As we all know by now, 2020 is a year like no other. Beloved events and activities that have become family traditions will likely be very different this year, or cancelled altogether. We’ve done our best to update this post with current information, but please keep in mind that information is subject to change. Check the location’s website or social media for updated information before visiting. Also remember to follow all state and local health guidelines and use your best judgment when venturing out to public places.
One of my favorite things about living in San Antonio is the endless number of things to do and places to see. Never is this more true than during the holiday season. I’m big on traditions, so my family has some holiday events and locations that we look forward to visiting every year, but we also love discovering new places. We are always on the go and don’t want to let a minute of this joyful season go to waste! If you’re like us and love discovering all our beautiful city has to offer, or if you’re looking to start your own holiday traditions with your family, here is my list of our top five things to do in San Antonio (or nearby) during the holiday season (in alphabetical order), plus some Honorable Mentions.
1. JW Marriott’s Light Up the Night
(Open through December 31, 2020)
We were invited to experience this event for the first time last year, and we may have found a new holiday tradition! The already gorgeous resort transforms into a sparkling winter wonderland, complete with a choreographed light show, live reindeer, a giant bright red ornament perfect for family photos, an elf hunt, campfire s’mores, movies under the stars, and more. Grab dinner or drinks at one of the resort’s fabulous restaurants and then enjoy an evening of holiday entertainment. Elf tuck-ins and photos with Santa are not available this year. Please note that holiday events at the resort are only available to resort guests this year and are not open to the public.
There truly is so much to do here, so make sure to check out the resort’s Hill Country Winter Wonderland offer.
2. Johnson City Lights Spectacular
(Open November 27, 2020–January 3, 2021)
In the mood for a road trip? Just over an hour’s drive north of San Antonio, you’ll find a little slice of holiday heaven in Johnson City, “the twinkliest town in Texas.” This place truly does Christmas right, and you’ll love the small-town charm and gorgeous sights and sounds. Things are a little different this year, as the horse-drawn carriages and hayrides are not available. But you can enjoy the holiday sights from the comfort of your own vehicle using the driving tour map provided on the Lights Spectacular website. You’ll see the courthouse literally covered in thousands of lights, fun displays on the courthouse grounds, and there’s no way you could miss the Pedernales Electric Co-Op headquarters with its absolutely amazing, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it light display. This little town has over two million lights filling the historic square off Main Street, and it’s totally worth the drive. Face coverings and social distancing are required. The blue lights you’ll see at this year’s event are to honor and thank our healthcare workers.
While you’re there, don’t miss Pecan Street Brewing on the square. It’s worth the drive all by itself, but it’s even better when surrounded by the gorgeous courthouse square lights. But go early, because the word is out on this place and it gets very busy!
Click here for more information on the Johnson City Lights Spectacular.
3. San Antonio Zoo: Whataburger Zoo Lights
(Open through January 3, 2021)
This is always a “don’t miss” on our Christmas list. Because Zoo Lights is included with an annual pass membership (which we have), this is a budget-friendly option with tons to offer. You may not see a lot of animals during this night-time stroll through the Zoo, but the dazzling lights, “snow,” and other attractions more than make up for it. You can decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus, ride a camel, watch the Latin-inspired Lakeside Light Show, enjoy hot cocoa and s’mores, and even drop off your wish list with Jolly Old Saint Nick while you’re there. (Some activities have an additional cost.) And before or after your visit, take a ride on the Holiday Express train through Brackenridge Park. The train is decorated with holiday lights and plays festive music during your ride. And now that Kiddie Park has relocated next door to the Zoo, you can even enjoy Kiddie Park’s nostalgic rides as part of your Zoo Lights experience.
Face masks are strongly recommended (for ages 10+) in all outdoor areas and required in all indoor locations, including restrooms. Face masks for guests ages 2+ are required for all animal interactions.
Find more information about this festive holiday event here.
4. SeaWorld San Antonio’s Christmas Celebration
(Open through January 3, 2021)
Did you know that San Antonio is home to the largest Christmas celebration in Texas? With millions of twinkling lights, SeaWorld is truly a sight to behold this time of year. The park transforms into a winter wonderland, and every nook and cranny seems to be decorated with holiday cheer. As if the lights themselves aren’t enough, the park’s shows are re-themed for the holidays, special characters make appearances (hint: one is a red-nosed friend of Santa’s), your kids can dance and sing (and take physically-distanced photos) with all of their favorite Sesame Street characters at “Elmo’s Christmas Wish,” and you can hear the sweet sounds of the season from the Merry Mariachis and the angelic Christmas Story. Fireworks are planned for select nights.
Also check out SeaWorld’s special seasonal offerings, where you can dine with Santa and Mrs. Claus or take a Christmas Traditions Tour, which includes a photo with a Killer Whale. (Online reservations are available.)
SeaWorld requires masks for guests ages 2+, and temperature screenings are performed at the park entrance.
Park reservations are required for entry, so plan ahead! Find more information about this Texas-sized Christmas celebration here.
5. Windcrest Light Up
(Open December 5–31, 2020)
It just wouldn’t be Christmas in our family without a trip (or two) through the Windcrest Christmas light displays. Every year, we get hot chocolate, put on the Christmas classics, and take a short drive over to the “City of Lights.” This small suburb of San Antonio really gets into the Christmas spirit, with a yearly theme and house-lighting contest. This year’s theme is “Let Freedom Ring—A Tribute to Our Military,” and will no doubt be as spectacular as ever. Drive by the City Hall and Fire Department, where friendly firemen will gladly accept donations in exchange for a map of the winning houses. (Maps may be available online as well.) Then take a slow drive (and bring your patience, because it will undoubtedly be slow due to the sheer number of spectators) through the neighborhood to see the decked-out winners of categories such as “Martha Stewart Would Be Proud,” “Clark Griswold,” “Religious/Joyful,” “Nostalgic/Hand-crafted,” and “Charlie Browniest.” You will be amazed at the time, effort, and creativity these homeowners give to this event each year, and you’ll leave with a heart full of Christmas cheer and a head full of Christmas carols.
Click here for more information on the Windcrest Light Up.
As I mentioned before, our festive city is chock-full of holiday events and celebrations worth visiting, even in 2020. Here are some others worth mentioning and visiting this holiday season: