Texas may not get much of a winter, but we still know how to celebrate the season right! Small cities around the hill country like to partake in the colorful festivities by lighting up their main streets and opening them up to visitors from all over. When it comes to Christmas lights and festive decorations, the reigning philosophy in the south is “Go Big or Go Home!” Some of these dazzling displays can be found right here in Austin, while others you may have to journey a little outside the city to enjoy. But it’s totally worth the short trip to see these whimsical southern winter wonderlands come alive with gorgeous lights, cheerful music and smiling faces. So if you’re looking for the best place to recapture that elusive Christmas magic from your childhood, check out these fantastic lights displays in and around Austin.
Round Rock n’ Lights – Round Rock, TX
Just a quick 20-30 minute drive from Austin up I-35 brings you to the irresistibly charming city of Round Rock. Though this small city has seen some major growth in the past few years, they still manage to retain their small-town charm and family-centric personality. Throughout the year you can find all sorts of fun outdoor events in Round Rock’s adorable city center that celebrate the changing seasons and cherished Texas traditions. During the winter season, a family friendly lights festival known as Round Rock n’ Lights rolls through town and transforms Round Rock’s Main Street into a luminous walkway of twinkles and shimmers. This hella fun holiday event has, up until recently, been held at Old Settler’s Park. However this year they are moving the action right to downtown Round Rock.
W 37th Street – Austin, TX
Late November through December
You don’t have to travel far to find weirdness in Austin. Located just north of the UT Campus, W 37th Street is a super quirky residential street that likes to keep it nice and weird. During Christmastime, W. 37th Street dons its gay apparel and gets a super kitschy Austin-style holiday makeover complete with mismatched twinkle lights and off the wall decorations. It may not be the fanciest street in Austin, but there’s definitely a special kind of art to this seemingly uncoordinated collection of Christmas lights. Though it’s not a “formal” or conventional holiday display by any means, you can’t help but marvel and smile at the wonderfully crooked and tangled mess of colorful lights overhead as you meander down the street. Definitely Austin at its best.
Trail of Lights– Wimberly, TX
November 17th through January 28th
Located about 35 mi southwest of Austin is the quiet town of Wimberly, TX. This gorgeous hill country getaway is packed with delicious artisanal cuisine, adorable little shops and fantastic wineries. If you live around Austin, Wimberly is the kind of place where you can enjoy the slower side of southern living and escape the hustle of city life for a while. Wimberly is one of the several Texas towns that participate in the incredible Trail of Lights, which takes places every holiday season. When Santa comes to town, Wimberly gets all decked out in its holiday best and hosts a magical tree lighting ceremony and lights display at the lovely Emily Ann Theatre and Garden. The kiddoes can meet Santa as well as Anna and Elsa from Frozen on a firetuck courtesy of the Wimberly Fire Department, and guests of all ages will enjoy exploring the many wonderful sculptures, displays and light shows along the town’s Trail of Lights.
Walkway of Lights – Marble Falls, TX
November 17th through January 1st
If you take a leisurely drive west of Austin through the gorgeous greenery of hill country, you’ll soon reach the quaint little town of Marble Falls. Nestled near the pristine Highland Lakes, the town is split in two by the Colorado River, with local shops, spectacular eateries and incomparable views on both sides. During the Christmas season, Marble Falls becomes one of the most festive towns in all of Texas by converting their massive Lakeside Park into the awe-inspiring Walkway of Lights. Decorated with two million twinkling lights dancing playfully over the lake and on more than 130 sculptures, this 30-minute wintery walk will captivate your senses and bring out your inner child. The annual Walkway of Lights opens with the Light-up Parade, which takes place November 17th at 6PM and runs south on Main Street until it reaches the anticipated Walkway.
Christmas Stroll – Georgetown, TX
December 1st and December 2nd
Known for their unbeatably beautiful town square, Georgetown is a cozy town about 45 minutes north of Austin. The entire city is full of character and small town allure, but the historic downtown square is where the heart of Geortown lies. Built around the town’s beautiful old courthouse, Georgetown’s square is packed with priceless knick knacks, artisanal creations, fantastic foods and friendly people. Throughout the changing seasons you can find a variety of wildly fun family-friendly events like the annual Red Poppy Festival and First Fridays on the Square. But if you’re the type who looks forward to Christmas all year round then you’ll absolutely fall in love with Georgetown during the adorable annual Christmas Stroll, which takes place the first two days of December. This festive party starts on Friday evening with early Christmas shopping, Bethlehem village and cookies with the grinch. Then the cheerful noise continues all day Saturday with a parade at 10AM followed by hours of playing and partaking in the Winter Wonderland, Ice Skating rink, Swing Carousel, Candyland Obstacle Course and Santa’s Workshop. The kids will love playing “bob the builder” at the Home Depot workshop, and you’ll find plenty of photo opps in Santa’s Village and at the jamming Jingle Bell and Silver Bell stages. If you just can’t wait until December, then head up to Georgetown the day after Thanksgiving where the locals kick of the holiday season with the incredible Lighting of the Square.
Santa’s Ranch – New Braunfels
November 3rd through December 31st
Located roughly halfway between San Antonio and Austin, New Braunfels is a historic Texas city that was once a 19th century German settlement. This diverse and culturally rich town has plenty of variety and entertainment to keep you on your feet all day. From swimming and playing at Schlitterbahn to line dancing at historic Greune Hall, New Braunfels is like a theme park city with fun attractions at every turn. Not only is New Braunfels known for their great breweries, beautiful parks and year round family friendly entertainment, they are also home to “One of the greatest lights displays in all of Texas.” Santa’s Ranch is a mile long scenic drive through the hill country of New Braunfels that is filled with Christmas lights, amazing animated displays and good holiday tidings galore. If frostbite starts nipping at your nose or you get hungry along the way, you can warm up with a cup of hot cocoa and some kettle corn at the concession stand. Don’t forget to get a souvenir before you leave!
Lights Spectacular – Johnson City
Late November through December
About 45 minutes west of Austin between Dripping Springs and Fredericksburg is the wholesome Johnson City. This tiny down-home Texas town is rife with natural beauty, local art and plenty of fresh air. Throughout the year you can find a melange of public events and festivals of all types, from the Human Values Fest to the Vegetarian Food Festival. But during Christmas the town takes on a whole new persona and becomes a festive holiday feast for your eyes during the annual Lights Spectacular. This hallmark event kicks off the Friday after thanksgiving with the lighting of the Blanco County Courthouse, where you’ll be dazzled by over 100,000 white lights draped from floor to roof. Then you can head down the street to the Pedernales Electric Co-Op headquarters where you find an entire block of ancient oak trees covered in 1 Million lights, and Johnson City Memorial Park, which is decked out with holiday displays at every turn. Nearly every inch of this small town is covered in lights during December and it absolutely breathtaking.
Luminations – The Wildflower Center
December 7th through December 10th
Located right in the heart of Austin, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center is a gorgeous botanical garden and exhibit that is abundant is flora, fauna and fantastic views. Any time of year you can visit the garden and walk it’s glorious grounds as you breathe in the fresh, flowery air. Instead of hiding away during the winter, this Texas style garden celebrates the cold weather and coming holidays with a four day long annual celebration known as Luminations. During this special holiday tour, the Wildflower Center is adorned with thousands of luminarias and other lovely lights displays that illuminate the garden’s idyllic walkways and turn it into a magical winter retreat. When you’re finished, you can snuggle up with a cup of hot chocolate and some Christmasy treats and enjoy the festive live music and holiday fun. Tickets are available at $10 for members and $15 for non members. Kiddos 4 and under get in for free.
Austin Trail of Lights – Austin, TX
December 9th through December 23rd
Of course no list would be complete without the venerated Austin Trail of Lights. This nationally recognized event got its humble beginnings in 1965 with the small “Yule Fest”. Today, visitors from all around come to Austin to see one of the city’s biggest and most dazzling events ever, marked by Zilker’s 155 ft tall glorious tree adorned with an astounding 3,309 lights! The event was created by the Austin Trail of Lights Foundation, which strives to preserve the beauty and wonder of Christmas while also supporting the local community and local charities such as the Central Texas Food Bank. So not only does a ticket get you access to one of the most celebrated Christmas lights festivals in all of Texas, but it also helps feed the hungry when you bring along a can of food for donation. Attending the Austin Trail of Lights is like a party for your eyes and hearty chicken soup for your soul. The best way to celebrate the holidays and give back!
Mozart’s Light Show – Austin
November through December
Perched on pristine Lake Austin, Mozart’s is a casual coffee hangout with delicious flame roasted java, bakery treats and a sprawling patio overlooking the sparkling water. Any day of the week you can find clusters of college students, couples and coffee lovers all chilling outside while they sip lattes and discuss the days goings on. Locals love Mozart’s because it’s small but not too small and it’s the perfect place to stop and enjoy a cup a joe, and maybe catch a live show. During the holiday season, Mozart’s takes advantage of its commanding lake views by putting on a fabulous lights show all through the month of December. This free, family and dog friendly event is filled with lovely live music, food, lots of lights and, of course, hot coffee to keep the frost bite at bay.
photo credits: @LostinAustin