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Howdy Holidays

San Antonio offers an illuminating yuletide getaway with twinkling lights, markets and fireworks deep in the heart of south-central Texas.
By Suzanne Corbett

Holiday lights draw tourists during the yuletide season like moths to a flame. Among those holiday destinations that shine the brightest is San Antonio, Texas. With countless strings of lights illuminating streets, historical sites, markets and seasonal special events, San Antonio offers a holiday howdy to winter travelers and a getaway worth celebrating.


Above: The city’s Christmas tree shines brightly at the Alamo, which will celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo next year. Richard Reynolds, San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau photo

Below: Draped in lights and lit by luminaries, the River Walk virtually glows during the holidays. Al Rendon, San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau photo

River Walk

Following the lights

Radiating from the heart of downtown is San Antonio’s centerpiece, the River Walk.

“The River Walk at the holidays is an amazing place,” said Paseo del Rio Association Event Director Charlie Leiva. “There’s simply nothing else like it anywhere.”

On Nov. 26, the Ford River Parade and Lighting Ceremony kicks the season off in style. It’s a sight to see, especially from a hotel balcony or riverside restaurant table, both hard to obtain without advance reservations. But don’t despair. Ceremony and parade tickets are priced from $10 to $25 and guarantee you a reserved seat.

An hour before the River Walk’s lights are turned on, crowds gather at Alamo Plaza for the lighting of the city’s Christmas tree. This year’s decorations promise to shine a bit brighter as a prelude to the 175th anniversary in March 2011 of the Battle of the Alamo.

Hear community choral groups perform seasonal carols while floating down the San Antonio River on the River Walk’s barges Nov. 27 through Dec. 19. A signature event, Fiesta Luminarias, begins Dec. 3 and continues weekends through Dec. 19. Six thousand candle luminaries are paired with hundreds of thousands of white and colored lights, guiding visitors through the River Walk’s winding pathways, lush gardens, shops and eateries.

After remembering the Alamo and touring the River Walk, take in the lights at University of Incarnate Word (4301 Broadway) to explore its Light the Way, an extensive display that illuminates the entire campus.

Holiday markets and daylight diversions

Market Square (514 W. Commerce), the largest Mexican market in the country, is a feast for the senses. The market teems with excitement during Fiestas Navidenas, its Christmas celebration. Stroll through the market’s plaza and smell the aromas of pastries and chili wafting from Mi Tierra Café and Bakery. Located at 218 Produce Row, the café has been an anchor of Market Square for more than 60 years.

Shop the market’s eclectic collection of stores that sell handmade crafts and folk art, as well as touristy holiday kitsch.

Artisans spill into the plaza to demonstrate and sell their crafts, while musicians entertain shoppers. In addition, you can hear anything from Christmas classics played on an Inca flute to the mariachi version of “Jingle Bells.”

San Antonio has the answer for last-minute shoppers seeking that one-of-a-kind treasure. Hecho a Mano (Made by Hand), a fine arts and crafts market, is a two-day event organized by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. It will be at the Guadalupe Theater (1301 Guadalupe St.) Dec. 17 and 18, and features works from juried artists.

Another popular art event is Bazar Sabado at the San Antonio Museum of Art (200 W. Jones Ave.). Bazar Sabado, set for Dec. 11 this year, is a cross-cultural arts experience featuring art and gift selections from around the world.

Another favored, yet perhaps unexpected, market is San Antonio’s Kristkindlemarkt, the traditional German open-air Christmas market. Many Germans came to Texas and incorporated their Christmas traditions into the community. San Antonio’s Kristkindlemarkt, scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Beethoven Maennerchor Halle (422 Pereida), is located in the King William neighborhood. Shop its market stalls for imported German-made gifts and food. Don’t forget to indulge in a stein of your favorite brew to ensure holiday gemuetlichkeit (good cheer).

The Witte Museum (3801 Broadway) has a mission to preserve natural and multi-cultural histories in south Texas heritage, and it hosts several interactive holiday programs. Los Pastores is re-enacted by the Guadalupe Players on selected dates. A century-old procession, Los Pastores has become a yearly program presented at the Witte. It tells the story of the shepherds’ journey to see the infant Jesus. The Los Pastores performance includes optional hands-on activities for visitors to enjoy, along with a little holiday cheer, a cup of hot chocolate and a Christmas cookie.

Another popular interactive program the Witte offers is La Tamalada, which focuses on hot tamales. The art of tamale making is at risk of being lost. In an effort to save this regional Hispanic culinary tradition, the Witte offers classes that stuff proper tamale-making techniques and history into one class.

Feasts and fireworks

Food and fireworks are the perfect match for any New Year’s celebration. To ring in the New Year, Celebrate San Antonio is a free party that draws more than 250,000 people to HemisFair Park. The night’s celebration borders South Alamo Street between Market and Durango streets and in La Villita Historical Arts Village on the river’s south bank.

Before the fireworks begin, savor a New Year’s Eve dinner at one of San Antonio’s renowned restaurants. Biga on the Banks (203 S. St. Mary’s St.), counted as one of San Antonio’s best by Gourmet magazine, presents contemporary Texas-inspired cuisine that’s served with one of the best River Walk views in the city.

For fantastic food with the best fireworks view, travel to the top at Tower of the Americas’ Chart House restaurant in HemisFair Park. Here, you’ll not only savor prime steaks and seafood but a choice 360-degree view of the city. If reservations are unavailable, don’t worry. Just graze the food booths available throughout the night. Try an order of the local specialty, puffy tacos; then pick a place to watch the fireworks light up the night.

Suzanne Corbett is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

Nov/Dec 2010 Issue


Several AAA Approved hotels are downtown close to the holiday festivities. The AAA Four Diamond Hyatt Regency San Antonio on the River Walk (123 Losoya St.) is across from the Alamo. The newer Grand Hyatt San Antonio (600 E. Market), also a Four Diamond hotel, is next to the convention center and within walking distance to the River Walk and HemisFair Park. The Four Diamond Westin River Walk is located at 420 Market. Best Western Alamo Suites, a AAA Three Diamond property, is located at 1002 S. Laredo, one mile from the River Walk and five blocks from Market Square.

For more information, contact the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 447-3372 or click on

To visit San Antonio, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. View a list of offices to serve you.

Order free information about Texas through the Reader Service Card, found online at


More merriment

To get into the holidays spirit, cities across the South will string lights, host festivals and invite visitors on home tours. Among the many options, which are nearly as numerous as ornaments on a Christmas tree, these three Southern small towns will turn on the switch and put out the welcome mat for holiday travelers.

Texas Hill Country Christmas Lighting Trail

About an hour north of San Antonio, the 11 villages and towns that make up the Texas Hill Country have joined together to create the Texas Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail. The celebration runs from Nov. 26 through the end of the year.

Each city has its unique history that’s reflected in its lights and holiday events. For example, in Fredericksburg, a German frontier heritage is celebrated as Main Street is transformed into a holiday Marktplatz with an outdoor skating rink, German-themed Christmas tree and decorations, and of course, plenty of twinkling lights.

Information: (830) 997-8515, or check out on

Festival of Lights in Natchitoches

For 84 years, the Christmas Festival has made this northwestern Louisiana city, the state’s oldest, a merry place to visit. Located off Interstate 49 about 72 miles south of Shreveport, Natchitoches’ holiday happenings begin with the Festival of Lights on Nov. 20 when the lights stay on nightly until Jan. 6 for the season’s closing event, Twelfth Night, a French tradition.

Festival activities, many of which are staged next to the Cane River Lake, include entertainment, fireworks, home tours and the new Snow Fest, a 110-foot tubing slide packed with manmade snow.

Information: (800) 259-1714, or click on

A Dickens’ of a good time in Eureka Springs

Nestled in Arkansas’s northwestern corner is Eureka Springs, a Victorian Christmas getaway worthy of Charles Dickens. Built on the side of a mountain, Eureka Springs becomes a fairyland, especially with a dusting of new snow in these Ozark hills.

Eureka Springs hosts an assortment of old-fashioned events, beginning with the Christmas Parade of Lights (Dec. 3). A favorite with locals is the Sweet Treats Cookie Tour (Dec. 11), which spotlights a dozen of the city’s Victorian B&Bs.

Information: (866) 947-4387, or visit


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