shoes that fit the occasion. The rodeo is not a place for sandals, unless you want to deal with straw, sawdust, and the more-than-occasional animal poop. Closed-toe, comfortable shoes are best. Your shoes/your stroller may roll through some animal deposits. 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.

Game fun in the carnival area.

A new, fluttery friend. The butterflies made themselves at home on shoulders, jackets, purses, and more. Note: be sure everyone is careful in the display as you don’t want to hurt any of the butterflies.

We spent a full day at the rodeo, and there was still so much more to see and do that we had to promise my son a return trip. The Family Fair is where we usually spend the bulk of our time. And this year, it includes BUTTERFLIES. Thanks to the Butterfly Encounter inside the Texas Wildlife Expo, you can wrangle butterflies at the rodeo this year. Well, they’re too small for saddles or lassos, but you can feed them and delight as Monarchs, Swallowtails, and Painted Ladies land on you or your feed stick. We could have stayed in the Butterfly Encounter for hours, and the $1 fee for a feed stick is well worth it. I really hope this new addition becomes a regular part of the rodeo.

While you’re in the Texas Wildlife Expo, don’t miss the Texas Zoo, with animals usually seen in the wild across our state, including a bobcat, coyote, and an ocelot, which is endangered in Texas, while just next door, there’s the Petting Zoo—filled with goats, sheep, donkeys, llamas, deer, chickens, and a wallaby or two. On the animal front, there’s also Zoomagination, with more animals, snakes, and huge insects to delight kids.

A one-day-old sheep to be seen, not yet ready to be petted, at the petting zoo.

Good to know on the petting zoo area: 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, like all of the other creatures at the rodeo, the animals do their business when and where they want to, so watch where you and the littles walk.

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 Fair area.

Pony rides are another fan favorite in the Family Fair.

Another favorite for kids is Little Buckaroo Farms. Designed to help kids understand where their food comes from, it highlights farms/gardens, as well as 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 and goodies. This year there’s a magic show you can enjoy, too.

One of our favorites in the Family Fair area is the Swifty Swine Pig Races, and yes, it’s just what it sounds like. Similar to a naked toddler on the run, the pigs are much faster than you think. They also squeal really loud. Races are scheduled throughout the day, but get your seat early: the stands always fill up to watch the likes of Tony Porker and Hamu Ginobili race to the finish line.

LEGOs + black light = glowing fun

Across from the pig races, LEGO lovers and STEM fans will delight in Innovation Station, with building stations, fossil digging, minerals, and more. Note: they do limit the number of people inside the tent, so you may have to wait to get in during busy times. 

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.

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