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Photo courtesy of Fogo de Chão

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

More meat is the guiding principle at Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão, and despite an upcoming closure in Austin, it’s not letting up anytime soon. The restaurant is just relocating from 309 E. Third St. to a slightly more central spot blocks away at 200 Congress Ave., on the bottom floor of The Austonian, a residential tower that’s currently the second-tallest building in the city. It will include churrasco grilling in the main dining room, an outdoor patio, a full bar, and meat lockers for dry aging in-house. A portion of opening week sales will be donated to Keep Austin Fed. For now, the 3rd Street location is still accepting orders.

Other news and notes

The bake sale to put all others to shame, The Festive Mercantile & Chef Susan's Bake Sale, is leveraging award-winning treats by Luties’ pastry chef Susana Querejazu on November 27. The Commodore Perry Estate almost turns the sale into a festival, with lots of opportunities to hang out after snagging the most desirable pastries, including shopping at the Larder Mercantile, wreaths, coffee, whiskey, and more. The sale opens at 10 am and closes when goods sell out.

GivingTuesday, a different kind of winter holiday, happens on November 29 and encourages people to donate funds or time, partially through giving businesses a day to organize special campaigns. In Austin, nonprofit I Live Here I Give Here (ILHIGH) leads the Central Texas area, in a longer event from November 26 to December 2. In partnership with Good Work Austin (fighting food insecurity), 26 neighborhood restaurants will be donating a portion of sales, including Bento Picnic, Chez Zee, Epoch Coffee, Olamaie, The Cavalier, and many more. Full list at ilivehereigivehere.org, under “Dine out for a good cause.”

As many visit family for the holidays, it can be nice to celebrate home in Texas. On November 30, Austin institution The Driskill is putting together a four-course prix fixe of off-menu items by the hotel’s executive chef, Mark Dayanandan, with drink pairings by sotol-maker Desert Door. The four courses contain a lot more than four items, including stuffed quail, smoked gulf redfish pâté, and tomatillo berry compote. Tickets ($95) available on Tock.

Side Eye Pie, the wood-fired pizza truck at Meanwhile Brewing is offering a football special until January 2; every Monday night after 4 pm, two cheese or pepperoni pizzas will be $30. Although these pies are simple, Side Eye is known for serving up complex pies with lots of fresh and organic toppings, on dough made with local flour and yeast. The bar will be open for lots of beer selections, and other neighboring trucks serve barbecue, ice cream, and more.

As passers-by may have noticed, Japanese South Congress eatery Lucky Robot is bringing Christmas cheer to one of Austin’s busiest streets with the return of its holiday pop-up. Like the installment in 2021, this one brings a “canopy of garland,” with classic holiday decorations like giant gift boxes, Christmas trees, wreaths, and lights. In 2022, the decoration gets even bigger, with more than 1,000 hanging ornaments. It’s Christmas in Tokyo, in Austin.

Photo by Alison Narro

The best bites with nearly no lines at the Austin Food & Wine Festival

Fast Food

“This is what ACL used to be like,” said an attendee of Austin Food & Wine Festival near its close on Sunday, snacking on H-E-B nachos as the truck tried to reduce its stock. (It was one of the only vendors still open at 4:30 pm.) One pitmaster was putting the finishing touches on a roast, with a gaggle of sort-of-drunk onlookers leaning against the fence.

The Food & Wine Festival is a fascinating mix of ultra-prepared and laid-back. Wineries and local restaurants set up booths in rows that just keep popping up to foot traffic turning yet another corner. Troughs are filled with ice and canned drinks to grab in passing, and a DJ keeps the mood up for anyone who wants to step under the dance tent. But is the food good? Absolutely.

Chefs show an independent approach to offering samples, stepping away from signature menu items toward more unique recipes. Still, some trends emerged. Saturday, November 5, was swimming in fish, especially raw dishes like ceviche. Licha’s Cantina served an excellent one with a light touch: sweet and milky with chamoy and sesame, avoiding the tougher textures in many mixes.

Sunday, November 6, was, frankly, nearly over when I got there at 3:30 pm, thinking the previous day was a good indication that things would last. One attendee waiting in line for barbecue announced that she preferred the food on Sunday, but the atmosphere on Saturday. If Hillside Farmacy’s contribution — a very salty and tender meat with sweet root veggies — was any indication, this attendee’s rankings were likely shared by many.

Some other highlights from the Austin Food & Wine Festival:
  • Bento Picnic brought king salmon daikon rolls, with cucumber and furikake. The tiny veggie rolls tasted fresh, light, and not overly fishy. Blind Salamander toed that line with smoked salmon in mini seaweed waffle cones. One attendee grew suspicious of the tobiko (flying salmon roe), turning away from what he thought was an insect product. The seaweed cone was delicious and unique, but the highlight was the misunderstanding.
  • The National Audubon Society participated in a talk about grasslands and cattle ranching, revealing to many that the bird protectors certify some ranchers as operating “bird friendly land.” The audience learned that grasslands are even better carbon sinks than forests, because when fires consume them, the stored carbon tends to stay underground instead of being released back into the atmosphere, as it would be by a burning tree.
  • The Cantu Group served delicious and fall-ready “harvest margaritas” in little salt and cinnamon sugar-rimmed paper cups. The recipe is available on Instagram, using Rey Del Mundo Blanco tequila, apple cider, lime juice, and maple syrup. Fans of pumpkin beers (try these with a honey and cinnamon rim, too) will love this refreshing, but mild marg.
  • Casper Fermentables brought a simple dish with especially tasty ingredients — something chefs talk about a lot, but don’t always get to show off in casual environments. Casper’s egg salad is super simple; it just tastes like eggs. But its pinkish-orange color drew attention to the Arkansas-laid eggs, with bigger, darker yolks that gave a bit more richness to the mix. (The “fermentable” was a cute little pickle slice, by the way.)
  • The Nicolett represented that slice of gastronomy that shows foodies tricks they’d never think possible, with candied mezcal. The plain flavor was my favorite (reader, if you’re noticing a trend in my taste, you’re onto something). The mini pucks of dehydrated jelly are sweet, pure in flavor, and delicately crunchy. It wasn’t smoky, as I’d expected. The other flavors — charentais melon and hoja santa — were stronger, but still very demure. The Nicolett doesn’t sell them in bags yet, but they’re getting enough requests to get those cogs turning.
  • One festival producer, who deflected any questions about a restaurant and casually walked off minutes later, produced a delicious beef tongue romesco sloppy joe. It’s the only time I’ve enthusiastically enjoyed that cut of beef, which is usually served in slices, but was this time pulled and served on a bun with pickles. Sloppy joes are not exactly the height of culinary achievement, but this fatty, tomato-forward sandwich was the perfect close to the day.

Aside from the barbecue lines (which were, admittedly, punishing), the Food & Wine fest can be done with little to no waiting. You’ll sacrifice a chance to taste the bites people are really crazy for, but you won’t leave hungry. Going with a buddy helps pass the time, but tasting solo is a fun way to broaden horizons and really think about what’s on the plate. Plus, there are other interesting people doing the same thing. You might leave with a new friend.

Photo courtesy of Bakery Lorraine

7 spooky things to know in Austin food right now: Restaurants and bars bite into Halloween

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: There are so many Halloween weekend events offering delicious snacks to sink your fangs into, and cocktails to drive you to madness, we were spellbound. We have you covered with a special Halloween roundup of fun-scary food news.

Hotel Van Zandt's rooftop bar and restaurant, Geraldine's, has fun things going on every night through Halloween itself. On October 28 and 29 there are regularly scheduled nighttime live music sets, followed by the weekly jazz brunch on October 30. Then on Halloween one of Austin’s truly weirdest bands (fronted by puppets), Fragile Rock, puts on an emo show to remember. Reserve on OpenTable or hope for room at the bar.

We’ve heard of spending Christmas at Chinese restaurants, but how about Halloween? Old Thousand, always ready with holiday spirit, is hosting Goth Night on October 29 at its 11th Street location. The special menu is darkly creative, with black vinegar “Damned Dumplings,” “Sacrificial Lamb Bao,” a restorative-potion themed hot pot; black sesame Crème brûlée, and special on-theme cocktails. Call (737) 222-6637 to reserve.

Wes Anderson fans do not need Halloween as an excuse to dress in costume, but here’s one for inspiration. The Carpenter Hotel is dressing up in the style of the Grand Budapest Hotel — at least, culinarily — on October 29 for a six-course dinner (starting at $160 for two guests). These include unexpected but very friendly flavor combinations like savory apple and cheddar cookies and sausage with white beans, onion, and toast. Reserve on Eventbrite.

Few Halloween frights are as intimidating as trying to find a cool booze-free event, but fear not. Yacht Drops is a new sober cruise line on Lady Bird Lake, debuting October 29 with dancing, bites by Siete, non-alcoholic beers by Athletic Drinks, and zero proof whiskey and tequila by Spiritless. A portion of ticket sales benefits Keep Texas Waterways Clean. A costume contest and pro photographer ensure that your Halloween efforts are appreciated. Tickets ($75) on Eventbrite.

Now that Second Bar + Kitchen has taken over the rooftop bar at East Austin Hotel, the Halloween tradition is theirs to uphold. On October 29 from 4 pm to 12 am, the bar welcomes disguised and casual Austinites for a costume contest, dancing, and scary-delicious drinks: vampire's bite shots, mad eye mules, witch’s brews (“prosecco punch with worms”), and poisoned apples (with spiced rum, caramel, bourbon cream, and sour apple liqueur).

Fareground, the sunken downtown food hall, is hosting an all-ages event on October 30 for low-key vibes and maximum commitment to the theme. A screen outside will show Hocus Pocus for free, with seasonal concessions, popcorn, cotton candy, and $4 happy hour drinks. Vendors inside make this movie much yummier than most theaters, with a lot more variety, and will hand out candy for trick-or-treaters. The movie starts at 7 pm. RSVP on Eventbrite.

Whether you’re looking for luxe treats to wow party guests or delicious sweets to hoard at home, Bakery Lorraine at Domain Northside is ready. Until October 31, the bakery is sending out black cat tarts (chocolate mousse and vanilla filling), mummy tarts (lemon curd topped and meringue), phantom of the opera cake slices (pumpkin spice sponge cake and buttercream with dark chocolate glaze), and other cute, spooky pastries.

Dai Due/Instagram

10 niche, local treats for celebrating National Dessert Day in Austin

Cherry On Top

Read this out loud: I do not need to earn dessert. No one needs an excuse to enjoy a delicious dessert, but we do need one to write about them, and that excuse is National Dessert Day on Friday, October 14. This day of celebration offers a chance to reflect on our relationship with sweets while supporting local businesses.

Austinites know where to find a chocolate chip cookie, and likely already have a favorite. For National Dessert Day, the CultureMap Austin editors compiled a list of our favorite unique, niche, or hard-to-find treats around town. We’ve got frozen fruit, a cocktail, come-back cookies, and much more.

Enjoy with a friend or enjoy alone; either way, enjoy the sweet taste of doing whatever you want while supporting local happy-makers.

Bananarchy: Frozen Bananas
Austinites know something many do not, and it’s that frozen bananas are elite, even if a little mid-century. A frozen banana is mostly a vehicle for frozen chocolate and toppings that loses its fruity flavor at lower temperatures. It’s creamy and mild. Bananarchy, singularly responsible for frozen banana awareness in Austin, makes vegan and non-vegan treats like the Afternoon Delight with chocolate, vanilla, and peanut butter dips, topped with nuts and graham crackers.

Dai Due: Seasonal Donuts
The ingredients-obsessed butcher shop and restaurant Dai Due has a special treat every brunch service: unique, always-changing donuts. Every week brings new glaze flavors — chasing seasonal ingredients or using what’s already in the fridge — but the donuts are always made with yeast and lard, then fried in beef tallow. The weekend of October 15, pastry chef Amanda Harold is going for depth with a malt glaze and a cajeta drizzle, essentially a Mexican caramel sauce.

El Alma: Piñarita
What makes something a dessert? If it’s a maraschino cherry, we’ve got one. El Alma, one of Austin’s most popular Mexican restaurants, keeps some on hand at the bar for their piñarita, the beautiful love child of a piña colada and a frozen margarita. This lime-and-coconut slush with tequila in place of rum and a crunchy sugar rim is really more than the sum of its progenitors. Just watch out — like many delicious sweet cocktails, the ABV sneaks up on you.

Épicerie Café & Grocery: Saturday Bake Sales
Épicerie Café & Grocery is one of the most lauded pastry makers in Austin, so it’s hard to choose just one dessert. (Although anything with layers is a great bet.) Thankfully, the café bakes more pastries than usual on Saturdays and runs an all-day bake sale until stock runs out. People who need certainty in their dessert lives should try the very popular beignets, about the size of eclairs and blanketed, not dusted, with powdered sugar.

Mi Tradición: Tres Leches
Anyone craving Mexican pastries will find them in great supply at panadería Mi Tradición, stacked high in display cases. The bakery is known for its conchas, of course, but also woos visitors with three kinds of tres leches: strawberry, peach, and mocha. There are too many other selections to list, but suffice to say you could shop for every meal, plus snacks throughout the day. And unlike many bakeries, this one is open early and late, from 7 am to 9:30 pm.

Peace Bakery & Deli: Baklava
The Mediterranean is thriving in North Austin at Peace Bakery & Deli, a cafeteria split in halves, run by a Palestinian couple, Nuha and Jihad Hammad. One half serves savory food in platters, wraps, and family style bundles, while the other sells pastries by the pound. The baklava comes with walnuts, cashews, pistachios, and coconut, in dainty little rolls rather than square slices. Peace Bakery also serves kunafa, a sweet layered pastry with swoon-worthy cheese pulls.

Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery: Eat Your Feelings Box
Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery saves ingredients and hearts with the Eat Your Feelings Box, a trifle, basically, in a to-go container. Trimming cakes for evenness leaves bakeries with lots of scraps. Quack’s fills half a container with these, topped with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles. It’s like any cake, but there’s quite a lot of it, and it’s less expensive than one with neater layers. They’re only available when scraps are, so call ahead or prepare to buy a cupcake instead.

Texas French Bread: Farmers Market Finds
Cookies by Texas French Bread have been in short supply while the business worked back up from a devastating fire. Rejoice in the return of the beloved bakery and stop by the booth at the Texas Farmers Markets at Lakeline and in the Mueller neighorhood. They might even have some seasonal treats, as they’ve done in the past, especially around holidays. Shoppers through Farmhouse Delivery can now add checkerboard and butter cookies to their hauls, too.

Uchi: Chocolate Candy Bar
Name a better pair than upscale sushi restaurant Uchi and best-of lists. The “chocolate candy bar” combines classic flavors: a bar of house-made cookies and cream ice cream is draped in dark chocolate, then embellished with a salted caramel and peanut topping. Think fancy Snicker's bar, but way better. Alongside the ice cream, Uchi serves seasonal sorbet samplers in groups of three flavors.

Zucchini Kill: Vegan, Gluten-free, Soy-free Bakes
Sometimes people just want a simple cupcake, but dietary restrictions keep getting in the way. Along with having a hilarious name, Zucchini Kill has perfected the vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free baking formula, applying it to the whole menu. We’re talking Swiss rolls, maple candy corn cupcakes, and more, but anyone who wants to break free from the menu can order custom bakes with at least a week’s notice.

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Hannah J. Frías contributed to this story.

Photo by Joseph Woodley

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Famous Nashville hot chicken restaurant brings the heat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Famous Nashville hot chicken restaurant Hattie B's is opening a new Texas location, this time in Austin. The eatery at 2529 S. Lamar Blvd. is slated to open in fall 2023, giving the team ample time to get their third Texas location — and Austin debut — right. In a press release, cofounder Nick Bishop, Jr. said he has always wanted to open in Austin thanks to similar cultures between Austin and Nashville. The Austin location will seat 150 guests, who can test their palate against Nashville-level heat.

Nine months after changing hands, and right on time according to chain president Craig Haley, the barbecue joint Smokey Mo’s is expanding into Round Rock. When the first restaurant opened 22 years ago in Cedar Park, the founders were starting with 30 years of barbecue experience, so this is well-practiced. The new location at 17280 North FM 620 Road, Suite 100, is throwing a party to celebrate on October 25 from 6-8 pm. Stop and enjoy the DJ, photo booth, face painter, games, and giveaways.

Uproariously, the downtown location of Roaring Fork is returning to lunch service for the first time since the pandemic started. Weekdays from 11 am to 5 pm, the restaurant focused on wood fired cooking is offering a long menu covering soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and more. It’s not much different than the dinner menu (said by director of operations Brad Miller to contain “a little bit of everything”), but it opens up hours of service as the Congress Avenue restaurant sees more traffic.

Other news and notes

The extremely popular blogger Joy the Baker is issuing the 2022 fall and winter edition of her eponymous magazine, and her recipes are going on tour. Restaurants around Texas will be recreating favorite recipes by the baker on October 7, the day of the launch, including Austin’s Bakery Lorraine, which will be selling Tart Lemon Poppy Seed Bars. Also participating are Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar and San Antonio’s Extra Fine.

We should have more holidays around melted cheese, but for now, we have Quesoff, “a celebration of all things melted cheese.” On October 8 from noon to 3 pm, competitors and spectators will gather at The Mohawk to face off in four categories: meaty, spicy, veggie and wild card. Anyone can compete, but this year’s 35-40 teams represent many local restaurants, listed in part on Instagram. Tickets will be available at the door, benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank.

Whether you’re enjoying ACL Fest or saving money and relaxing for the weekend, the Carpenter Hotel has a special hookup for coffee and late-night snacks. The new Lil Carpenter food truck will be open at the hotel for the two festival weekends — October 7-9 and 14-16 — starting coffee service at 9 am (with donuts and breakfast sandwiches) and starting late food service (hot dogs, burgers, fries, and beer) right as the festival starts to wind down, at 9 pm.

Rambler Sparkling Water, a growing default in Austin restaurants and bars, now offers a new flavor, its third in four years: satsuma, a type of mandarin orange. It joins grapefruit, lemon lime, and an unflavored original in the Rambler lineup, easily recognizable for its charming can depicting a Texas spring. The brand uses a proprietary "Texas Limestone Filtration" system and has one of the more carbonated sparkling waters on the market, which gives some proceeds back to environmental protection.

SusieCakes

SusieCakes Grand Opening Party

SusieCakes, the West Coast’s all-American, home-style bakery, will present a grand opening party with children’s activities including a balloon artist, face painter, and coloring contest. Guests can enter the raffle for a chance to win a free year of cakes, or win a prize up to $100 gift card with a SusieCakes grab bag. Guests will also have a chance to meet Susie and sample treats.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Mobile vet company brings its no-rush, stress-free services to Austin homes

Home Is Where the Vet Is

Austin, one of the largest no-kill shelter cities in the United States, already knows a lot about adopting instead of shopping. A puppy is a wonderful addition to the family, but senior dogs need love (and are loved), too. As many have learned firsthand, taking care of a senior pet can be challenging — with higher medical bills, potentially heavy lifting as joints stiffen, and tough decisions to make about what kind of care is necessary — but also incredibly rewarding.

November is National Senior Pet Health Month, calling for awareness about an older pet’s needs, and providing opportunities to celebrate wins all over local news. In Austin, one of those wins came in scrubs. The Vets, a mobile veterinary service that makes house calls, expanded into Austin in 2022 (after launching the year prior), eventually bringing the national count to 16 locations including Houston and Dallas. Texas and California are tied for the most locations, at three each.

“Among the top reasons that pet owners avoid or postpone their visit to the vet clinic include the stress of transporting their pet, restrictive pet carriers, and crowded waiting rooms,” explained a statement from the company. “Our no-rush visits give your pet the time to bond with our vet and you the opportunity to ask questions. And you always have the option to rebook the same vet to help grow that special relationship over time.”

This team provides care for every stage in a pet’s life, and most of their needs, too; that’s everything from routine wellness exams, microchipping, nutrition consulting, and even emergency services including those with specialized equipment like ultrasound machines. When the time comes to ease a pet’s end-of-life transition, the team also offers at-home euthanasia, dramatically reducing stress for both pets and people who don’t want a sterile environment or a tearful drive home.

The American Veterinary Medical Association lists many needs for senior pets, including increased medical care, vaccinations, and pet parents that are observant about environmental concerns like house structure and stimulation. With a home vet, pet owners might consider asking for opinions on how to streamline some of these interactions, without having to worry about having to write notes, try to remember potential issues in the space, or miss any important details a professional would see right away.

A good vet can make animals comfortable no matter what, but The Vets emphasizes the stronger relationships that its team can build in a comfortable, stress-free environment. In addition to a more convenient and comfortable experience, this can also mean better care for a pet that doesn’t have an entire puppyhood to adjust.

More information about The Vets, including scheduling, is available at thevets.com.

Austin-area pig rescue wins Airbnb contest to build one-of-a-kind pig-themed guest house

This Place is a Pigsty

KVUE — From tens of thousands of entries from around the world, 100 aspiring designers, architects, DIYers, and makers from more than 20 countries and regions have been chosen to bring their unique space ideas to life as part of the $10,000,000 Airbnb OMG! Fund.

One of those winners is Tracey Stabile, director of the Central Texas Pig Rescue (CTPR) in Austin. Tracey and Dan Illescas, founders of Central Texas Pig Rescue, will receive up to $100,000 to create a one-of-a-kind pig-shaped guest space. Over the course of the next 10 months, they will design, construct, and outfit the space to be guest-ready by summer 2023.

"Basically the OMG! Fund contest was a way for people to be really playful and kind of invent a really cool dwelling that would be something that's totally notable to people and be a destination," said Stabile.

Stabile said Airbnb left all of the freedom of creativity up to them. They went through several rounds of design and planning and review.

"Each step of the way, we were like, 'We're one step closer.' It was very exciting. Just getting those emails at each milestone and seeing that we were actually contenders in this contest. Then the fact that we, of course, won and now we're going to be able to build this amazing thing that we absolutely never would have been able to build under other circumstances. It's just an amazing opportunity," stated Stabile.

Stabile said she wanted to build something that was a little bit unpredictable and wanted to avoid some of the shapes that people might expect. The current pig sanctuary in Smithville, about 45 minutes outside of Austin, is home to over 200 pigs that were saved from abandonment. The sanctuary houses a mix of all different types of pigs, mostly potbellied pigs, and is 100 percent volunteer run and 100 percent donation based.

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Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Texas state parks beckon this holiday season with festive events and peaceful escapes

Silent nights

If roasting s'mores and hiking in the great outdoors sounds fun, pack up your family and visit one of Texas’ state parks this holiday season.

Texas state parks and historic sites are ringing in the holidays with a number of festive events. There are drive-thru light tours, special holiday hikes, arts and crafts for the kiddos, and more.

Reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to visit an individual park's website before you head out. And check the Holidays in the Parks page for many more fun options, pricing information, and more information.

Austin/San Antonio-area parks

Bastrop State Park
Follow ornaments with clues through the park every day in December during the annual Fa La La Through The Forest Scavenger Hunt. Enjoy the Lost Pines Christmas Parade, a collaborative event with Bastrop and Buescher Parks, at 6 pm December 10. Tour the inside of the historic Refectory and see how the Civilian Conservation Corps celebrated Christmas away from home during A Lost Pines CCC Christmas 9 am-12 pm December 17.

Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site
Visit the popular attraction during December to learn how the farm staff get ready for das Weihnachten (Christmas). Return to the park at 5:30 pm December 18 for the 53rd Annual Tree Lighting, a holiday tradition started by President and Mrs. Johnson.

Garner State Park
Join the Buffalo Soldiers program and friends as they stop into Garner State Park before leaving for Christmas break during the Marching Towards Christmas event 10 am-2 pm December 10. Christmas activities will include hand-dipped candles, frontier Christmas painting, Christmas-themed hard tack in Dutch ovens, and stories of the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buescher State Park
On the Fa La La in the Forest Scavenger Hunt, you can follow ornaments with clues through the park to secure a prize at the end, December 1 to January 1. Enjoy the Smithville Festival of Lights and Lighted Parade, a collaborative effort between Buescher and Bastrop parks, on December 3.

Hill Country State Natural Area
See how art, history and state parks are connected; learn some basic watercolor techniques and paint a card or two to take home during the Watercolor Christmas Cards event 2:30-4 pm December 3. Come back for Horses in History & Ornament Craft from 2:30-4 pm December 22 and learn how horses played important roles in the lives of vaqueros, native people, ranchers and more. Then, play a round of horseshoes and paint a horse ornament to take with you.

South Llano River State Park
At Christmas at the Ranch, 2-5 pm December 3, guests can warm up with hot chocolate and cider, listen to live entertainment, enjoy crafts and cookie decorating, and anticipate Santa's visit while taking in the twinkling lights and Christmas decorations at the historic Ranch House that now serves as Park Headquarters.

Dallas-Fort Worth-area parks

Tyler State Park
Enjoy Reading Ranger Campfire Stories around a cozy campfire at 3 pm December 3. Head back December 9-10 for A Pineywoods Christmas, when you can stroll or drive through the Lakeview and Big Pine campgrounds to take in campers' elaborately decorated sites and take a Winter Wonderland Hike.

Lake Tawakoni State Park
Drive through or stay at the park and decorate your campsite with your favorite Christmas decorations to receive your second night of camping free during your stay. There will be a decorating contest, complete with awards, as well as a reading of The Night before Christmas — all part of Twinkle Tour 2022, 5-8 pm December 3.

Daingerfield State Park
Drive through the park lit up like Santa Land during the 10th annual Christmas in the Park drive thru lights tour December 14-17 (times vary). Marvel at the decorated campsites and lights, and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while waiting for a chance to visit with Santa.

Eisenhower State Park
Help those in need and spread holiday cheer — and as a bonus, get free entry to the park — by bringing one unwrapped donation item to the park’s Holiday Donation Drive through December 19. Visit December 9-10 to visit the Light Up the Park drive-thru lights event, featuring milk and cookies with Santa. This year, the park is taking unwrapped toys to donate instead of collecting entrance fees for the event.

Cleburne State Park
Enjoy Pancakes With Santa and make pinecone bird feeders 9-11 am December 10.

Cedar Hill State Park
Search for birds taking their winter break at the park during their Winter Birding Walk, which takes place 7:30-8:30 am December 13. Explore Christmas on Penn Farm on December 17: Learn about the history and pioneers of the Penn Family and the farm they built 150 years ago.

Lake Mineral Wells State Park
Experience Christmas, cowboy style, at Cross Timbers Cowboy Christmas, December 3. Park ranger and cowboy poet David Owens will gather guests around a campfire at the Lone Star Amphitheater for an evening of cowboy culture through songs, stories and poems.

Dinosaur Valley State Park
In partnership with Toys for Tots, the park is hosting Christmas in the Valley, a full day of ranger-led events, programs, family friendly activities, arts and crafts, food and more. Bring a new and unwrapped toy for free admission for the whole family. The event takes place 1-4 pm December 17.

Houston and Gulf Coast-area parks

Brazos Bend State Park
Holiday in the Park is an all-day affair on December 10. Events include a self-guided "Elf Hike," Christmas crafts, "Pup Parade," s'mores, and more.

Goose Island State Park
See the park in lights, enjoy holiday activities, and camp for free when you decorate your campsite during Christmas in the Park on December 17. Guests are invited to "Santa's Village" at the CCC Recreation Hall for holiday crafts, games, hot chocolate around the campfire, and to drop off letters to Santa in the North Pole Mailbox.

Lake Corpus Christi State Park
Get in the holiday spirit with the second annual Holiday Light Drive Thru, 6-9 pm December 10. Visitors can enter the park for a drive through the lighted areas of Javelina and Opossum Bend camping loops, plus the Old Pavilion.

West Texas and the Panhandle-area parks

Franklin Mountains State Park
On December 3, make ornaments and holiday cards with recycled materials as part of the Art in the Parks series. During Cookies and Cocoa, you can decorate and take home your own Christmas treat while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate 2-4 pm December 23. Come back on Christmas Eve for a guided, two-mile Santa Hike at 11 am.

Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Bring your family out for Home for the Holidays guided family hike on December 10 and moderate hike on December 17.

San Angelo State Park
Enjoy a drive-thru tour of lights and optional pictures with Santa and Smokey Bear during Holly-Days in the Park, 6-8 pm December 10.