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Fun, fabulous family activities during 2019-2020 holidays

Photo by Alamy Stock Photo

In your busy holiday schedule, don't forget to take advantage of the free and affordable family festivities across the state. 


grapevine christmas photo

Kids and adults alike enjoy the Grapevine Vintage Railroad’s North Pole Express. | Photo by Cynthia J. Drake

Aptly called the Christmas Capital of Texas, the city of Grapevine explodes with Christmas cheer and family-friendly activities throughout its quaint, historic downtown daily through January 6, 2020. Wander through this Dallas/Fort Worth suburb (just 4 miles from the airport) and check out the streetlamps and storefronts on Main Street decked out with garlands and holiday lights. Artificial snow showers periodically on the town Christmas tree, alternating with light and sound shows after dark. The Grapevine Visitor Information Center will showcase a Hometown Christmas Exhibit with vintage holiday scenes ($1 admission).

Where: Downtown Grapevine, 636 S. Main St.

Info: 800-457-6338


Pancho Clos, Santa’s Tex-Mex cousin, has been stopping by Lubbock to spread holiday cheer since 1971. From 2–5 p.m. December 15, he'll visit with children and hand each a wrapped toy. The event was founded and continues to be sponsored by the Lubbock Chapter of the American GI Forum for families in need. It’s free and open to the public, thanks to community donations and the co-sponsorship of the Maggie Trejo Supercenter. 

Where: Maggie Trejo Supercenter, 3200 Amherst St., Lubbock 

Info: 806-767-2705


galveston holiday event

Galveston's Moody Gardens dazzles with life-size ice sculptures. | Photo by Cynthia J. Drake

The palm trees and beach may make Galveston seem tropical, but the holiday spirit is strong here. Through January 12, Moody Gardens hosts "IceLand," an indoor exhibit of life-size ice carvings, and the outdoor Festival of Lights. Admission is as low as $9 if you visit on nonpeak days.

For free holiday fun, head to the Rosenberg Library from 4–4:15 p.m. Mondays–Saturdays through December 23 for its Christmas countdown storytime, featuring a new book each day. 

From 7–10 p.m. December 19, wear your festive pajamas and attend a free holiday singalong (with complimentary hors d’oeuvres) at the historic Tremont House.

Where: Moody Gardens, One Hope Blvd.; Rosenberg Library, 2310 Sealy St.; Tremont House, 2300 Ship’s Mechanic Row

Info: 888-425-4753

El Paso

el paso scenic drive

Lit by luminarias, El Paso's Scenic Drive offers a sparkling view of the city. | Photo courtesy Visit El Paso

Twisty, mountainous Scenic Drive is already a spectacular Texas road trip, but it will be particularly memorable when lit with 4,000 luminarias from 6–10 p.m. December 14. Navidad de la Fe Luminarias, in its 28th year, is a free, volunteer-powered project of La Fe Health Network, which encourages donations of canned food or money for area families in need. You’ll drive past campfires and end your trip visiting Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and Pancho Claus (Santa’s cousin, of course).

Where: Begin at Richmond Avenue and Alabama Street in central El Paso and head west on Scenic Drive; exit at Rim Road

Info: 915-534-7979


Each year the Brazos Valley African American Museum hosts a free Kwanzaa for Kids celebration, with interactive stations designed to explore the seven fundamental principles of Kwanzaa: umoja (unity); kujichagulia (self-determination); ujima (collective work and responsibility); ujamaa (cooperative economics); nia (purpose); kuumba (creativity); and imani (faith). A ceremony to light the kinara (a candelabra with seven candles) is also planned. People are welcome to join the celebration from 6–7:30 p.m. December 16 and learn more about Kwanzaa, which is celebrated December 26, 2019–January 1, 2020.

Where: Brazos Valley African American Museum, 500 E. Pruitt St., Bryan

Info: 979-775-3961


austin trail of lights

Austin's Trail of Lights illuminates Zilker Park during the holidays. | Photo courtesy Austin Trail of Lights

From 7–10 p.m. December 10–23, Zilker Park sparkles with 2 million lights and festive, walk-through displays during the Trail of Lights. Order hot cocoa, let your kids write a last-minute request for Santa and slip it into his designated mailbox, and then meander through the lights, stopping for a traditional twirl around the 155-foot Zilker Holiday Tree. The Trail of Lights is free on select nights and costs $5 per person at other times. 

Where: 2100 Barton Springs Drive

Info: 512-970-8891


The Star, headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, will host its third annual Christmas at the Star, with a free family-friendly Christmas Spectacular performance showcasing the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, drumline, and mascot, and guest appearances starting at 6 p.m. through December 21. Enjoy more holiday festivities in downtown Frisco with Christmas in the Square, including a free show at 6 p.m. nightly through December 31, featuring more than 175,000 lights, an outdoor ice skating rink, and carriage rides—plus Texas-style “snow flurries” coming down every 15 minutes on Fridays and Saturdays. (Some activities have an additional fee.)

On December 22, Chabad of Frisco will host a Hanukkah celebration in Simpson Plaza, outside City Hall, featuring a Jewish folk band.

Where: The Star, 9 Cowboys Way; The Square, 8874 Coleman Blvd.

Info: The Star, 972-497-4800; and Frisco Square, 469-633-1721.

San Antonio

Celebrate Hanukkah from 3–4 p.m. December 22 on a boat cruise on the San Antonio River. The $6 boat ride, which departs from the Arneson River Theatre, includes music performances along the River Walk, a concert by The Maccabeats, and a menorah lighting presented by Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning.

Stroll River Walk each evening and listen to Ford Holiday Boat Caroling, seasonal songs performed by more than 185 school, church, and civic groups as they float on boats down the river starting at 6 p.m. through December 22. At 5 p.m. December 29, celebrate Alamo Bowl Week with a free Rudy’s Bar-B-Q Pep Rally on the River Walk, featuring floats filled with marching bands and football players.

Where: San Antonio River Walk

Info: 210-227-4262

The Panhandle

For something a little different on New Year’s Eve, try the Hoppin’ John Midnight Hike, a tradition in the Panhandle. Sample traditional black-eyed pea soup (said to bring good luck in the new year), and then at 11:30 p.m., take a 2-mile hike in the park, the second-largest canyon in the U.S. Not a night owl? At 10:30 a.m. January 1 is the Mindfulness First Day Hike. Both hikes are free with your $8 state park admission.

Where: Palo Duro Canyon State Park, 11450 State Hwy. Park Road 5, Canyon; meet at Mack Dick Pavilion

Info: 806-488-2227, ext. 2067


From 11 a.m.–1 p.m. December 31, the buzzy CityCentre district gears up for a free Noon Year’s Eve family-friendly celebration. Enjoy DJ-fueled tunes, face painting, balloon and caricature artists, and a photo booth. Stick around for live dance music in the CityCentre plaza starting at 9:30 p.m., plus confetti and a rooftop fireworks show at midnight. 

Where: CityCentre, 800 Town and Country Blvd.

Info: 713-629-5200

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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