This one goes out to my fellow holiday lights aficionados! The holiday season brings brightly colored, cheerful holiday light shows and festive events to central Texas and the Texas Hill Country, and I’m a sucker for a good light show. Here are several light shows to marvel at, all within two hours of downtown Austin.
We’re back, baby!
In 2022, holiday light shows and events are back! Here are some of the best Austin-local holiday light shows, as well as most of the more significant light trails and events I could find within 2 hours of Austin. The more, the merrier, and I know a lot of you are up for a drive or a weekend away to see the holiday lights! My family celebrates Christmas, so most of these are Christmas-centric, but I included a list of Chanukah events like menorah lightings and such. I’ve included dates and cost.
I personally am so excited this year, because I finished my breast cancer treatment this month, finally. I am cancer-free (yay!) and ready to celebrate life and the joy of the holidays. I plan to be ridiculously jolly and merry, mark my words! Grateful to still be here to celebrate, to be honest.
Austin holiday lights and events
Mozart’s 13th Annual Lights
- When: Now through January 6, 2023, various time slots between 6PM-midnight
- Frequency: Nightly
- Where: Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, Austin
- Cost: Free for standing to see the lights; tickets sold for silent disco ($15/person), reserved tables ($40-$60), and nautical light show boat ride on Lake Austin (starts at $120 for a group of 6)
I finally checked out the Mozart’s show after 12.5 years in Austin. This year, they have more lights than ever, more than 2 million! It’s a lovely sight to see, and the LED dance floor is a fun addition. They also sell holiday snacks and drinks, like their famous cocoa bomb hot cocoa, Bavarian pretzels (I suggest bringing mustard or a dipping sauce, as they didn’t have any), kettle corn, plus warm brownies and cookies.
The lights are so pretty, and they have a program that’s half piped-in Christmas music and half live (lighted) piano music. While reserving a table can be pricy, it’s nice to know the option is there for those who need to sit down. It’s also great to have a free option, so its open to everyone! The silent disco runs on Friday and Saturday nights only and your headphones have three channels to choose from: hip hop, EDM, or Latin music. These time slots always book out fully, so I suggest reserving your spot ASAP at mozartscoffee.com.
37th Street Lights
- When: December 9-January 1, 2023
- Frequency: Nightly, sunset-10PM
- Where: 507 W. 37th St., Austin
- Cost: Free, but you can donate lights to the address above up until opening night or contribute via Venmo @thirtyseventhstreetlights
This is classic Austin, a group of neighbors who go all out and decorate their homes for the enjoyment of all! Walk down 37th St., starting at Guadalupe for the full effect. Parking is scarce, and this light show gets busy, so plan to take a rideshare or be prepared to walk extra steps to get there, and be aware there will be a crowd. Follow their Facebook or Instagram pages for FAQs and updates.
Field of Light
- When: Now through December 30, 2022
- Frequency: Thu.-Sun. nights through Christmas, closed Christmas Eve and Day, open nightly December 26-30
- Where: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
- Cost: $41/adult, $20/ child, $30 students and teachers with IDs for 1st Thursdays and Sundays only
Full disclosure, this one isn’t specifically holiday lights, but it is a really special light event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It’s festive and runs through December, so if you are like me and can’t get enough of beautiful light shows, put this one on your list! I haven’t been yet, but by all accounts, it’s magnificent! Artists Bruce Munro has installed 16 acres of colorful lights throughout the Wildflower Center.
They also have been offering discounts for special groups, so keep an eye on their social media to see if you may qualify for a discounted ticket or special deal evening. Buy tickets, see more photos, and learn more at fieldoflightaustin.com
Chanukah Events and Menorah Lightings
Chabad of Austin put together a long list of Chanukah events, such as Menorah lightings, build your own Menorah events, and a YJP Dreidels & drinks party. Check out their complete list here.
Community First! Village of Lights and Holiday Market
- When: December 2, 3, 9, 10, 5:30PM-9:00PM
- Frequency: First two weekends in December. Fri.-Sat. nights
- Where: Community First! Village, Austin
- Cost: Free, but donations encouraged to provide ongoing support for the formerly homeless residents of the Community First! Village
This limited-run, two-weekend only event has more than 250,000 lights, holiday music, food trucks, a visit from Santa Claus, and classic Christmas movies. Along with the light show and such, there will be a holiday market with goods made by the formerly homeless artists and makers living in the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Community First! Village. Get more info on their website.
Maywald Christmas Lights Display
- When: November 24, 2022-December 28, 2022
- Frequency: Nightly, starting at 6:00PM
- Where: 10505 Twilight Vista, Austin
- Cost: Free, but they request a donation in any amount to Make-A-Wish at the box when you enter
This is one family’s love for the season and a nice way to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In fact, in the seven years they have been taking donations, this light display has raised around $200,000.00 for the nonprofit! With more than 300,000 lights, it’s a sight to behold. It’s a park and walk event, and they have parking on their property. Follow their Facebook or website for more info.
Peppermint Parkway at COTA
- When: November 25, 2022-December 30, 2022
- Frequency: Thu.-Sun through December 18, then nightly through December 30
- Where: Circuit of the Americas (COTA)
- Cost: $40 per car (passenger vehicles only, up to 8 people/car), $65 for car admission + lap around F1 race track, $80 for park admission + fast pass to skip the line, $95 for all of the above
This colorful display of lights is becoming a favorite for those who love the drive-thru lights experience. Peppermint Parkway at COTA combines millions of lights, dancing Christmas characters, and a holiday plaza with food, games, and rides. Plus, it’s the only holiday light trail experience where you can do a lap on and actual FI race track! Okay, you can only go 25 MPH on your lap, but it still gives you bragging rights. Get tickets and more info at peppermintparkway.com.
Austin Trail of Lights
- When: December 8-December 23, 2022
- Frequency: Nightly except Mondays
- Where: Zilker Park, Austin
- Cost: General Admission: Free-$5/person, depending on night, Zip Pass for early access: $20-$25 and kids under 5 are free with adult, Platinum Pass for early access, valet parking, and other VIP perks: $100, parking pass $15-$25, Shuttle pass (including GA access): $7
What can I say about the Austin Trail of Lights that hasn’t already been said? This is one of Austin’s most enduring and endearing holiday traditions. Walk through the trails of lights strewn throughout our beloved Zilker Park, take a spin under the giant Christmas tree, and enjoy free photos with Santa, food and drinks from local food trucks and more (hot cocoa or boozy drinks).
For those wanting a yet even more exclusive experience, you can purchase tickets to the preview party on December 2 or join in the Fun Run through the trail of lights, hosted by Chuy’s, on December 3. Note that this event will be packed every night it’s open. I strongly suggest taking a ride share to get close, and possibly a pedicab from there on in, unless you score a Zip, parking, or shuttle pass. You will be walking a lot, no matter what, so consider this if you are attending with someone who has mobility issues. Get tickets and more on their website.
Pease Park Southern Lights Event and Winter Solstice Celebration
- When: Saturday, December 10, 2022, 2:00PM
- Frequency: Once
- Where: Kingsbury Commons, Pease Park, Austin
- Cost: Free
Old Austin types and newbies alike can get into this event, presented by H-E-B and Snoride. Play in the snow or tube down a snow hill, take pictures with Pax, the Holiday Squirrel Elf, do a holiday craft, take a free dance lesson, and even donate or receive a book from Austin Bat Cave Book Bus. Donate canned and non-perishable food to the Light & Love Food Drive benefitting Caritas of Austin at Southern Lights from 2:00-6:00 or on December 3, from 10:00-noon. Knock out some holiday shopping while supporting local vendors at the Frida Friday Market during Southern Lights and get down to music by DJ saliYah, too. More info here.
Downtown Austin Y’allidays and Holiday Stroll
- When: December 2 through the season
- Frequency: Nightly (the tree and menorah will stay lit throughout the season)
- Where: Texas State Capitol at Congress and 11th
- Cost: Free to visit or attend, but there will be opportunities to shop and buy food and drinks along the way
The Lighting of the Texas Menorah at the Capitol will be on December 2, at 3:30PM, and promises to have latkes, donuts, gelt, dreidels, music, and celebration, according to their Facebook event page. KUTX and the Downtown Austin Alliance are hosting the annual Holiday Stroll, Sing-along, and tree lighting on December 3. This will be a holiday stroll along Congress Avenue, from 9th St. to 11th St., followed by singing Christmas carols around the Capitol Christmas Tree.
December 7, everyone can get free photos with Santa Claus, or catch Elf for free in Republic Square on December 14. If yo plan on shopping downtown, sign up for a 2022 Holiday Passport, and get points and rewards for shopping. You can also visit the tree and menorah any time throughout the season for free. More details on their website.
Holiday Light Trails South of Austin
Santa’s Ranch (New Braunfels)
- When: November 11, 2022-January 1, 2023
- Frequency: Nightly, 6-10 Mon.-Thu., 6-11 Fri.-Sat.
- Where: Santa’s Ranch, New Braunfels
- Cost: $35 per vehicle, $70 for vehicle season pass (personal vehicles only, up to 8 people allowed per car)
Drive-through Santa’s Ranch truly left me bedazzled when I visited a few years ago. It’s wild and over the top, and definitely worth a visit to this private ranch in New Braunfels. We saw all the usual Christmas scenes, from the Nativity to Santa to reindeer, but we also saw Christmas dinosaurs, UFOs, and longhorns. It’s a fun mish-mash and a fantastic option, as a drive-through, for those with mobility issues. More info and tix at santasranch.net.
They do tend to get busy, which is why I’m happy they opened so early this year, to give everyone more time to make it out there! From I-35, look for the 50′ Christmas tree, and you’ll know you’ve arrived! The folks at Santa’s Ranch sent a quote to share, below.
Wimberley Trail of Lights
- When: December 3-December 26, 2022
- Frequency: Nightly
- Where: Emily Ann Theatre, Wimberley
- Cost: Free, but donations welcome
This Trail of Lights at the Emily Ann Theatre in Wimberley has become a holiday tradition for many in central Texas and the Texas Hill Country. Festive lights decorate six acres of a holiday wonderland to stroll through. There will also be a Yule Log burning nightly as weather permits. While the walking trail itself is not handicap accessible, the Emily Ann Theatre will provide golf carts for handicapped individuals. For more information and pictures, check out their website.
San Antonio holiday lights
Lightscape San Antonio Botanical Garden
- When: Now through January 8, 2023
- Frequency: Nightly, entry times every 15 minutes from 5:30PM-9:00PM
- Where: San Antonio Botanical Gardens
- Cost: $26-$28/adult, $16-$18/child, ages 0-2 free
The San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT) has brought back Lightscape for its second year, with more than one million lights decorating the gardens. This is an illuminated, outdoor trail that winds for more than a mile through the SABOT gardens. They have s’mores to roast and other “festive food and drinks” to enjoy, a Fire Garden, and a lighted bluebonnets display. Tickets and more details at sabot.org/light-scape/
Photos by San Antonio Stephanie
San Antonio Zoo Lights
- When: November 19, 2022-January 1, 2023
- Frequency: Here is a
- Where: San Antonio Zoo
- Cost: Free for San Antonio Zoo members, otherwise standard admission tickets, including Zoo Lights, is $31.99/adult, $27.99/child age 3+ (kids under 3 are free)
San Antonio Zoo Lights are back, this year as a walk through event. The animals go up for the night as the zoo transforms into a wintry wonderland of lights. A cool detail about the San Antonio Zoo Lights is that the lights are 95% environmentally friendly LED lights. They have a full schedule of events here.
San Antonio River Walk
- When: November 25, 2022-January 9, 2023
- Frequency: Nightl W
- Where: San Antonio Riverwalk, downtown portion and also near the Pearl District
- Cost: Free
Need I say more? The San Antonio River Walk gets all dolled up in its holiday best to welcome tourists and locals alike to enjoy the holiday lights and the joy of the season. There will be a televised lighting ceremony on November 25 in the Arneson River Theatre during the Ford Holiday River Parade. Catch it on foot, from a patio while sipping a margarita or hot cocoa, or from a boat. More details on their website.
Holiday Light Trails West of Austin
Old West Lights Fest (Boerne)
- When: Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve
- Frequency: Thu.-Sun. nights
- Where: Enchanted Springs Ranch, Boerne
- Cost: $20/person (ages 6+), $15 for military and first responders, $16/person in a special family five-pack
This is the light show to go to if you want to see real, live longhorns as well as an old timey western town all lit up. It has more than 40 buildings all lit up, DIY s’mores at the campfires, food trucks, live music, and a Christmas market full of local goods. I went with my aunt and cousins a few years ago, and we had a wonderful time. Buy tickets and see more at christmaslightfest.com.
Hinojosa Family Lights (Boerne)
- When: Starting November 26, 2022
- Frequency: Nightly
- Where: 140 Shadow Knolls, Boerne
This Boerne family’s dancing lights display caught the eye of not only their neighbors, but they also won the TV show, The Great Christmas Light Fight! The Hinjosas add more light displays every year, and the lights dance to music. It’s fun to see their segment on ABC here. Follow the family’s Facebook page to stay up to date on this light show.
Johnson City Lights Spectacular
- When: November 25-January 8
- Frequency: Nightly
- Where: Johnson City Courthouse and surrounding area
- Cost: Free
Y’all, they are beautiful, and NASA has seen them from space! Worth a visit! More info here.
San Saba Mill Pond Lights
- When: November 24, 2022-January 5, 2023, 6:00PM-10:00PM
- Frequency: Nightly
- Where: Mill Pond Park, San Saba
- Cost: Free
San Saba’s Mill Pond Dancing Lights is a walking trail with several acres of holiday lights dancing along with music (synced to radio station 88.7 FM). At about two hours from downtown Austin, San Saba is good for an overnight trip for those who want to explore. On December 10, the town is also hosting a Sip & Stroll and Lighted Christmas Parade in the Historic Downtown District.
Home of Wedding Oak Winery and so many charming places, this small Texas town gives big welcomes to visitors. For more to do in San Saba, read Sam Saenz’s article in The Austinot. For more info on the holiday calendar, check out the official San Saba calendar of events.
Holiday Light Trails East of Austin
Bastrop River of Lights
- When: November 25, 2022-January 2, 2023, from dusk to 10PM
- Frequency: Nightly
- Where: Fisherman’s Park, Bastrop
- Cost: Free
This is a popular 1/2 mile trail of lights in the city of Bastrop, a town notable for its Christmas vibes. Check out their historic downtown for more holiday decor, dining, and shopping. Check out visitbastrop.com for more details and to plan your visit.
Lost Pines Lighted Christmas Parade
- When: December 10, 2022, 6:00PM-8:00PM
- Where: Main Street, Historic Downtown Bastrop
- Cost: Free
Lost Pines and Bastrop also host a really popular Lighted Christmas Parade. It’s worth noting that most of the businesses in Historic Downtown Bastrop also decorate along the parade route, and the parade has more than 100 entries, from cars to trucks to horseback riders! Here’s more info.
Go Forth and Be Dazzled!
All the sparkly and twinkly things appear at their shiniest, prettiest, and just plain glowingest glory at night. In and around the Austin area, we are fortunate to have several holiday light trails to visit during the jolly season. While this is a comprehensive list, it is by no means complete. Please let me know what other light trails you have enjoyed this season. For now, I just hope this blog post helps you corral some holiday joy.
I first wrote about Texas Hill Country holiday light trails in 2016 for The Austinot. I updated and expanded the post every year until everything changed in 2020, when most of the walk-through light shows were closed, and people simply weren’t doing a lot of group activities–or feeling festive, to be honest. So I wanted to bring it back this year, but with even more light shows than ever!
You may have mixed feelings about Mariah Carey starting to blast your earballs off with *that* holiday song, but one thing is undeniable–we’re heading into the holiday season. Time to make a mental shift! Ho, ho ho, as the jolly fat man says.