Your Guide to the Best Holiday Light Displays in San Antonio and the Hill Country

The trees on the Museum Reach at the Pearl. Photo credit Dawn Robinette.

If ever there was a year that needed a bit of extra sparkle, 2020 is it. The glow and twinkle of holiday lights seems to make everything brighter, cheerier, and festive. And even better: you can walk around and socially distance to see many light displays, or you can toss the kids in the car and drive through some displays sure to make everyone oohhh and ahhh. Better yet: there are a ton of options to explore, giving you lots of opportunities to add holiday memories this year.

There’s nothing prettier than San Antonio in holiday lights. Photo credit Dawn Robinette.
The magic of the River Walk lights. Photo credit San Antonio River Walk Association.

San Antonio

It’s hard to top the lights on the River Walk, which of course require you to walk the river, and the Museum Reach is a great place to stretch your legs and see lights as well (park at Pearl and roam all the way to the Lock and Dam, where you’ll see a tree with a synchronized light display, up through Jan. 4). And the San Antonio Zoo has Zoo Lights on display through Jan. 3 (included in the price of zoo admission). Then there’s always University of Incarnate Word’s Light the Way, where you can drive through and enjoy a free light show through Jan. 6.

The trees on the Museum Reach at the Pearl. Photo credit Dawn Robinette.
illuminight at the AT&T Center. Photo credit illuminight.

You can also stay behind the wheel and enjoy the new illumiNight at the AT&T Center, a magical drive-thru experience that benefits the San Antonio Spurs’ charity, Spurs Give. (Note: tickets must be pre-purchased online for this non-cash handling event.)

Another new drive-thru to enjoy is Six Flags Fiesta Texas Holiday in the Park Drive-Thru, open on select nights through Dec. 17. The tickets are per person and are cheaper if you buy in advance online.

There’s the annual favorite Santa’s Ranch just off of IH-35 in New Braunfels and Lights Alive in far west San Antonio. Another drive-thru option west of town is Elf Acres. Note: Lights Alive and Elf Acres all include opportunities to get out of your car and walk around—and even see Santa—but check their sites for dates, times, and COVID safety details.

A new drive-thru this year is Winter Wonderland ¡Celebración! at Palo Alto College. Open Friday–Sunday through Jan. 3, visitors will enjoy nearly a million lights in 500 magical light displays along a quarter mile drive through the Palo Alto College Campus. Note: the event is drive-thru only, so visitors must remain in their cars.

For more free drive-thru light fun, the Windcrest Christmas Light Up is a favorite. Windcrest residents illuminate their own homes and compete to claim top honors each year. This year’s theme is “Let Freedom Ring,” a military tribute. The official event begins on Dec. 5 and maps of the route are available nightly at Windcrest City Hall.

Hill Country

If you’re ready for some close to San Antonio adventure, hop in the car and get outside of the city limits. Some of the best opportunities actually allow you to roam and enjoy the Texas Hill Country, admiring the dazzling Christmas lights displays in communities near and far. This budget-friendly holiday activity is a wonderful opportunity to explore parts of the Hill Country that you’ve only heard about and makes for an entertaining activity everyone is sure to enjoy, especially with snacks and holiday music for fun. Here are a few not-to-be-missed Hill Country spots that put on spectacular lights display during the holiday season:

Austin Trail of Lights

An overhead view of the Austin’s Trail of Lights. Photo credit the Trail of Lights Foundation.

Usually a walk-thru experience, this year’s Trail of Lights is drive-thru, making the light tradition a whole new experience. Through Jan. 3, head north and enjoy the show as you drive through this Austin classic. In its 56th year, the trail now features more than 2 million lights illuminating the park, 90 lighted holiday trees, and more than 70 other holiday displays and lighted tunnels.

One of the displays at Peppermint Parkway. Photo credit Peppermint Parkway.

Peppermint Parkway

Just outside of Austin at the Circuit of the Americas track, a new drive-thru is open through Jan. 3. Tickets can be pre-purchased or purchased onsite and there is a walk-around area as well.

New Braunfels

The Plaza in Downtown New Braunfels can be a drive-thru to enjoy the lights, but it’s also a lovely walk any time of the year, but especially when it’s decorated for the holidays. With lights hanging from the courthouse, gazebo, and the trees that line the plaza, it’s a great way to get in the holiday mood.

New Braunfels plaza all aglow. Photo credit the City of New Braunfels.

On your way to New Braunfels, be sure to swing by historic Gruene (1281 Gruene Road, New Braunfels). You can see the famous Gruene water tower lit up in red and green, and all sorts of trees sparkling with lights.

Johnson City

Under the lights at the Pedernales Co-Op in Johnson City. Photo credit Dawn Robinette.

Through Jan. 6, Johnson City goes all-out with lights, decorating most every building, park, home, and tree in Blanco County. The collection of light displays is called the “Johnson City Lights Spectacular” and is free. Don’t miss the Pedernales Co-Op Headquarters (201 S. Avenue F) where 1.3 million lights adorn the trees and building that make up the headquarters for the area’s electric provider. And check out Johnson City Memorial Park (located at the corner of US 290 and Avenue G in Johnson City), with multitudes of festive lights that greet visitors as they arrive in Johnson City. Another spot:  Blanco County Courthouse (300 Main Street, Blanco), carefully draped in hundreds of thousands of lights while holiday music is piped in, for a full holiday experience. You can park and get out of your car at all of the stops, so mask up and enjoy.

The Blanco County Courthouse at dusk. Photo credit Dawn Robinette.

Marble Falls

About 85 miles from San Antonio, so a bit of a drive, but through Jan. 2, you can enjoy the 30th annual Walkway of Lights (Lakeside Park, 305 Buena Vista Drive, Marble Falls). Featuring over 2 million lights, you’ll definitely want to get out of the car to explore all the 200 lighted sculptures that decorate Lakeside Park. Walkway of Lights is free and has become a cherished holiday tradition.

Llano

Llano comes to life during the holiday season with its own Starry Starry Nights Lighted Christmas Park (Badu Park, 300 W. Legion Drive, Llano). Through Dec. 31, visitors can stroll among the multitude of glimmering light displays making new holiday memories.

Let us know where you like to roam, explore, and get some holiday light-up cheer.

An Army brat who came to Texas for college and ultimately managed to make the Lone Star State her permanent home, Dawn became a mom “AMA” (advanced maternal age), giving her the opportunity to use a stroller vs. a walker as she navigates the world of motherhood. Her growing up way too fast native Texan loves all things Star Wars, Legos, dinosaurs and keeping his parents on their toes. When she’s not busy parenting the original strong-willed child, Dawn runs Tale to Tell Communications, a San Antonio-based PR and marketing agency. An award-winning writer, Dawn also contributes to San Antonio Woman, Rio Magazine and Texas Lifestyle Magazine. She and her family enjoy exploring all that San Antonio has to offer, going on adventures and playing tourist together as much as possible. Favorite Restaurant: Clementine Favorite Landmark: The beauty of the River Walk, especially La Villita Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Celebrating anything and everything with color, music and food

1 COMMENT

  1. The lights in Johnson City are no joke for such a small town. It was shocking to see that for the first time. The riverwalk is our favorite place to walk with our dog under the lights though. It’s too bad they stop and do not continue beyond Cesar Chavez. King William and Southtown are incredibly dark.

    Lights in downtown New Braunfels are nice, but nothing to write home about. That pic of Austin inspires me to go checkout their lights this month. I wonder if those can be seen from Mount Bonnell, or the hike and bike trail? I think I’m gonna have to go and find out for myself…

    Have a wonderful Christmas, San Antonio!

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