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Things to Do in Austin During the Holiday Season

December in Austin is full of exciting traditions and events that are sure to spread holiday cheer and keep your season as weird as the city itself. And while you may have to leave your sweater or scarf at home, there are plenty of sights and activities to help you revel in the holiday spirit all the way through to the new year.

From marveling at the Zilker Tree to admiring the decorations at the Driskill Hotel or finding the perfect gift from a local artist at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, Austin has your December covered. You just have to be okay with wearing shorts and sipping a margarita instead of eggnog.

So let’s look at the best ways to spend your last couple weeks of the month, keeping in mind the words from Texas musician Shelley King’s 2012 song, “Christmas in Austin”:

“Christmas in Austin, let the good times begin…”

Trail of Lights

December in Austin begins and ends with the annual Trail of Lights at Zilker Park. It’s one of the city’s most beloved holiday traditions and second largest event. What began as a small gathering called “Yule Fest” in 1965, has since grown into a celebration with more than 40 displays, two million lights, live entertainment, food trucks, and countless Facebook and Instagram posts for its more than 400,000 annual visitors.

After walking along the trail don’t forget to end the night taking part in the beloved Austinite tradition of spinning and snapping a picture under the Zilker Christmas Tree. The Trail of Lights runs through December 23rd from 7-10 p.m. nightly. Thanks to the Trail of Lights Foundation, admission is free for half of the nights while the others are $3 a person.

Mozart’s Coffee Roasters

Whether you’re new to Austin or have lived here your entire life, Mozart’s Annual Christmas Light Extravaganza is a must-see holiday event. Grab a delicious cup of coffee or hot chocolate and enjoy the sensory overload spectacle of more than a million LED lights in a new immersive, interactive experience every night from 6-11 p.m. through New Year’s Day (except Christmas Day).

Along with lights sculpted into giant guitars, the State Capitol, and Christmas trees, the free event features an audio-activated wall of lights and live choral singing from more than 20 local school and community group choirs performing your favorite carols and holiday tunes.

Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

If you’re still looking for that perfect Christmas gift for a loved one, Austin’s annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar at the Palmer Events Center has you covered. The 11-day event runs through Christmas Eve featuring art from over 160 national and local award-winning artists, as well as a seriously impressive live music lineup, delicious bites from local restaurants Chi’lantro BBQ and Southside Flying Pizza, and two bars in a setting that can only be Austin, Texas.

Find one-of-a-kind handmade gifts for your loved ones, personally meet the artists, and listen to local live music all with a cold beer or cocktail in your hand. It’s precisely what holiday shopping was meant to be; fun and carefree. The event is $8 for a single day pass (Kids 12 and under free) with onsite parking at the Palmer Events Center/Long Center garage for an additional $8.

37th St. Christmas lights

The perfect combination of holiday decorations and that Keep Austin Weird vibe intersects every year on 37th street and is a true rite of passage for anyone wanting to call themselves an Austinite. Whether you’re driving or walking, start at Guadalupe and 37th and head east for a truly mesmerizing display of lights that covers every tree, fence, light pole, and rooftop. There’s even a giant light-up dinosaur standing guard; a spectacle even Clark Griswold would be proud of.

A night at the theater

There’s no better time of the year than the holidays to get a little dressed up (not too dressed up) and head to the theater. For Austinites, this means catching Ballet Austin’s 55th annual presentation of The Nutcracker at the Long Center—the longest running production in Texas—or ZACH Theatre’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

While The Nutcracker is a classic rendition of the holiday favorite with music performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, A Christmas Carol gives audiences a uniquely Austin twist by combining the traditional story and setting with a score that spans genres and decades. Exactly what you would expect from the Live Music Capital of the World. The Nutcracker runs through December 23rd while A Christmas Carol runs through December 31.

Alamo Drafthouse holiday movie parties

If live theater isn’t your thing, you can always catch your favorite Christmas movie at a local Alamo Drafthouse while enjoying delicious food, drinks, and treats. Nothing brings holiday classics to life like seeing them on the silver screen, and this year Alamo Drafthouse has a great lineup for children and adults. Here’s the full December lineup:

  • Elf Movie Party – Through Christmas Day at The Ritz location
  • A Christmas Story – December 23-24 at Lakeline location
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Movie Party – December 22 at The Ritz location
  • Love Actually Movie Party – December 16, 18-19 at The Ritz location
  • It’s a Wonderful Life – Christmas Eve at Lakeline and Slaughter locations

Honorable Mentions

Ice Skating on the Plaza – Head over to the flagship Whole Foods Market in downtown Austin and enjoy ice skating with friends and family. The rink is open through January 15 and cost is $10 per person (includes skate rental).

Winter Wonderland at the Circuit of Americas – Along with millions of lights, the Circuit of Americas will also have movies on the lawn, a petting zoo, skating rink, camel rides, portraits with Santa, and much more. Runs through December 30th, $15 admission (Children 5 and under free).

Austin’s New Year – Ring in 2018 like a true Austinite with art, food, and local live music at Vic Mathias Shores (formerly Auditorium Shores). The annual alcohol-free celebration begins at 3 p.m. with a fireworks finale at 10 p.m.

However you celebrate, we at Domain Realty hope you have a safe and memorable holiday season surrounded by friends, family, and loved ones. Happy Holidays!

The Investor’s Guide to SXSW Rental Properties

Like Christmas decorations hitting store shelves and shopping malls the day after Halloween, the build-up for Austin’s annual South by Southwest Festival seems to start earlier every year.

Whether it’s billboards on I-35, the endless number of parties you’re told to RSVP to, or the slow drip of confirmed artists performing, the signs of the looming festival are everywhere. Austinites prepare themselves every year for the hundreds of thousands of migrants hitting our downtown area. And while locals all have their feelings about the 10-day festival, one group of people who cherish this time of year are property owners looking to make some serious cash with short-term home rentals.

It’s no secret that the economic impact of SXSW on the city is significant. In fact, reports from last year’s festival indicate it brought in close to $348.6 billion to the city in 2017, making it the single most profitable event for the hospitality industry every year.

But for property owners with single rooms or entire homes, condos, and apartments to rent, the 10-day windfall from festival attendees is easily the most profitable week and a half of the year. While SXSW brings tens of thousands of people to Austin that attend the festival with a wristband or badge, it brings even more who are coming to experience the fantastic local food and craft beer scene, as well as catch a few free day shows or private events. That means more people in Austin who need places to stay, and the demand doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

The most significant reason for this beneficial return on investment is the disproportionate number of attendees to hotel rooms. With hundreds of thousands of festival-goers coming to Austin and roughly 30,000 hotel rooms—only 7,000 in the downtown area—the opportunity for property owners to make some serious cash renting out their property is hard to pass up. So exactly how much are property owners making? The average nightly rental rate of a short-term rental, according to sites like HomeAway and Airbnb, can triple during the week of SXSW, with some apartments renting for $1,000 a night and larger homes for closer to $2,000 a night.

President of the Austin Rental Alliance, Joel Rasmussen, says he increases his rental price for properties he owns to around double the average rate. However, he claims that amount is minimal compared to what other people in town charge, especially the downtown area where property owners have the best chance at making a profit. “It gets crazier every year…and some people are desperate so they’ll pay it,” Rasmussen said.

But part of maximizing your chances at a profit during the week of SXSW, Austin City Limits Music Festival, or any other favorite festival weekend of the year, comes down to location. With most activities happening in or near downtown, that’s where the highest rental rates are, but with the festival getting bigger every year, many events and concerts have begun to disperse out of downtown into the surrounding areas, where short-term rental prices can still be much higher than usual. Let’s look at some of the most popular areas of town during SXSW that would make valuable property investments.


The majority of events, concerts, and nightlife are happening in the downtown area. It’s a favorite lodging location for festival attendees because of the cut down on the stressors of driving, parking, and renting a car. Downtown lofts and apartments also give renters incredible views of the Austin skyline and easy access to public transportation. Downtown property places renters in the heart of the festival, with easy access to shows and parties on Austin’s historic 6th street. There are music venues like The Mohawk, Barracuda, Sidewinder, and Empire Control Room in the Red River music district, where a large number of shows occur. There is also easy access to Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake where a free outdoor concert happens every year. It is also a short walk to the Convention Center, as well as many great restaurants and bars for SXSW Tech and Interactive attendees.

South Congress

One of the most quintessential Austin neighborhoods for that quirky, Keep Austin Weird vibe is South Congress (SoCo). Those looking to invest can find cute and vibrant bungalows and older homes with a unique style. And while its a little over a mile from the downtown area, there is a multitude of official and unofficial concerts and other activities. It’s easy to catch daily performances at Hotel San Jose, as well as shows at one of Austin’s most important and historic music venues, The Continental Club. South Congress also has a wide selection of local eateries, arts and crafts, and shopping destinations that festival attendees are drawn to by the thousands.

East Austin

For permanent residents and tourists alike, East Austin has become a favorite destination, not only during SXSW but throughout the year. From great music venues to local breweries and watering holes, and some of the best and most notable local restaurants, this one-time hipster haven has seen an influx of new apartment complexes and homes, which makes it a great location to invest in real estate. Close to SXSW showcase venues like Hotel Vegas and Scoot Inn, the east side is also the perfect area to spend a sunny day bar hopping and people watching for festival goers that don’t have a badge or wristband. With great coffee shops, brunch locations, and the legendary Franklin BBQ in the area, you can guarantee it will be a popular neighborhood year round.

At Domain Realty, we know the Austin neighborhoods you should be investing in because Austin is our home. We have spent our lives here and can quickly identify the best areas in town to invest in real estate. If you choose to rent your property out during SXSW, or the multitude of other Austin festivals and are in need of a property manager, we can seamlessly connect you with our partners at Domain Property Management to assist you with your needs. Contact Domain Realty today at (512) 872-4211 to speak with a real estate professional.