In the last issue of Snapshot: Austin, I mentioned that fall is essentially a few glorious (but all-too-short) weeks here in Austin. And just like that, it’s happened again: Winter is basically here, and the holidays are upon us. How the yuletide season sneaks up on us annually is a time-space continuum I’ve yet to comprehend. Don’t get me wrong: I love the holiday season! But, as we all know, it can certainly be a stressful time, what with the pressure of juggling social gatherings and family visits, reigning in overindulgence, finding those perfect gifts, etc. Luckily, there are a number of Austin Christmas events and programming that’ll get you feeling warm and fuzzy in no time!
17 Austin Christmas Events to Make Your Days Merry and Bright
The fifty-eighth annual Trail of Lights runs from December 8 through the 23 at Zilker Park. The twinkling spectacular occurs every night except Monday, and it’s free to the public for seven out of fourteen nights (and admission for kids is always free). The annual Austin tradition features more than two million lights, seventy lighted displays, and tunnels, amusement rides, food trucks, and a line-up of musical entertainment. For more info and ticket options, visit their calendar.
Nickel City, my favorite eastside haunt, is all decked out for the Beachbum Berry Sippin’ Santa pop-up, an annual Christmas-themed tiki takeover. If the multiple presents hanging from the ceiling and the Santa hat-topped bar stools don’t get you in the holiday spirit, then the Kris Kringle Kolada and the Undertow Toddy will!
Tinseltown has taken over Wanderlust Wine Co. until December 30, bringing an explosion of baubles, bows, wreaths, and glitter—plus plenty of photo opps. Tickets are required for timed entry to the cocktail pop-up, and can be purchased here.
Each year, the holiday light display at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters gets bigger and bigger. This year, the lakeside cafe features more than two million twinkling lights plus a Bavarian marketplace, reserved table options, a dance floor with silent disco, and even an option to view the lights by boat with Austin Boat Rentals. The show runs through January 6, which just might be enough time to work your way through the bakery’s many, many housemade pastries.
Miracle on 5th Street is lighting up the Eleanor for the sixth year, with over-the-top Christmas decor, a ski lodge area peddling “shotskis,” cozy snacks (like tamales and grilled cheese with tomato bisque), and a menu of fun holiday-themed drinks. Try the minty Chimney Cricket, a boozy Snowball Old Fashioned, or a dainty mug of Jingle Balls Nog. Get tickets, line-skipping fast passes, and make group reservations online.
Just because the weather is gloomy doesn’t mean the celebrations need to stop! Reserve one of the heated igloos on Geraldine’s rooftop pool deck for a special night out with up to five of your friends. Each clear geodesic bubble comes with a record player and holiday vinyl, games and decoration, and you can order drinks and snacks off a special holiday menu. Purchase tickets for one of two different time slots here.
The W Hotel Austin has morphed into an après-ski winter wonderland with holiday beverages, entertainment, and photo opps aplenty. (And rumor has it that you’ll be given a glass of champagne if you showed up in a slope-worthy outfit).
I always try to make a point to visit the Driskill Hotel this time of year to gawk at the 16-foot Douglas fir they decorate in the lobby for the month of December. There’s also typically some sort of mind bogglingly massive gingerbread house—and this year it’s actually an entire village decorated by children at Dell Children’s Hospital! Try one of their new pumpkin spice martinis and order a cookie tin-go; proceeds benefit the Stateman’s Season for Caring initiative, which helps families in need pay of utilities, groceries, medical care, and more. Click here for more information on the Driskill’s holiday events.
Before Austin even had any holiday cocktail pop-ups, Gibson Street Bar was getting all dressed up for the holidays. Don your ugliest sweater and take a trip to Gibson Wonderland to sip on a menu of hot and cold holiday drinks. Not only is the entire interior trimmed with ribbon, bells, elves, and reindeer, but the parking lot is covered by a tent and lit by a sparkling Christmas tree for the month of December.
It’s Christmas all year ‘round at beloved North Austin dive bar Lala’s Little Nugget. There’s even themed drinks, like Buddy’s Elf Fashioned and the Lump of Coal shot.
Peppermint Parkway is returning to the Circuit of the Americas for the third year in a row, offering a one-mile drive-through light display, as well as music, food, performances, and a holiday market. Tickets are on sale here.
The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, a five-decade-long tradition here in Austin, is back in the Palmer Events Center for the first time since 2019. From December 17 through 23, 11 am to 8:30 pm daily, you can enjoy music on two stages while you browse and buy handmade presents for friends and family from more than 160 local artists. Tickets can be purchased here.
This year, Ballet Austin will put on its sixtieth production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, with live accompaniment from Austin Symphony Orchestra, from December 3 through 23. Tickets can be purchased here.
The ZACH Theatre’s family-friendly musical version of A Christmas Carol is running from now until December 31. (For a very merry double feature, visit the nearby Trail of Lights before the show!) Reserve tickets here.
Eat, Drink, and Do in Austin
Bufalina, East Austin’s darling destination for Neapolitan pizza and natural wine, just reopened its Cesar Chavez location after being closed for 19 months. The new building is just due east of its predecessor, and pasta wizard Grae Nonas has now joined the team, which means they’re serving incredible pasta along with their sourdough pies, salads, sides, and desserts. @bufalinapizza
Christmas Wine Affair
Tickets are now on sale for Texas Hill Country Wineries Christmas Wine Affair passport event. Tickets include a complimentary tasting and 15% discount on 3+ bottle purchases at each of the forty participating wineries through December 23. The passport, which has a value of over $1,000, can be purchased for just $65 here. @texashillcountrywine
London-born Electric Shuffle has brought its high-tech shuffleboard concept to Austin. Located in the bottom of the Quincy building, just off Rainey Street, the bar features custom-built shuffleboard tables that keep score for you so you can focus on the food and drink.
- by Erin Byers Murray
- by Jennifer Stewart Kornegay
- by Emily Havener
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Beth D’Addono