For a Fiesta, Remember San Antonio

Deep in the heart of Texas, you’ll find cuisine, culture, and a little bit of camp.

BY Trudy Ring

April 18 2013 3:00 AM ET

When you visit San Antonio, you’ll no doubt remember the Alamo, but you’ll also find much more that’s memorable about this beautiful, diverse, LGBT-friendly South Texas metropolis: delicious Mexican-influenced food, culture high and low, and a readiness to party, especially for a good cause.

And springtime, a perfect season to visit San Antonio, is when the city hosts its annual “party with a purpose,” Fiesta San Antonio (Fiesta-SA.org). This year’s Fiesta runs April 18-28 and consists of more than 100 official events, all produced by and benefiting local nonprofit organizations and military units, San Antonio being home to Lackland Air Force Base and other military installations.

The Fiesta provides a good opportunity to get to know this charming city, which has a lot going for it. With a population of 1.3 million, it’s the seventh-largest city in the United States and the second-largest in Texas (yes, bigger than Dallas, and taking a backseat only to Houston). But even with such a large population, it’s compact and manageable, big on natural beauty and historic architecture. Politically, it’s an oasis of blue in the deeply red Lone Star State.

Visitors may be inclined to forget about politics while enjoying the Fiesta, though. Tourists and locals alike turn out for Fiesta events, which offer something for just about everyone. The most gay-popular celebration is the Webb Party, this year on April 19, the largest fund-raiser of the year for the San Antonio AIDS Foundation. It’s held at the majestic, castle-like Lambermont Estate (built in 1894 by a former ambassador to Belgium in homage to European architecture) and features cocktails, music by bands and top DJs, and cuisine from the city’s best restaurants.

Another not-to-be-missed Fiesta event is the Texas Cavaliers River Parade on April 22, with floats that literally float — they’re boats on the San Antonio River. Spectators gather in the city’s scenic Riverwalk, a network of walkways through downtown San Antonio that’s lined with restaurants, bars, and shops, to view the festively decorated boats that usually come with musical accompaniment. Riders on the floats will also toss you beads, as in the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade.

Then there’s a Night in Old San Antonio, actually a four-night food and entertainment festival, in La Villita, the city’s oldest neighborhood, with structures dating as far back as 1835. Set for April 23-26, NIOSA offers more than 240 food and drink booths for sampling San Antonio cuisine. (Be sure to try the Broadway chicken, a spicy chicken filet on a stick topped with a jalapeño pepper.)

Fiesta events also include “taste of” food fests in several other neighborhoods, a masquerade ball, fashion and art shows, a display of traditional Mexican equestrian arts called a charreada, a casino night, and many more. A popular custom is collecting the decorative pins, known as “medals” to locals, that are for sale (or sometimes given away) at events and wearing them on a sash. Residents often trade medals with one another, and while there’s no official competition for amassing the most, more is definitely better.

As many Fiesta events require a lot of walking, at some point you’ll be happy to settle into a theater seat to sit back and just laugh for a couple hours. And laugh you will at the Cornyation, a sketch-comedy review that satirizes politicians and celebs and benefits local AIDS charities, among others. Last year, targets of the show’s irreverent, campy, and sometimes risqué humor included Texas governor Rick Perry and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann; one joke had the latter considering a move to Texas after her failed presidential campaign, as it was the only state morally bankrupt enough to have her. There are two performances nightly April 23-25 at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, a beautifully restored former vaudeville and movie house.

Though it’s not an official Fiesta event, you shouldn’t miss the inaugural San Antonio Q Fest, an LGBT film festival benefiting Pride San Antonio. It will be held April 21-23 at the historic, rehabbed Woodlawn Theatre. The lineup was still being assembled at press time, but you can get more info at FarrisFamilyFP.com.

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