Thirty miles south of Houston, two tiny houses sit on the banks of a manmade pond filled with catfish and stalked by fowl. Called “Bluebonnet” and “Lone Star,” they’re wee abodes with charming front porches and ladder-accessible loft beds that look out at row after row of Virginia pine trees.
Guests at these cozy cottage Airbnbs overwhelmingly cite their tranquility, and for good reason: The fact that this countryside utopia is less than an hour outside the city is almost implausible, but that itself is the primary draw of Holiday Acres, the Manvel cut-your-own-tree farm that’s evolved into a full-on Christmas retreat.
The farm is the “culmination of a dream,” owners Leigh Ann and Rocky Smith say, to offer an authentic “country Christmas” experience to city dwellers, and to afford them the same joy the Smiths felt choosing and cutting a tree each holiday season when their own kids were small.
Back then they were raising their three children in the suburbs, but Rocky—a flight engineer at NASA—always wanted to do “something agricultural,” Leigh Ann says. So they drew a circle on a map of everything within a half-hour radius of Rocky’s work, then compared it to a map of soil types.
They landed on Manvel, the Brazoria County town off Highway 288 just south of Pearland. “When this place came up,” Leigh Ann says of the 35-acre farm about a mile down a private dead-end road, “it was perfect for us.”
Leigh Ann was the one to suggest growing Christmas trees on the property. “I said, ‘That would be an easy thing to do: You just stick them in the ground, and they grow,’” she recalls.
They planted their first seedlings in 1999 and quickly learned the truth—that maintaining a veritable forest of Christmas trees takes diligent, year-round labor. They tended the land for five more years before opening Holiday Acres to the public.
Today the farm employs about 50 people during each Christmas season, when Holiday Acres clocks over 1,000 visitors a day on busy weekends. On Sundays in November and December, photographers and families reserve times to come to the farm and take Christmas photos. After Thanksgiving families ride hay wagons out to choose and cut their trees.
Holiday Acres also hosts guests all year for weddings in its rustic barn and vacations in the tiny houses, which the Smiths added in 2016. “Like a lot of people, we heard about tiny houses on TV and were fascinated with them,” Leigh Ann says. “We had talked about putting them down there at the pond, but really we were just talking.”
That is, until Rocky found one on Craigslist with a charming red roof, for sale in nearby Alvin. They fell in love with it, deciding to buy it and call it Lone Star. On one visit to Alvin, Leigh Ann casually showed the builder a photo of another tiny house she’d come across. “I said, ‘Look at this one, it’s really cute,’” she recalls. “Four or five months later, he called me and said, ‘We’re almost finished with that house for you!’”
That second house, which they named Bluebonnet, was the one we stayed in on a recent visit to Holiday Acres. We found it to be both cozy and stylish, thanks to its shiplap walls, dark wood floors, and all-white linens. Though the place technically sleeps four, it works perfectly for one—it took us 15 steps to cross the house front to back.
It was our first stay in a tiny house. This type of living necessitates maximized efficiency, and storage is smartly built in just about everywhere, like a wall of shelves that slides to close off a small bathroom and a wooden table that unfolds from a nook beneath the loft ladder.
Aside from the essentials—microwave, coffee maker, hot pot—the place is thoughtfully stocked with just the kind of activities you’ll want to do out here: Bananagrams, a deck of cards, an adult coloring book. But we were most entertained relaxing on the Bluebonnet’s front porch with a mug of strong coffee, exploring the farm’s grounds, and, come evening, just listening to the rain and looking out the window as a glowing moon rose over the endless Christmas trees in a clear night sky.
The Smiths live on the property, too—in an actual house—far enough away to offer privacy but close enough to drop a basket of s’mores ingredients on your front porch at night to use in the fire pit outside. “We’re about making memories for people—that’s really our passion and our focus,” Leigh Ann says. “When people come up to us and tell us ‘thank you’ and ‘this is such a wonderful memory,’ that really makes us happy.”
► Holiday Acres, 8919 Mustang Bayou Rd., Manvel, theholidayacres.com. Tiny houses from $69/night (two-night minimum stay).