Parades with floats, contests to determine the fastest or biggest or best, and enough warmth and hospitality to charm the “uptight” out of just about anyone, the small-town festivals of South Texas have provided decades of great food, live music, and tried-and-true traditions for both locals and visitors. Just bring your smile and stay a while!
Head down a country road on a sunny day in the South Texas Plains, and it’s a good bet you’ll find a small town celebrating something, whether a historical date or, in many of these farming communities, a top crop or commodity.
A few of these small-town festivals have been happening for so long—we’re talking decades—and have grown so popular that they’ve hit the big time, drawing record crowds from around the state, the country, and in some cases, the world.
With family in San Antonio, we often plan visits to coincide with these annual events. Each one is an easy day trip from the Alamo City, and everyone is welcome.
The Poteet Strawberry Festival
The first event in 1948 was created by the Rotary Club to give WWII veterans an incentive to return to family farms and help improve the area’s berries. Seems they did a great job, because today the Poteet festival draws more than 100,000 visitors during the festival weekend (usually mid-April).
We took the 45-minute drive south and jumped into the Strawberry Fest with both feet. Arriving a good hour before lunch, we indulged in some appetizers, including a bowl of fresh strawberries, strawberry lemonade, and a slice of strawberry nut bread. Sufficiently sated (for the moment), we dropped by the Strawberry Judging, where size, color, and sweetness were the elements of success.
That afternoon, we nibbled on BBQ, Tex-Mex, and various fried items (Oreos, pickles, and Frito pies) and still managed to make our way over to the rodeo arena to marvel at team roping and bull riding. The evening ended with an amazing fireworks display and, most notably, a strawberry-smothered brownie.
The Stockdale Watermelon Jubilee
One of the oldest watermelon festivals in the state, the Jubilee transforms the city of Stockdale into a watermelon wonderland every June. We headed down on Saturday (a bit shy of an hour’s drive from San Antonio) and were just in time to watch the winners cross the finish line of the Watermelon Crawl 5K before finding a spot to watch the parade.
Big and boisterous, the Jubilee Parade had every form of wheeled transportation imaginable, along with watermelon-themed floats, crazy costumes, marching bands, and more. Special acclaim was reserved for the Jubilee royalty—the newly crowned “Queen Melone,” Miss Rodeo Stockdale, and their respective courts.
My favorite event was the Jubilee Dog Show and Races. Costumed pets were judged for their watermelon-themed outfits, and then it was off to the races, with owners cheering their four-pawed competitors on.
The Floresville Peanut Festival
When it was first discussed in 1938, it was going to be called the “Peanut Pow Wow.” The more subtle “Peanut Festival” won out, however, and that’s how the town got its “goober” on.
Just 20 minutes south of San Antonio, Floresville is a pretty place with a stunning historic courthouse on the town square. It is here that the Peanut Festival festivities take place each year. When we arrived, families were enjoying the carnival rides, which we skipped in favor of going nuts at the food booths. Peanut butter treats, peanut brittle, and peanut cookies were all peanut perfection.
The parade featured the new Queen Tuneap and King Reboog (“peanut” and “goober” spelled backward). The queen’s coronation gown was extraordinary, with elaborately hand-sewn details decorating a train that was several yards long. Afterward, we went to watch the famous washer tournament, and ended the day two-stepping to live country music at the outdoor street dance.
The Texas Onion Fest
The world famous Texas 1015 sweet onion was developed in Weslaco, located near the state’s southern tip. The 1015 comes from the suggested planting date, October 15, but the festival is held in late March before farmers have to buckle down for their bumper crops in June.
We were down at South Padre Island for spring break this year, so decided to roll on over to Weslaco to experience just how sweet the sweet onion festival could be. With all the onion-themed events, live music, and small town hospitality, we had a great time.
The big draw was the onion eating contest. All ages are welcome to enter, but since it involved actually biting into a raw onion, we chose to cheer on the brave competitors from the sidelines.
The onion recipe contest, however, was another matter. Each recipe had to incorporate at least half a cup of onions, and we were eager to get the recipes for winning dishes like onion, shrimp and pork dumplings, chocolate covered onion rings, and from the dessert category, butter-poached baby onion tart and lemon-thyme cake.
Drive 30 minutes west of San Antonio on Highway 90 and you’ll find the South Texas Maize, a celebration of harvest time in the countryside. Open September 12 to November 15, the centerpiece is a seven-acre maze planted with sorghum that produces stalks up to 12-feet high. Finding your way through the “maize” depends on how you answer the questions at strategic intersections along the way. Other attractions at the site include Paw Paw’s Pig Races, the Hay Bale Jump, and Farmer Ken’s Kiddie Korral.