If you have never had a chance to experience a San Antonio Christmas, you are in for a wonderful surprise. Families can stroll along the River Walk decked out in twinkling lights, explore the historic missions of Alamo City, soak up the local culture, and have a glimpse into the heart of Texas during the most magical time of the year.
San Antonio during the holiday season does not disappoint. Days will be filled with sunshine and the nights will feature holiday lights in abundance. Here are some of the best ways to experience a San Antonio Christmas!
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What Not to Miss in San Antonio During the Holidays
Odds are if you are visiting San Antonio during the Christmas season or really any time of the year, one of the stops on your itinerary will be a visit to the San Antonio River Walk! The San Antonio River runs through the heart of downtown San Antonio, and it’s where you’ll find plenty of things to do, as it is home to restaurants, shopping, and many hotels. We recommend starting your trip here.
Explore the San Antonio Riverwalk
During the holidays, the San Antonio River is where you’ll find the famous holiday lights that drip from the cypress trees that line the river! Every year, the morning after Thanksgiving, the lights go on and stay on until after the New Year. If you’re looking for free things to do in San Antonio at Christmas, seeing the holiday lights is always a winner.
But that’s not all! The San Antonio Riverwalk is where you’ll find everyone’s favorite activities but with a Christmas-y twist. For example, a River Walk Downtown Lights Cruise any time of year is enjoyable, but in December, the ride is magical. Try a nighttime holiday cruise with Go Rio Cruises. We promise the River Walk Christmas lights are mesmerizing.
The boat takes an hour-long tour of downtown, and all of the beautiful buildings are decorated for the holidays. You will also find other boats filled with local carolers, which is part of the Ford Holiday Boat Caroling that you can enjoy for free (or participate in!) every evening during the season. It is the perfect holiday event.
The day after Thanksgiving, the holiday season officially kicks off in San Antonio with the Ford Holiday River Parade and Lighting Ceremony. This is a river float parade centering around the Arneson River Theatre. You can get tickets for a spot along the parade route or book a hotel room on the river for even better views!
The River Walk is also the home of the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias. Experience this Mexican Christmas tradition by visiting during the first 3 weekends of December.
Light the Way Holiday Festival
For more of the best Christmas lights, start the season a little early at the University of the Incarnate Word’s Light the Way Holiday Festival in mid-November! This is when the entire campus is transformed into a dazzling holiday wonderland with thousands of twinkling lights.
Returning for its 37th year, Light the Way is a family-friendly event featuring live music, food trucks, visits with Santa, a holiday market, and more. The grand lighting ceremony kicks off the holiday festivities in the afternoon, and fireworks finish off the night. Plus, it’s free to attend!
Old West Christmas Light Fest
The Old West Christmas Light Fest in Boerne is worth the short drive, with its blend of cowboy charm and holiday spirit. This annual event runs from the weekend after Thanksgiving through Christmas at Enchanted Springs Ranch. It’s a unique San Antonio Christmas experience that you won’t want to pass up!
The ranch, already a picture-perfect Old West setting, comes alive with thousands of holiday lights. You can go on hayrides through the illuminated trails, dance to live music, and eat delicious food. There are plenty of activities for the whole family, too, like a hay maze, scavenger hunts, and the chance to roast s’mores by a campfire in Old West Town.
SeaWorld San Antonio
SeaWorld San Antonio puts on one of the most spectacular Christmas shows in San Antonio, the SeaWorld Christmas Celebration. Check it out from the beginning of November through the beginning of January. The park boasts one of the largest light displays in the city, with over 9 million lights.
You can see breathtaking Christmas-themed shows, attend a Sesame Street Christmas parade, visit a holiday market, meet Santa Claus, and more!
The park also features a special holiday-themed menu that includes seasonal favorites, like hot chocolate.
Be sure to visit at night to enjoy all of the lights, and don’t miss the snow showers in the Christmas village, where you’ll feel like you’re at the North Pole!
Another popular Christmas event is Lightscape at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. This isn’t your typical holiday lights show!
Yes, thousands of twinkling lights adorn the trees, plants, and structures. But every year, it’s the amazing art installations that create a breathtaking and immersive experience. Find your way along illuminated paths, explore unique garden-themed displays, and find plenty of photo opportunities.
Lightscape also features live entertainment, seasonal treats, and interactive elements that make it fun for all ages. This event magically combines the beauty of nature with tons of Christmas spirit, making it a must-visit for anyone seeking the perfect San Antonio Christmas!
Zoo Lights at the San Antonio Zoo
If your family loves animals both real and animated, head to Zoo Lights at the San Antonio Zoo!
Here you will find animals made of lights, nocturnal animals, and an amazing light show.
There are s’mores kits available to purchase, so join in the fun and roast marshmallows! Other fun options include photos with Santa, cookie decorating with the elves, and a petting zoo. Especially if you have younger kids, this is a great place to enjoy the holiday spirit!
Six Flags Fiesta Texas
Experience the magic of the season at Six Flags Fiesta Texas during their annual Holiday in the Park extravaganza. This festive event turns the ever-popular park into one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in San Antonio. Picture this: twinkling lights, the aroma of hot cocoa wafting through the air, and the joyous sounds of Christmas carols.
Immerse yourself in the holiday spirit by exploring the park’s festive displays and indulging in holiday shopping at the Holiday Market.
For those seeking Christmas activities for the whole family, there’s no shortage of options. Enjoy a heartwarming dinner show with foods that cater to every palate.
Or head to the Zaragoza Theatre to witness the Majesty of Christmas show, a spectacular performance that captures the essence of the season.
Christmas at the Caverns at Natural Bridge Caverns
Christmas at the Caverns might be the most unique thing to do in San Antonio during the holidays. It’s a Christmas event held at Natural Bridge Caverns, located about an hour outside of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country. Trust me, it’s worth the drive.
It’s exactly what it sounds like: giant caves! Natural Bridge Caverns is actually Texas’ largest underground cavern, and it’s one of the most memorable settings for a Christmas time event.
The grounds where the caverns are located are transformed into a winter wonderland. Families can ice skate, take pictures in a giant snow globe, visit Santa, and even take a hayride. All of that is amazing, but the best part happens underground.
Caroling in the Caverns is a tour of the caverns with Christmas music along the way. There are four different areas where tour groups stop for a serenade from local musicians. We enjoyed the a cappella group from an Austin area high school, but there are different artists through the season. And the sound quality of the music was superb! That’s what happens when you sing in the caverns.
Pearl District Holiday Night Market
Celebrate the holiday season in style at one of the newer but very popular events of the season: the Pearl District Holiday Night Market! This year, the beloved Christmas market is back the four Wednesdays before Christmas. From 5 to 9 PM, you can check out special events and a Christmas night market.
Enjoy the festive atmosphere as the market comes alive with twinkling lights, offering a classic Christmas backdrop for your holiday shopping. Shop for the perfect gifts, crafts, and treats while enjoying the sounds of holiday music.
It’s the perfect time to explore all the amazing stores, eateries, galleries, and an array of family activities that happen regularly at the Pearl District. From holiday-themed crafts to fun events, there’s something for everyone!
Other places not to miss in San Antonio
Should you find yourself with extra time on your hands, there are several places to visit in San Antonio that are fun any time of year!
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Did you know the Alamo isn’t the only mission in San Antonio? The San Antonio Missions are a network of five historic missions built in the 18th century.
They’ve all been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and span 8 miles, so you could visit them all in one day if you wanted. All but the Alamo are managed by the National Park Service.
We visited the largest mission, Mission San José as well as Mission Concepción. The park office at Mission San José is a great starting point for learning about the history of the missions in San Antonio.
You can pick up a map of the missions here, find out about self-guided tours, as well as what each mission has to offer visitors.
King William Neighborhood and Guenther House
The King William Historic District of San Antonio is just south of downtown. This area was settled by the Germans and features stunning Victorian mansions that are impressively well-preserved and also are beautifully decorated for the holidays.
Most of the homes are private residents, but several home tours of the neighborhood are offered throughout the year.
Among them is Guenther House, a gorgeous Art Nouveau-style mansion that was once the home of the founder of Pioneer Flour Mills. It was built in 1859, and today it’s a restaurant that doubles as a history museum. We had a delicious breakfast here and highly recommend it!
Briscoe Western Art Museum
We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the Briscoe Western Art Museum, but we were pleasantly surprised. My son’s favorite exhibit was the Alamo diorama since he was learning all about Texas history in school. He enjoyed walking around the display and sharing extensive details of the battle.
There was also a full-size stagecoach and chuck wagon inside the museum, and artifacts and artwork depicting San Antonio through the centuries.
Holidays on Houston Street
New this year is San Antonio Holidays on Houston Street . From late November to early December Houston Street will be decked out in twinkling lights and oversized holiday décor. Shops and restaurants will join in the fun with holiday themed offerings.
Don’t miss the European-style Christkindl market at the Holidays on Houston Market, December 15-17, which includes an Experiential Lounge (where guests can buy San Antonio-only experiences as gifts) and a Holiday Lights in the Sky drone show.
There’s also a Holiday Fun Run, a block-long Taste of Houston Street Community Dinner , and holiday-themed movies at Legacy Park. It’s sure to be a new celebration on the San Antonio Christmas scene.
Where to stay in San Antonio
Many visitors choose to stay at hotels on the River Walk, and that’s the perfect choice. These are some of the properties we recommend:
For those looking for a resort outside of the city, head to Hill Country. Our favorites are:
You probably won’t have time to check out all of the San Antonio Christmas events, but a few others that are on our list for next time. They include ice skating at the Rotary Ice Rink at Travis Park and the Christmas lights at the Alamo. There are just so many fun places to see the holiday lights in San Antonio and not enough time!
Our San Antonio Christmas did not disappoint, and we would not hesitate to return. San Antonio is the perfect mix of history, culture, and entertainment, and during the holidays, everything is over-the-top amazing!