Austin at Christmas Time – A Texas Sized HolidayJanuary 6, 2012 No Comments
Texans like to say that things are bigger in Texas. Certainly the jubilant holiday feeling in Austin, Texas is both large and contagious, and combined with Austin’s fun outings, the nature trails of Lady Bird Lake, and great music spilling out on every street corner downtown, it’s a fun place to spend at least part of your holiday season.
From the middle of December to the end of the month, you’ll enjoy the music and art offerings in their thirty fifth year at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. This well known Austin holiday event is both an art fair and a music celebration, with handmade crafts, great musical acts, and of course, visits from Santa. Decorated with trees and wreathes, the artists booths and crafts makers are supplemented by stellar live music and food offerings too. My kids loved watching a leather craftsman create designs on an amazing vest, and enjoyed listening to alt country singers while nibbling on holiday cookies.
You’ll want to get outside after the bazaar, held indoors at the Palmer Center. And the best place for that is around the tree lined trails of Lady Bird Lake, a body of water created by the Colorado River. If its time for lunch, check out La Condesa in the 2nd Street area for great Mexican food, and fresh squeezed guava juice.
Once you’ve revived, there’s a host of holiday activities to choose from. Early in December, you’ll find a holiday sing along and a shoppers stroll around the Capitol Building where a massive Texas tree looms with multi-colored lights. Free gallery exhibits for all and hot chocolate for the kids make this downtown Austin tradition a truly fun event. Also early in the month is a tree lighting in Zilker Park, with Santa Claus and live music playing straight through the month of December. Ice skating rinks also abound around Austin. We went to the rink sponsored by Whole Foods and made a stop in the organic grocery chain for vegan sushi for dinner. Other rinks also offer family skating events around town.
A holiday must see is the massive Gingerbread Village at the Four Seasons Hotel. Ever seen a gingerbread Alamo? Or the Texas State Capitol topped with icing? The hotel also offers a Teddy Bear Tea with strolling carolers and a reading of the Night Before Christmas. Of course, Santa makes his presence known here, too.
Austin’s Auditorium Shores area offers a wonderful New Year’s program for families. Outdoor and indoor music, film, and dance events, open galleries and a massive, three dimensional light sculpture create an alcohol-free celebration that’s filled with children and adults. The night ends with an explosion of fireworks. The performances highlight Austin’s cultural diversity, with Mexican flamenco dancing, musical yoga, and more. Best of all, the entire event is free.
Earlier in December, and also free, my kids enjoyed participating in the nightly performances by the Southwest Key and East Austin College Prep’s Latino Arts Preservation, a re-enactment of a Mexican posada, the recreation of the Christmas story. Santa showed up too, along with pinatas for punching, face painting, and game booths.
Any time of year is a good time for some family biking fun, and we hit the jackpot with rentals from Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, with inexpensive four hour rentals and bikes in all sizes and styles. We also liked that the shop had a cafe next door and we enjoyed some tasty strawberry smoothies before heading out along a bike trail prepared for us by friendly staff members.
The smoothies didn’t keep us going all day however, and after cycling around Lady Bird Lake, we took a local’s advice and checked out the charming Justine’s, a French bistro located in the warehouse district. French you’re saying? French with children? Think crispy thin french fries and delicious onion soup, tasty quiches and salads. Large family groups and friends are common here, and the kids will love the old turn-table playing classic tunes – holiday jazz any one?
Bats may seem more Halloween creatures than Christmas critters, but the Congress Avenue Bridge is a treat in any season. Over a million bats come out of the bridge and head out to forage for bugs at dusk every day; however you’ll see more of the spectacular migration spring through autumn. While there are less winged wonders soaring the through the night sky at winter time, the Austin sunsets can be spectacular this time of year. You’ll find the best viewing from the bridge’s south-east end.
Although your kids may clamor to hang upside down with the bats, you’ll want a more traditional night’s rest. We stayed nearby at the Hotel St. Cecelia, where bungalows and studios are an option to rooms, giving families more space. We loved “Suite Four” which included an outdoor fireplace and porch. Santa won’t even need to squeeze down a chimney if he’s arriving here! My musician daughter preferred “Suite Five” that housed an upright piano, but alas, that was not available. Still, the starry Texas nights and that outdoor fireplace was conducive for family gatherings and guitar playing. This off the beaten track hotel has modern/rustic furnishings and a quirky vibe along with its spacious quarters.