Austin: It's the capital of Texas, the home of "" bumper stickers (meant to support local businesses) and lovely temperatures in December. And despite being home to nearly 1 million people, it somehow evokes a remarkable sense of small-town holiday charm.
In Austin, you won't find world-famous Christmas concerts or giant parades. But what you will find is a sense of community rare for cities of its size — present in ice skating rinks perched on top of grocery stores, local art fairs and Christmas tree farms with hayrides.
If that doesn't convince you to plan a trip to Austin during the holiday season, read on for our favorite local activities. You'll feel like part of the Austin community before you even step foot in the city.
Where To Eat: The Oasis Lake Travis
Instead, embrace something that is oh-so-specifically Austin: outdoor dining with a view of a lake... in December. is known in the area as a go-to spot for special events, and Christmas Eve isn't any exception.
The largest outdoor restaurant in Texas, the Oasis Lake Travis will have you feeling like you're in a Texan paradise (far away from snow and blistering winds) as you nibble on classic Tex-Mex eats like hatch chile chicken, chipotle baby back rib and grilled shrimp tacos. Think of it as a holiday BBQ.
Head there early, though. Oasis Lake Travis closes at sunset on Christmas Eve.
If you want something decidedly cozy and seasonal for the holidays, however, Austin-based blogger suggests curling up with a snack at the sophisticated .
"The coziest spot in town is curled up near the fire in the bar at Jeffrey's," she says. "You can order from the full menu there, and the people watching is almost as good as the chocolate soufflé."
Where To Drink: La Barlata
This tapas bar is worth visiting for the food alone — it was featured on Bravo's "" and won a 2015 OpenTable Diners' Choice Award — but it's also an ideal spot to grab a seasonal drink.
The bar serves hot cocktails and staples like spiked eggnog starting the week of Thanksgiving, which you can sip on surrounded by the restaurant's intricate murals. Plus, all year long, the bar offers cozy cocteles de postre, including claroscuro (espresso, macadamia nut liquor and frothy milk), whiskey milk punch (buffalo trace, cafe de fuego, whole milk, powdered sugar and nutmeg), and "mint condition" (coffee, El Dorado cream liquor, cafecito and mint nutmeg).
If you're in the mood for something fancy, you can also stop by the .
"It's old-school, but my husband and I always make time for one glass of champagne at the historic Driskill Hotel during the holiday season," says Styles. "The beautiful old building is decked out in greenery and twinkling lights, and it's the perfect location for a downtown stroll before are after your drink."
Where To Sight-See: The Zilker Tree Lighting
Austin's Zilker Tree, a local holiday favorite, is 155 feet tall — but don't expect to see branches. The tree is made of 39 streamers, each of which holds 81 multicolored bulbs, totaling 3,309 lights. The star on top has 150 frosted bulbs, according to the .
The tradition of the Zilker Tree, which is located in the lush, green Zilker Metropolitan Park, began in 1967 when the mayor lit it up. Now, that honor goes to a child who wins a city-wide tree art contest (cue the aww).
"The traditional challenge is to stand in the middle, look up into the lights and spin around a few times," says Styles. "Then try to walk without falling down."
Where To Shop: Cherrywood Art Fair
Remember, the best holiday charms in Austin are the hyper-local ones. So skip the department store and instead head to the , a not-for-profit sale in East Austin that showcases local artists and live music to support Texas artisans and mentorship programs for young artists. (Meaning you can feel good about any dough you spend there.)
The fair has been an annual tradition for 15 years, and this year, it will take place from December 10 to December 11.
If you miss it, don't fret: There are plenty of other local shopping options in Austin. Styles recommends local boutiques.
"South Congress is one of Austin's most well-known streets, and captures the funky 'Keep Austin Weird' vibe better than any other place," she says. "Luckily it also houses some killer boutiques like and . Since you can buy almost anything online now, I love to shop for gifts at local boutiques that carry handmade items that are difficult to find anywhere else."
Other boutique hotspots: , , and .
Where To Take The Family: Ice Skating On The Plaza
In true quirky Austin style, the city has a seasonal and incredibly charming — perched on top of a Whole Foods Market.
"Ice skating on the roof of the flagship Whole Foods downtown is such a fun tradition," says Styles. "It's usually the only ice that our Austin kids will see all year, and they transform it into a winer wonderland complete with hot cocoa and marshmallows.
The rink is open daily November 29 to January 9, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and tickets cost $10 each.
Where To See Christmas Lights: Trail Of Lights
It's exactly as the name describes — a wondrous, holiday-happy trail of lights. And one that you should absolutely not miss if you're in Austin, at that.
The event began in 1965 as a gift to the city, and has since grown to be a yearly ritual for families wanting to be dazzled by 2 million lights in 40 different displays. As the site says, it "receives national accolades while remaining a deeply cherished local tradition."
The Trail of Lights foundation raises funds throughout the year to keep the event an "authentically Austin community celebration." The seemingly endless displays of lights all lead up to the brightly-lit Zilker Tree.
"It's an incredible mile-long walk through dazzling light displays," says Styles. "You can't help but feel a major dose of holiday spirit walking through the festivities."
The event runs from December 10 to December 23.
Where To Find A Great Photo Op: Christmas Tree Farms
It may be Texas, but you won't find succulents or cacti en lieu of Christmas trees here. Austin has a bounty of Christmas tree options, including the very festive , where you can frolic among rows of trees in your (light) winter jacket — smiling for snapshots as you see fit.
"It's a quick drive outside of the city, and offers the quintessential 'Christmas in the Country' experience," says Styles. "Hop on a hayride, choose your tree in the field and use a saw to cut it down, or take home a beautiful evergreen wreath."
In other words: Say
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