Don't let the fact that it's only September fool you, the holidays are creeping up faster than a Babadook from a widow's basement, and soon enough we'll be deep in the throes of all things yuletide. If you're looking to get a leg up on this year's family festivities, here are two great day trips—or, even better, weekend trips—to take after the turkey is pardoned and the shopping insanity ensues.
Austin Trail of Lights
Austin | December 10 to 23
The 54th annual Austin Trail of Lights, powered by H-E-B, takes over Zilker Park with 2 million lights, 65+ displays, 30 food trucks, three stages of live music and numerous interactive experiences throughout the park. Want a first look? New attractions include a 13-foot illuminated carriage, 12 seven-foot lighted guitars commemorating Austin’s musical roots and a 25-foot spiral holiday tree.
The Trail of Lights is on display from 7 to 10 p.m. every evening after the December 10 launch—seven of these 14 nights are free to the public, and kids under 12 always get in free. For general admission, ZIP Fast Pass, VIP Platinum, parking and shuttle pass purchases head to austintrailoflights.org. As for this year's special nights, they include:
- The Annual Zilker Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony: November 25
- The Annual Trail of Lights Fun Run: a 2.1-mile run, December 1
- The Fifth Annual STARS at the Trail program: for nonprofit organizations to tour the lights privately, December 2-4
- Night Lights, the Fifth Annual Preview Party: December 8
- Austin Trail of Lights Grand Opening: December 10
- Heroes Night: honoring first responders, December 11
2018 Holidays in Gruene
Gruene | November 16 to December 25
Gruene has something cooked up for just about everyday of the week, starting in mid-November. On top of the events listed below, the Historic District also offers photos every weekend with Cowboy Kringle—the town’s signature Santa—along with daily music at the famed Gruene Music Hall, including a Gospel Brunch (December 9), the New Year’s Eve show with American Aquarium (December 31), and the Hair of the Dog event (January 1).
Holiday festivities in Gruene include:
- Sip-N-Shop in Gruene Historic District with free beverages and special offers at the many participating shops. November 13, 5 to 8 p.m.
- Come and Taste It: a Texas wine tasting, at The Grapevine on November 15 and December 20.
- Old Gruene Christmas Market Days: 100 vendors offering unique items and foods perfect for everyone on your holiday shopping list . November 17-18 and December 1-2, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- 10th Annual Gruene Turkey Trot: a 5K and quarter-mile kid’s run, on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 8 a.m.
- 17th Annual Gruene Pony Express Ride: Pony Express riders deliver “Christmas Greetings” from the governor of Texas. Or have your holiday cards stamped at a temporary post office. November 22, 10 a.m.
- Gruene Town Lighting: a brass band and Cowboy Kringle lead the annual light, with lots of free candy canes for kids. December 1, 5 p.m.
- Bah Humbug at the Grapevine brings Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to life, but with a single actor playing every part, on December 2 at 1 p.m.
- 26th Annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk: A 5K benefits St. Jude's Ranch for Children, December 8 at 9 a.m.