My first Mardi Gras memory happened when I was just five years old. I went to Catholic school in Houston, and in 2006, when I was in kindergarten, I gained a new friend, who’d fled New Orleans with his family after Hurricane Katrina. To help Christian and all the other newcomers feel at home, our school organized a parade around the rose garden in front of the church. We crowded the street in our purple, gold, and green gear, eager to catch beads. A few years later, at age ten, I got to attend a Mardi Gras ball in Galveston with my parents. The floor-length tulle gowns and the live zydeco band were thrilling.
I come from two of the biggest Catholic cultures—Italian and Mexican—and it never hit me that the solemn reverence I felt obliged to partake in come Ash Wednesday was indeed tied to same bead-throwing, beer-drinking, costume-wearing Fat Tuesday. Last year, when I turned 21 in early March, I got to experience the fun that is a Fat Tuesday birthday. And since it’s not the season, “hurricane” didn’t mean Harvey or Ike this time around, but a very large cocktail sunset with rum.
Dating back to 1840, Galveston’s Mardi Gras party is Texas’s oldest, biggest, and most beloved—but there are other celebrations all around the state. Sure, these parties aren’t as massive and raucous as the main event in New Orleans, but they all have a little Texas flair. Why not make a weekend trip of it? We’ve rounded up seven celebrations to laissez le bon temps rouler across Texas.
Cowboy Mardi Gras
Thursday, February 9–Sunday, February 12
There’s no need to ditch your Texas roots to partake in Mardi Gras in Bandera, where one of the featured events is bull-riding. Bandera’s eighteenth-annual Cowboy Mardi Gras takes place a week before the calendar holiday for a reason. “During COVID, Louisiana wasn’t able to celebrate, and Bandera was open,” says Patricia Moore, the executive director of Bandera County Convention & Visitors Bureau, “and our friends in Louisiana and East Texas love the cowboy music.” Several out-of-state krewes—those are the social clubs that throw Mardi Gras events—came up to the Hill Country to participate in the Bandera parade instead. Join the party for live music, a Mardi Gras costume contest (for humans and dogs), and a gumbo cookoff.
Easy Tiger (North, South, East)
Tuesday, February 21
Take a seat this Fat Tuesday and celebrate on a patio bench over a pint of Abita, a hearty bowl of gumbo, and a slice of freshly baked king cake. Drop by Tuesday evening at any of Easy Tiger’s three locations for some New Orleans classics such as muffulettas, po’boys, and hurricanes. If you’ve got a hankering for live music, the North and East locations have got you covered.
Krewe of Barkus
Sunday, February 19
If you’re looking to celebrate Mardi Gras and your friend Fido, head to downtown McKinney on February 19 for the twenty-first-annual Krewe of Barkus parade. Get ready to see critters costumed as first responders, civil rights activists, and comic book superheroes at this year’s parade, Barkus Salutes the Good Dogs: Unleash Your Superheroes. Historic downtown McKinney is taking it a step further this year to honor good dogs. Nearly fifty years ago, the classic film Benji, about an independent mutt who roams his little North Texas town, was filmed in the Texas town of McKinney; to honor him, the town will unveil a sculpture of the dog after the parade.
Oak Cliff Mardi Gras Festival
Sunday, February 19
Elvis? Elvis . . . es? Head down to Davis Street with the family and join Oak Cliff’s twelfth-annual Mardi Gras parade. It’s organized by Go Oak Cliff, a nonprofit that also hosts Bastille on Bishop, Blues, Bandits, and BBQ, and Oktoberfest to prepare for the celebration. “This is an organization that celebrates the neighborhood,” Go Oak Cliff board member Jimmy Contreras says. “It’s a different take on the parade and a way of us giving back to the community. If you want to get moving before the parade kicks off, register for the Dash for the Beads 5k or the one-mile fun run. All the proceeds will support local sports for kids. As he said, this isn’t your average parade. A king of rock and roll rally will also bring the party to the streets.
Mardi Gras! Galveston
Friday, February 10–Tuesday, February 21
At 2319 Mechanic Street in Galveston stands a permanent gold, green, and purple arch embellished with lights. The famous Powell Arch was named after Boone Powell, the same architect who designed the restoration of the building it sits across from: the historic 1879 Tremont House. George Mitchell and his wife Cynthia planned the arch to celebrate the Texas Sesquicentennial and Mardi Gras in 1986. This year, the twelve-day event will make way for more than twenty parades, including an umbrella brigade and parades for kids, pets, and golf carts. There are also parades that are free to watch along the seawall. If you’re hoping to catch some beads from on high, make sure you purchase the balcony pass. Listen to country music singer Chris Janson and the Austin duo Ghostland Observatory live from the Strand. On Sunday, February 12, celebrate Hispanic heritage with performances by dance groups and live musicians and a Jeep parade with mariachi bands.
Saturday, February 11
One night in 1999, Maurine Howard met a group of friends who brought their five boats to the Kemah Boardwalk and flung beads at spectators. That celebration grew into an annual Mardi Gras boat parade known as Yachty Gras. Nearly a quarter-century later, Yachty Gras is still sailing strong, bringing in sixty to a hundred boats each year. The boats are strung with festive lights, and there’s plenty of music and dancing. In preparation for its twenty-fifth anniversary next year, the nonprofit hopes to raise money to eventually open a Bay Area Maritime Museum in/near? Clear Lake. To enter America’s largest Mardi Gras boat parade, register your boat by February 11. If you’re not registering a boat, you can watch the vessels set sail that evening from the Clear Lake Channel or catch them along the Kemah Boardwalk.
Mardi Gras Southeast Texas
Thursday, February 16–Sunday, February 19
After a hiatus in 2021 due to the pandemic, Beaumont picked the party back up in 2022 and will deck the streets of downtown for four straight days. Thursday kicks off with the Courir de Mardi Gras Parade, or “Fat Tuesday Run,” followed by live music from Lil’ Steven and the Zydeco Futures and LT & the Zydeco Mob. On Friday, golf carts, ATVs, and four-wheelers will lead the parade and pump up the crowd for live music by Uncle Kracker and the Hank Williams Jr. tribute band Sons of Bocephus.
Start your Saturday on the right foot with some friendly competition in the Capes & Crowns 5k and 1k. As the day begins to wind down, check out the motorcycle showcase and then head over to the Total Krewe of Aurora Grand Parade. The Majestic Krewe of Aurora, the first and oldest krewe in Beaumont at 31 years old, will lead a grand parade at 6:00 p.m., followed by performances by Houston rappers Slim Thug and Lil’ Keke. There’s also a parade just for golf carts, ATVs, and four-wheelers.