Decks the Hill... Country
6 magical Hill Country towns with Hallmark-worthy holiday light displays
Ask any Texan where exactly the Texas Hill Country is and you will receive a variety of replies. Some define the area as not just a picturesque geographical region, but a relaxed state of mind in a place surrounded by rolling hills. Some say it includes the flat Lost Pines regions while others maintain that if a Central Texas town doesn’t have hills, it isn’t part of the Hill Country.
See what I mean?
What we can agree on (hopefully) is that San Antonio is part of the region, as is San Marcos and Austin, which make up its eastern border. There is Junction in the west, and Helotes and Bandera near the south, with beloved tourist towns like Marble Falls, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Wimberley in between.
The Texas Hill Country encompasses 25 counties and is made up of a combination of Spanish and German cultural influence in its food, drink, architecture, and music. Just as the rest of the state, the Hill Country was home to Native Americans for thousands of years, then primarily occupied by Eastern Europeans.
Today, the area is a magnet for tourists and retirees and hosts numerous wineries, distilleries, restaurants, hiking trails as well as many lodging options. And while there is no bad time to visit, the Hill County rolls out the red-and-green carpet for the holidays — even in 2020.
Although some activities are slightly scaled back, or large events like parades are canceled, there is still plenty to see and celebrate this year in tiny towns and quaint cities across the region. This year, grab the family or members of your quarantine bubble, and hit the road for Hallmark-worthy celebrations sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
Here we go, giddy up.
First stop, Marble Falls. This year's holiday light display is the 30th anniversary of the city-run event. The lights are free and although a few festivities have been canceled, such as the annual holiday parade and Santa, the Walkway of Lights is still on from November 20 to January 2, 2021, from 6 -10 pm, nightly. This stunning display in Lakeside Park includes 2 million lights, and is made even more dazzling by lights reflected in Lake Marble Falls.
Next, mosey on to Johnson City, a short, scenic drive of just over 20 miles to the presidential hometown of Lyndon Baines Johnson, aka "the Twinkliest Town in Texas." The Lights Spectacular is a free event back for its 31st year and running November 27 through January 3. This year will also feature blue lights as a tribute to healthcare workers.
A 30-minute drive to the west and you have arrived in the historic town of Fredericksburg. As other towns in the region, holidays are a bit different this year, but 55 Nights of Fredericksburg Lights, a light and music show is still being held from November 12 through January 6, 2021. Head to the main square, Marktplatz, to see the iconic 26-foot German Christmas Pyramid and Community Christmas Tree. Songs and a brief history of the area start each night at 6 pm.
From there, travel 70 miles south to San Antonio. The world-famous River Walk was conceived during the FDR administration as part of the New Deal, and today is one of the state's most lauded attractions. During the holidays, however, the two and half miles of pedestrian-friendly, walkable trails turn into a brilliant holiday display. This year, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg ordered the free Holiday Lights on the River Walk to be switched on early to bring a smile to all. The lights are scheduled from November 12 through January 4, 2021, and are lit from sundown to sunrise. For those interested in an alternative mode of transportation to view the lights, boats are available for rent through Go Rio. Caroling boats are also offered during the holidays.
Traveling from San Antonio, head 93 miles northeast to Bastrop (though, it's a shorter drive if you cheat and just come from Austin). Downtown Bastrop, located along the Bastrop River (also the Lower Colorado River) is home its own river walk that transforms into the Bastrop River of Lights during the holidays. This half-mile trail at Fisherman's Park is filled with seasonal lights from November 27 through January 1, 2021, every evening until 10 pm. Bastrop also offers other holiday activities such as an artisan market and even a holiday-themed haunted house.
Leaving Bastrop, and head northwest toward Georgetown for about an hour drive. Lights around the historic downtown square ("the Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas") and county courthouse have been turned into a veritable winter wonderland during Merry Moments in Georgetown. Instead of the annual official lighting ceremony, the city shared a video of the program on social media, complete with the countdown, lighting, and music for home viewing. Check the city's event calendar for special holiday events all month long, including live music, Christmas theater productions, and markets.
Make the most of this unusual holiday season, get out of town, and explore!