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
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!