NIOSA (Night In Old San Antonio) - Fiesta San Antonio
Night in Old San Antonio - or NIOSA, as it is more commonly called - is one of the most raucous events of Fiesta. It's also the one event where parents will need to think twice about bringing the kids. That's because at certain times on certain days, NIOSA is packed tight with younger partiers guzzling down the beverages that younger partiers tend to guzzle.
NIOSA is known for offering a terrific array of food celebrating the cuisines of the ethnicities represented in La Villita, the restored 17th Century village that hosts NIOSA every year.
Among the food choices are anticuchos, escargot, horseshoe sausage, cream horns, knockwurst and fried mushrooms, to name a few. The non-stop musical entertainment features western, R&B, conjunto, jazz, oompah, mariachi and flamenco dancers.
2009 Dates: Tuesday, April 21-Friday, April 24
Time: 5:30-10:30 p.m.
Location: La Villita, one of the oldest sections of San Antonio and adjacent to the River Walk
In brief: A four-day party celebrating SanAnto's myriad cultures
Tickets: There is an admission charge that is a wee bit cheaper in advance than at the gate. Ticket info is available here.
More Info: Visit the NIOSA Website or call (210) 226-5188.
What night should I go?
Depends on what kind of crowd (and crowds) you're looking for. If you're claustrophobic by nature, you'll want to avoid Wednesday and especially Thursday, as foot traffic along La Villita's walkways gets particularly congested. Tuesday generally has the lightest turnout of the four days, but still has enough people there to give it a festival atmosphere. Thursday brings a sizeable college-age crowd, though one of the best features of NIOSA is that the city's entire cross-section is represented every night of the week. Crowds taper off a bit on Friday due to other Fiesta distractions, but you'll still feel like cattle - albeit, happy cattle - as you graze your way through the grounds.
How do I have the consummate NIOSA experience?
For starters, come early (gates open at 5:30) and buy your coupons before you do anything else. There are coupon booths at strategic points throughout La Villita; vendors take coupons only. At some point, you'll want to buy cascarones to share with your friends and loved ones. The confetti-filled eggshells are sold at booths throughout the grounds, and it's just not NIOSA without confetti in your hair. Over at the Maverick Plaza, which gets a distinctively cowboy feel during the festival, you can send a postcard from NIOSA, which many people do as they collect small towers of commemorative plastic beer cups. (Participants will stack their cups as they go, rather than throwing them away.)
Also, you must dance - chicken dance, that is. The Villita Assembly Hall (big round building, can't miss it) transforms into a German polka hall, and the band plays the Chicken Dance song ("Dance Little Bird") with German rail system regularity. Count on shaking a metaphorical tail feather about every fourth song. Food is a prime motivator at NIOSA - many make the pilgrimage to the tortilla stands and the gordita stands, although you'll also want to save room for the various meats-on-a-stick.
Is NIOSA family-friendly?
NIOSA offers features designed for kids, such as face painting stations, which are scattered throughout La Villita, and a row of carnival games along the Nueva Street side of the grounds (known as "Clown Alley"). But if you're planning to push a stroller around, you'll want to get to NIOSA early, or you might want to consider alternative festivals, such as Hermann's Happiness.
The general rule is the later it gets, the more congested - and raucous - it gets, and it can be hard to walk around even without the encumbrance of a stroller and diaper bag. At moments, you'll have people literally on all sides of you, jostling or pushing you, and at those moments, you'll want to be carrying your small children.
To curtail underage drinking, NIOSA has increased police presence at the event. Beginning a couple years ago, police officers were even assigned to individual beer stations, standing next to the servers (don't worry - San Antonio's festivals are always remarkably violence-free; the police presence is only a response to how some folks, including some young folks, tend to overindulge in their favorite beverages at NIOSA). In addition, the cups have shrunk slightly over the years -- the servings are now 12 ounces. Though this gives NIOSA more control over the crowd, it's still a crowd.
If you have older kids in tow, you'll probably still want to to come early, before the crowds get too large or too loud.
Where do I park?
That's the trick. La Villita and the area adjacent to it are not particularly parking-rich. You'll probably want to try either Commerce or Durango Streets. The Institute of Texan Cultures, on Durango between S. Alamo and I-37, has parking close to the action - a short, pleasant stroll through Hemisfair Park gets you to the front gates. Commerce Street has several large parking garages between the Mercado (Market Square) and the Rivercenter Mall that will also put you within a slightly longer walking distance of NIOSA. (Our advice: Wear comfortable shoes.) VIA's blue streetcar line runs along South Alamo, stopping at one of the main gates, and the blue line connects to other lines at the station across the street from Rivercenter Mall. If you're coming in from outside the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown, VIA runs a Park and Ride Shuttle service from Crossroads and McCreless Malls and Randolph Air Force Base.
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