Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Helotes

By Chet Garner 5.6.24

Just on the outskirts of San Antonio is Helotes, a little 9,000-plus Texan town that got its start some 150 years ago as a humble farming and ranching community. But as San Antonio began — and continues — to grow, Helotes has found itself in the crosshairs of change.

Helotes gets its name from the nearby Helotes Creek. If you’re a fan of Mexican street corn, you may have already noticed that the name Helotes is very similar to “elotes,” the Spanish word for “corn cob.” That’s no coincidence: When Spaniards first arrived in the area in the 1700s, they found that Apache tribes had been growing corn in the creek bed. Hence, Helotes Creek — hence, Helotes in the 1800s.

To this day, many of the buildings in downtown Helotes date back to the town’s 19th-century origins. Take the 0.3-mile walking tour of the town’s historical sites, three of which are official historic landmarks in Texas — including one of the most famous honky tonks in Texas.


John T. Floore Country Store

The John T. Floore Country Store is easily the most recognizable name in Helotes and has played a huge role in putting the town on the map. Floore’s started as a humble grocery store and transformed into one of the hottest music venues in the state when it opened its doors in 1942. Since then, anyone who’s anyone has played Floore’s — either on their way up toward fame or down toward retirement.

Country names like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, and Patsy Cline were regular headlines at Floore’s. Willie Nelson even had a standing gig here every Saturday night. But other American stars have graced the stage, too, be it all-time legends like Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley or modern-age groups like the Turnpike Troubadours. Any night you’re there, you may be watching the next big star.

Oh, and the other thing Floore’s is famous for is their tamales. The same family has been hand-rolling them since Floore’s early days, so grab a half dozen or so (and plenty of salsa) and enjoy the show.


Downtown Helotes

The historic stuff in Helotes is great, but, like I said, Helotes is growing right along with San Antonio. There are some really fun new businesses downtown, like Texas Grounds Coffee Company, one of my new favorite spots for a cup of joe. They roast their coffee and serve it out of an old stone boarding house, along with all kinds of homemade pastries. My absolute favorite is their cream puffs — no kidding, these things are almost the size of a cantaloupe. (And way more delicious.)

If you’re radically into cheetah print, then boy, Helotes is the spot for you. There’s a very popular women’s boutique here called Cheetahlish. It’s not hard to spot: Not only is it one of the biggest stores in town, but it’s also got all these cheetah statues guarding its front porch. And inside, everything (I mean everything) is covered in cheetah spots.

Another must-stop is El Chaparral, which has some of the best Tex-Mex you’ll find anywhere. The restaurant opened in 1972 in an old house in Helotes and has just kept getting bigger. In the last few decades, they’ve kept adding rooms to the restaurant, adding food to the menu, and serving up amazing homemade grub. The beans are greasy, the burritos are cheesy, and everything’s perfect. It’s a must-try spot.


Around (and Over) Helotes

A day trip to Helotes wouldn’t be complete without zooming over the Hill Country at 1,000 feet. Head over to the Helotes Hill Country Ziplines for some seriously extreme fun at 35 mph. It’s back in the hills, so you get incredible views of Texas from above. You can actually see downtown San Antonio in the distance from up there, but you feel like you’re in the middle of a big ol’ nature preserve.

In fact, there is a real nature preserve in the Helotes area called the Government Canyon State Natural Area, which is about 12,000 acres of protected wilderness in an aquifer “recharge zone” within the San Antonio city limits. It’s as iconic Hill Country as you can get, with wildflowers, flowing streams, and rocky cliffs that create a world-class place for hiking, camping, and biking. And be sure to look in the creek beds for some truly historic Helotes natives: You might just spot dinosaur footprints from 110 million years ago.

Explore more of Texas’ small towns with The Daytripper here.

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