The luminarias that light up the River Walk on December weekends are worth a stroll down the popular promenade, but this month is also a perfect time to see The Saga, a psychedelic video installation chronicling San Antonio’s history that’s projected, to great dramatic effect, onto the San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest operating sanctuary in North America. The 24-minute narrated experience is shown on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings at 9, 9:30, and 10 (note: there’s no showing on December 11 and showings only at 9:30 and 10 on December 20). Before the free show, load up on fresh pan dulces from Mi Tierra or head to the Esquire Tavern afterward for a drink at the longest wooden bar top in Texas. Tip: Parking is free downtown on Tuesday evenings.
This time last year, I’d surreptitiously checked in to Lake Austin Spa Resort to see if it lived up to its accolades and was worth the (not low) price of admission. (Spoiler alert: it did and it was, as I chronicled in this wellness retreat roundup.) In the spring, the resort’s forty guest rooms are usually all occupied, but during my December stay, when I took advantage of a seasonal “buy two nights, get two free” offer, I felt as if I practically had the nineteen-acre Eden to myself, not to mention the fitness activities and cooking classes and boat cruises. I would have loved to have seen the gardens in their full spring splendor (or taken a dip in the unheated pool), but thanks to Texas’s mild temps, it was still perfect hammock-lazing weather.
Head to Lake Buchanan to board the Vanishing Texas River Cruise to try and catch a glimpse of the American bald eagles that winter in and around the largest and least populated (and northernmost) of the Highland Lakes, as do a great number of other winged creatures, like great blue herons, mallards, painted buntings, and wild turkeys. Depending on the current lake level, you can take a two- or four-hour tour complete with a boxed lunch that includes chicken gumbo. Even when (or if?) the temperatures get chilly, you can stay toasty in the boat’s fully enclosed and heated cabin. And if you don’t mind being out in the elements, rent a kayak and arrange for a two- or three-hour paddle to Garrett Island, a nearby migratory bird sanctuary, or take an all-day excursion to Falls Creek Falls. Where to stay: Canyon of the Eagles, a 62-room lodge on a 940-acre nature preserve.
Glamping Hub, which has just launched this Texas Weekend Getaways page with plenty of ideas for winter retreats: Tree Houses! And Tepees! And Pet-friendly cabins! See also: Hipcamp, a campsite booking service that has launched a “land share” initiative allowing private landowners to rent out parts of their spreads as campgrounds.
When booking your hotel, ask if there’s a discount rate for Texans. Yes, you read that right. A number of hotels will reward your Texas residency by shaving a small percentage off your bill—up to 10 percent at the W Austin and the W Dallas–Reunion (at the latter, even those who choose to live in Oklahoma can get on the deal) and 15 percent off at the Hotel Havana, in San Antonio, and the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion.