Well, Halloween is over, and that means it is now time to turn our attention to the holiday season (at least according to all the television commercials). To reinforce that notion, as if by some magical force, the seasonal store displays made the overnight change from spooky to Santa and jack o’lanterns to jolly. Just. Like. That. And so, we’re rounding up a list of some of the best and most exciting holiday events in San Antonio for you.
If the sudden Halloween to Christmas-whiplash finds you feeling more humbug than happy, there are a number of events happening over the next two months that are sure to stoke the holiday spirit fires. We have compiled a list of some of the best Christmas and holiday events in and around the Alamo city, so throw on your ugly Christmas sweaters, gorge yourselves on some cookies (you know, for sustenance and all), and head out to an event that will make your season bright. Happy holidays, San Antonio!
*If holiday lights are your jam, we have dedicated an entire post to all the great places to check out lights in SA. Take a look at our map of San Antonio Christmas lights which includes favorites like Zoo Lights at the San Antonio Zoo, Lightscape at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, and many more!*
Holiday Events In San Antonio
Ford Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony
This is one of the BIGGEST holiday events in San Antonio. Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving, San Antonio’s holiday celebrations begin with the annual river parade and lighting of the River Walk. This year, SA will be celebrating the 42nd Ford Holiday River Parade which will feature 28 illuminated riverboats.
The parade kicks off at 6 pm and is followed at 7 pm by the ceremonial lighting of San Antonio’s River Walk when the 100,000 lights that fill the trees along the SA river will come blazing to life in an explosion of “Clark Griswold-esque” glory. It’s truly a sight to behold – though probably not visible from space.
As you can imagine, this event is extremely popular and requires some forethought for those who plan to attend. Here is some basic information:
- The River Walk will close to the general public beginning at 4 pm in preparation for the parade.
- If you want to attend, you can either purchase tickets in advance online for a seat ($12.50-$40), or you can choose to set up shop in a free viewing area along the river (bring your own chair). If you choose the free route, plan to get there EARLY, well before the River Walk closes, to ensure your spot. Maps and info on tickets and seating are available on the website.
- Many restaurants along the River Walk will be offering special dining packages with views of the parade. To access the list of restaurants and packages, click here.
- Plan on parking being on the difficult side. If you arrive early, there will be options in garages and surface lots, but assume that they will be asking top dollar. And as with any downtown event, it is likely that certain streets will be closed to through traffic, so anticipate travel time taking longer than usual.
*If all of this just sounds beyond painful to deal with but you are still interested in catching the parade, we have some good news for you. The parade will be televised on a local station from 7 pm to 8 pm. So, throw on your Christmas jammies, heat up the hot chocolate, and enjoy the festivities from the comfort of your own couch (no tickets needed).
Photo Credit: San Antonio River Walk Division
Holiday Boat Caroling Along the River Walk
The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! If Buddy the Elf is right about this one, then San Antonio has a great way to accomplish said cheer spreading – Ford Holiday Boat Caroling.
From November 30 through December 23rd, groups of up to 15 can rent a river boat and do a little caroling as they float peacefully through downtown on the San Antonio river.
Prices range from $125-$175 for a one hour private boat rental and include the lighted boat, driver, songbook folders, and a USB preloaded with popular holiday music. Or feel free to bring your own music to connect with the onboard Bluetooth speaker. Boats must be reserved in advance online.
Individuals can also purchase caroling tickets ranging in price from $15-$25. This is one of the most "San Antonio" holiday events in San Antonio because it takes place on that beautiful iconic River Walk and is a must do.
SeaWorld Christmas Celebration
Beginning November 9, SeaWorld takes their South Texas aquatic park to the North Pole for a fun Christmas event in San Antonio. Visitors to SeaWorld will be treated to the typical SeaWorld offerings as well as a number of holiday-themed events, shows, and attractions, as well as the purported largest light display in Texas.
The park will be divided into 12 different holiday lands, each with its own lighting displays and festive food offerings. Be sure not to miss the Merry Mariachis, O Wondrous Night, or the Elves Christmas Story. Tickets are available online or at the gate.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas Holiday in the Park
Every November, Six Flags Fiesta Texas transforms into a Christmas wonderland with spectacular lights, a variety of holiday shows, food tents, and the rethemed Holiday Express Train.
Be sure not to miss the locally renowned show, the Majesty of Christmas, which delivers a live reenactment of the Nativity complete with live animals, flying angels, and stunning vocal performances. Standard tickets to Fiesta Texas will give you access to both the holiday events and roller coaster thrills.
*Bonus - Avoid the typical Six Flags eateries and instead hit up the food tents for holiday specialty foods. Prices are cheaper, and the quality is 1000% better than the standard offerings.
Photo Credit: Facebook
Photos with Santa Claus
No San Antonio Christmas is complete without that perfect photo commemorating your kid’s total sobbing meltdown while seated on Santa’s lap. There are quite a few places around the city to meet Santa and petition for that perfect gift, but a few of our favorites are the SA Bass Pro Shop, North Star Mall, and the Shops at La Cantera.
Christmas at the Caverns
Come celebrate the season at a San Antonio Christmas event that happens underground - at Natural Bridge Caverns, the holidays are celebrated both above and below ground.
Purchase your special “Caroling in the Caverns” tickets and head underground where traditional Christmas carols reverberate throughout the cave formations creating a distinctly cheerful holiday experience. Back at ground level, you can enjoy the 30 ft. Christmas tree, stroll the lighted trails, roast some s’mores, listen to stories with Mrs. Claus, and more.
Photo Credit: Natural Bridge Caverns
Dickens on Main
Just 17 miles northwest of San Antonio lies the charming town of Boerne, TX. Every year right after Thanksgiving, Boerne plays host to Dickens on Main, a huge holiday celebration that takes place all throughout this quaint little town. Lights, photo ops, food, parades and entertainment - Dickens on Main has it all!
As Dickens on Main takes place…on Main, Main Street in Boerne will be closed to traffic on November 24 and 25 from 4pm to 10pm. Parking will be available in a few small public lots as well as street parking in surrounding neighborhoods and business parks, but it will fill up quickly. Plan to arrive early or be willing to walk quite a ways.
Gruene Christmas Market Days
Head to lovely Gruene, TX on December 2 and 3 for their annual Christmas Market Days. Get some holiday shopping done as you browse for unique gifts and decor at the nearly 100 vintage, local, and artisan street merchants that line the main road in Gruene.
In addition, guests can watch the 22nd annual Gruene Pony Express Ride, check out the 1 man performance of the Christmas Carol, and schedule a photo op with Cowboy Kringle (must reserve in advance online).
Elf in Concert!
Come enjoy a larger than life screening of everyone's favorite holiday flick, Elf. The movie will be accompanied by a live symphony playing the score as guests revel in Buddy the elf's holiday shenanigans.
Performances will be held at the Majestic Theatre on December 1 and 2. Tickets are available on the Majestic Theatre's website.
The Nutcracker Ballet
Tchaikovsky’s brilliant suite of music, the Nutcracker, is a modern holiday classic. Just a few notes from the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is enough to instantaneously transport most people directly into a state of “Christmas spirit.” Given this familiarity, it is no wonder that the Nutcracker Ballet is one of, if not THE, most performed ballets in the world, as well as one of the most popular holiday activities in San Antonio.
Ballet lovers have a few options when it comes to viewing a performance of the Nutcracker in San Antonio. The most well-known one is performed annually by Ballet San Antonio at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts (December 1-10). Additional performances have been scheduled at the Brauntex Theatre, the Lila Cockrell Theatre, and the Majestic Theatre.
Cirque du Soleil
This year, San Antonio plays host to a Magical Cirque Christmas by Cirque du Soleil. This show combines acrobatics and traditional circus performance with artistic lights and music to create a truly unique holiday circus experience. Head to the Majestic Theatre for the performance.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra returns to San Antonio to perform their world famous Christmas rock opera. Accompanied by a dramatic laser lights display, TSO’s The Ghosts of Christmas Eve is a wonder for the eyes and the ears. Two performances will be held on December 9 at the Frost Bank Center (formerly the AT&T Center).
Photo Credit: Facebook
It’s not just the Christmas season, it’s tamale season. The tradition of making tamales at Christmas hails from Mexico where tamales are made to celebrate and remember las posadas, or Mary’s and Joseph’s search for shelter before the birth of Jesus. Today, the tradition of making Christmas tamales is widespread across San Antonio as families gather together to learn from their abuelas just how to prepare these delicious, corn husk-wrapped pieces of heaven. We can confidently say that enjoying tamales is one of the BEST holiday events in San Antonio. 🙂
If you aren’t up for making tamales (it is a somewhat time-consuming and tedious process) but still want the pleasure of eating them, there are a number of restaurants around town that specialize in these holiday favorites. A few local picks include SA Tamale Boy, Ruben’s Homemade Tamales, Delia’s, and Delicious Tamales. Be sure to place your order well ahead of time at any of these locations and schedule a pickup; otherwise, you’ll get to experience the not-so-festive, holiday tamale queues.
Rotary Ice Rink at Travis Park
From November 17 to January 15, visitors to San Antonio will have the unusual opportunity to ice skate downtown in Travis Park. With temperatures still likely to be in the 70s, this is a unique way to ring in the holidays in a city that is not quite known for its access to winter sports.
While waiting for an entry time to the ice rink, guests can take advantage of all the other holiday offerings in Travis Park including the 50 ft. lighted tree, ice sculpting, live music, and food vendors. Tickets and reservations must be purchased online in advance.
Additional December Events In San Antonio
Strictly speaking, these last two events aren’t holiday specific, but they are both extremely popular and occur smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, so they’re worth a mention.
San Antonio Rock N’ Roll Marathon
Held this year on December 2-3, the Rock N’ Roll Marathon is the perfect way for fitness buffs, runners, music lovers, and anyone who doesn’t mind breaking a sweat to experience downtown San Antonio and the River Walk without the bothers of traffic, tourists, or pedestrians.
Participants can choose from 4 different races – 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon – while enjoying live music and entertainment at each mile marker. Those who cross the finish line will be greeted by the sounds of the beloved cover band, The Motts. Race registration is open online now.
Photo Credit: Facebook
Valero Alamo Bowl
The NCAA Division I Alamo Bowl is hosted annually at San Antonio’s Alamodome. This year’s game is set for Thursday, December 28, with kickoff scheduled for 8:15pm. The Alamo Bowl pits one of the top teams from the Big 12 conference against a top team from the Pac-12 in what is always a thrilling and fun event.
While the teams have not yet been announced, you can purchase tickets online at Ticketmaster via the Alamo Bowl’s website.
Hill Country Christmas at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and Spa
One of San Antonio’s grandest hotels will undergo a full Christmas makeover from November 11 through December 31. Guests to the JW Marriott can make reservations now to stay in special Christmas-themed suites and take advantage of a host of holiday activities the hotel is offering.
Special events include a few snow-based activities - like tubing and snowball making - which are relative rarities given the area’s usual lack of snow, and are a great way to expose kids to some of the fun of actual winter wonderlands. Other events include storytime with Mrs. Claus, a Santa scavenger hunt, gingerbread decorating, and of course, pictures with Kris Kringle himself.
Tickets can be purchased on an individual basis for each activity or as a package deal for a 20%-30% discount.
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