Between the holiday shopping, the office parties, and the family gatherings, December’s calendar fills up fast. And though it may seem counterintuitive to add another outing to your schedule, consider taking one of these spur-of-the-moment field trips to help counteract the holiday malaise that begins to set in this time of year. After navigating all those strip-mall parking lots, go for a leisurely drive through a string of Hill Country hamlets, all bedecked in their Christmas finery. Or take a timeout from scanning for cyber sales to pick out made-from-scratch gifts in some of the state’s oldest bakeries. The state’s seasonal delights await.
Go for a drive through holiday lights.
HILL COUNTRY // Texas Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail
sleigh vehicle toward Central Texas’s cluster of eleven or so brightly lit small towns, each of which turn their courthouses, historic buildings, parks, and other landmarks into dazzling displays:
- Bandera // Lights on the River
- Blanco // Old Blanco County Courthouse Lighting
- Boerne // Parade of Lights (see also, the Christmas Light Fest at the Don Strange Ranch)
- Burnet // Christmas Trail of Lights
- Dripping Springs // Mercer Street and various locations throughout town
- Fredericksburg // Marketplatz (see also, the Holiday Lights Trolley Tours)
- Johnson City // Lights Spectacular (see also, lamplight tours at LBJ’s boyhood home)
- Kerrville // Along Main Street and in historic downtown
- Llano // Starry, Starry Nights
- Marble Falls // Walkway of Lights
- Wimberley // Holiday Trail of Lights
For more winter-night lights across the state, check out “The Lights Fantastic” and “InstaTexas: Holiday Lights.”
Ice skate under the Texas sky.
FORT WORTH // Panther Island Ice
Sure, you can lace up your skates and glide past the largest indoor Christmas tree in the country at the Galleria Dallas, but there’s something to be said for the brisk winter air on your face as you zip around an al fresco rink. Bundle up and grab your gloves for a spin around Panther Island Ice, Fort Worth’s only outdoor rink, which is open daily (rain, sleet, or shine, so dress accordingly).
See also… Denison’s new downtown ice rink | Frisco: Skate the Square | Houston: the ICE at Discovery Green | Marshall: Wonderland of Lights
Chop down your own Christmas tree.
ELGIN // Elgin Christmas Tree Farm
Make like the Griswolds and pack up the family for a field trip to procure your own farm-to-living-room holiday decor. After you pick out the perfect Virginia pine or Leyland cypress at the Elgin Christmas Tree Farm, you can go for a hayride, get lost in the “crazy maze,” or stock up on ornaments, gifts, and Elgin sausage (on the weekends) at the Christmas Cottage.
See also… Cross Plains: Millican’s Heritage Christmas Tree Farm | Elgin: Evergreen Farms | Lumberton: Bozeman’s Christmas Tree Farm | Post: Double Shovel Christmas Tree Farm | and consult the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association’s “find a farm” page for even more locations
Go in search of German gingerbread and other traditional holiday treats.
NEW BRAUNFELS // Naeglin’s Bakery
Turn-of-the-century recipes are in rotation at Naeglin’s Bakery, which dates to 1868 and claims to be the oldest of its kind in the state. Many also claim that its Lebkuchen (German gingerbread) cookies, made with brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, and a hint of anise, are some of the best in Texas. It’s worth a drive to test this assertion for yourself. (You’ll want to “evaluate” the fruitcake, strudels, and sweet German pretzels too.)
See also… Corpus Christi: JB’s German Bakery & Cafe for fruit-studded Christmas strudels | Harker Heights: Pfeifer’s German Bakery & Deli for weckmänner (a sweet pastry shaped like a gingerbread man) and hutzelbrot (fruitcake) | Palestine: Eilenberger’s Bakery for their “world famous” fruitcake | Schulenberg: Kountry Bakery for their cherry-topped vanocka | Plus, read up on the art of “Building a Gingerbread Capitol” and bookmark this recipe for gingerbread Christmas trees
Get outside and soak up the crisp winter weather.
TERLINGUA // Far Flung Outdoor Center New Year’s Trip
We’ve reached the Texas weather sweet spot: It’s not blazing hot and we still have a month or two until temps reach their annual lows at the beginning of the year. So get outside already! Veer from your typical New Year’s Eve plans and instead spend the last day of 2016 and the first day of 2017 paddling down the Rio Grande. The West Texas outfitter provides all the river equipment and champagne too.
See also… Fort Parker State Park: New Year’s hike at midnight | Galveston Island State Park: Holiday Kayak Tour | Palo Duro Canyon State Park: New Year’s picnic and hike