If you are like me, you’re probably wondering where November went as you summon the strength to pull out the Christmas ornaments and face the shopping craze. The big city tree lightings have already happened, and Santa has been sitting on his big chair for a few weeks. Don’t worry; there is still lots of holiday cheer and several celebrations just a short drive from San Antonio. If it seems like the rush is too much, these towns keep their holiday displays up through New Year’s Day. This gives you plenty of time, plus the bonus of an activity outside the house during the kids’ second week out of school.
Small towns surrounding San Antonio are dripping with just the right dose of magic and warm, close-knit charm that Hallmark movies are made of. Pack the kids in the car, put on some Christmas music, and be prepared to make new wonderful memories at this just-down-the-road-from-SA spots:
Just a short drive up I-10, Boerne is immersed in lights, decor, and friendly shoppers (really). Main Street, also known as the “Hill Country Mile,” is the main attraction, and Bear Moon Bakery is the perfect stop before basking in boutique shopping. Fill up on scrumptious desserts, coffee, and hot chocolate, a tradition we have shared with our kids for the past six years. If the weather is decent, walk down by the Boerne River, hang out with the ducks, and delight the young and young at heart. There is street parking and a public lot on Main that usually has plenty of spots (and a public bathroom). Main Street runs into Boerne Square, which holds a larger-than-life Christmas tree and room to run out energy.
And if you’re looking for an hours-long adventure in the area, check out Old West Christmas Light Fest, off of 46 at Enchanted Springs Ranch. Centered in a rustic “town” reminiscent of the Old West, Christmas Light Fest is packed with activities to fill both kids and grownups’ hearts with holiday spirit. After all, what says Christmas more than lights, s’mores, laser tag, Santa, and a herd of live longhorns?
Helotes is great, family-friendly choice if you don’t want to stray too far from home, as it’s just a few miles west on Bandera Road from 1604. Hidden among new neighborhoods and businesses is Old Town Helotes, a strip of shops, bakeries, and Floore’s Country Store. The newly built pedestrian bridge connects the new section with the older areas, but regardless of the area, Helotes is a great choice, as it’s not as crowded as other popular towns (yet). From end to end you can enjoy gelato, wine, and shopping, in whatever order you prefer.
Helotes also boasts the latest Christmas parade of the season on December 14th.
Bandera is known as the “cowboy capital of the world,” and it truly is. Located 30 miles from Helotes down Highway 16 (aka: Bandera Rd.), it is the stop of all things country. From outposts, horses, and a store filled with a thousand pairs of cowboy boots, your family will feel like they have transported to the Old West. Throughout the holidays you can catch caroling, musicians strumming guitars, and real cowboys strolling along Main Street.
On Saturday, December 21st, you can join in a Christmas caroling trail ride around Bandera. (Wagons are available to rent.) And Saturday, December 28th is the last Cowboys on Main event of the 2019. Experience a real chuck wagon, watch performers’ trick roping skills, and best of all, see real cowboys on horses.
New Braunfels and Gruene
In what feels like driving in an endless parade of city traffic, traveling 20 miles northeast of San Antonio on I-35 brings you to New Braunfels, and after about ten additional minutes, to Gruene. Once there, you will be visually transported to a small German town, with unique architecture, Christmas markets, and the warm glow of wrapped street posts. The cities also boast big holiday attractions that will be a hit with the entire family. Visit Cowboy Kringle during daytime hours every weekend before Christmas at the Gruene General Store, and then bask in millions of Christmas lights from the comfort of your car at Santa’s Ranch, which runs daily during December. My family’s favorite event is Christmas at the Caverns, a (literally) underground experience you will not forget. Have you ever heard “Silver Bells” echo across an entire cave? You will now.
New Braunfels’ Downtown Main Plaza is taken over by Christmas carols on December 13th and 14th, and the crowd is encouraged to sing along. The traditional carols are sung in English and German, which will round out your German Christmas experience before heading back to San Antonio.
Wherever you choose to spend your holidays, I hope you have a wonderful and fun-filled season!