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Photo by Jessica Attie, Courtesy of Higher Ground

Sometimes a birthday just doesn't cut it: Not all your friends can make it on the same night, or you plan a separate celebration with family because there's no guarantee things won't get out of hand at the official party. Or maybe you just deserve to be celebrated all week long, which is likely Higher Ground's reasoning behind its upcoming week-long anniversary event.

Opened in 2021, the elevated cocktail bar in the historic space at 720 Congress Ave. in downtown Austin is unassuming from the outside, but like most things, it's what's on the inside that counts. One step inside transports guests to a space that's part cathedral, part Prohibition drinks lounge, part intimate night club: Quasimodo, Gatsby, and Jennifer Lopez would all feel at home here.

The interior decor was a group effort (Lauren Travis of All Collective, Taylor Clouse of Love Country Designs, and Alexis Williams) with a unified theme of salvaged church artifacts and iconography for a gothic yet playful nod to divine spaces. Downstairs, diners sit on church pews from a decommissioned West Texas church; upstairs, a 19th-century organ finds new life as an LED-lit DJ booth for the bar's best dance parties. Outside, a secret, ivy-covered enclave known as the Sanctuary serves cocktails and al fresco dining in a greenhouse-style atrium.

The ecclesiastic theme carries on in both the food and beverage menu, with Italian-inspired fare from chef Chris Gallucio (Michelin-starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Gramercy Tavern) and drinks from mixologist Steven Delgado. Signature cocktails are named after the seven deadly sins ("Pride" really does go before a fall, while absinthe and mezcal are the spiritual roots of "Lust"). Gallucio's small "offerings" feature equally sinful indulgences such as blistered shishito peppers and whipped ricotta bruschetta, while the Higher Burger ($5 on Wednesdays) is good for the soul if not for the heart. Don't skip the delectable drunken apple fritters, either.

All of this is cause enough to stop by any (or every) night of next week's festivities, which will feature food and drink specials as well as unique entertainment in the bar, dining room, and sanctuary. A full lineup of events is below:

  • Tuesday, August 16: $1 East Coast oysters, $1 Bubbly all night with music by Eric Bowden from 5 pm-8 pm
  • Wednesday, August 17: $1 Sliders, $1 Lone Star from 4 pm until midnight
  • Thursday, August 18: complimentary food & drink tastings starting at 4 pm; Revival - 7pm Saxxdoc + Docblust followed by DJ Soleiman and DJ AJ with surprise performances until 2 am
  • Friday, August 19: Four Record Friday with When Where What 5:30 pm - 9:30 pm Special Anniversary Edition followed by Good Fridays from 9:30 pm to 2 am featuring Harvey Bombay, Royal NV, and Eli Arbor
  • Saturday, August 20: Afterglow Let There Be Light, 6 pm - 2 am featuring Mirror Mirror, Errow, Henry Mora, Ashten Troyy, Hotmessmeesh, Hoodatboy, and Sista Krista

For up-to-date information, follow @HigherGroundATX on social media or visit HigherGroundATX.com.

Quasimodo, Gatsby, and Jennifer Lopez would all feel at home at Higher Ground.

Photo by Jessica Attie, Courtesy of Higher Ground
Quasimodo, Gatsby, and Jennifer Lopez would all feel at home at Higher Ground.
Photo courtesy of the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center

University of Texas hotel and Austin's Moody Center hook new partnership

Home Team Advantage

Austin has no shortage of boutique hotels to offer travelers, which can often make it difficult to choose. For a visitor seeking big shows and deals, a trip to Austin is likely about more than a unique interior design; that’s where the big ones come in. On July 7, the nearly 300-room AT&T Hotel and Conference Center announced a partnership with the multipurpose arena Moody Center as its preferred hotel, making it the official hub for major Austin events.

“Not only will Moody Center welcome NCAA Division 1 basketball teams and their fans, but it will also draw next-level entertainment, bringing people from around the country and the world to Austin,” said general manager of the hotel and conference center Alison Berg in a press release. “As a preferred hotel, we can offer our guests exclusive access to Moody Center events, but also seamlessly package those events with unparalleled AT&T Hotel hospitality.”

The partnership gives the hotel opportunities for giveaways and packages, rounding up Moody Center events with special deals and dining at the hotel’s four onsite concepts. The arena and hotel are only a 15-minute walk apart, through the University of Texas campus, which the hotel itself is actually a part of.

The AT&T Hotel & Conference Center already offers several packages, including special rates for Texas residents, school merchandise for people touring UT, and paddle board or kayak rentals on Lady Bird Lake.

Moody Center maintains partnerships with entertainment and sports management company Oak View Group, concert promotion groups Live Nation and Austin’s own C3 Presents, The University of Texas at Austin, and Minister of Culture Matthew McConaughey.

The arrival of the Moody Center has marked a substantial shift in Austin’s entertainment landscape, especially since the pandemic. The arena opened in Aprilafter seven years of development, and since then, has brought top artists and been credited as a factor in recent record-setting alcohol sales. It may be a sign of a freer, larger going-out crowd of both Austinites and tourists this summer.

Photo by Lisa Hause

7 best local craft brews to beat the summer heat in Austin

Pour a cold one

Summer has hit Austin with a vengeance. There’s no better way to cope than with a cold, refreshing beer, and Central Texas craft breweries have what we need. We sampled seven brews perfect for summer days or nights hanging by the pool, floating on the river, or cooling off after mowing the lawn.

Barking Armadillo Brewing Strawberry Poptart Hefeweizen
This Georgetown brewery combined 40 pounds of the filling from Georgetown Pie Company’s handmade strawberry poptarts with a Hefeweizen to make this beer. It has a light refreshing flavor with just a hint of sweetness. (If they’ve run out of it, try El Guapodillo, a light Mexican-style lager, or the refreshing GTX Cream Ale, made with a dash of corn flakes.) A family-owned operation that started in 2013, the Barking Armadillo says it is committed to using carefully selected ingredients in fresh and tasty pours. Available onsite only, along with a menu of staple brews, rotating guest taps, hand-selected wines, and non-alcoholic beverages. There are daily food truck offerings, and dogs and kids are welcome. Open Wednesday through Friday from 4-10 pm, Saturday from 12-10 pm, and Sunday from 12-7 pm.

Beerburg Prickly Pear Milkshake IPA
Beerburg Brewing produces classic styles, seasonal beers, and an experimental Wildcraft Series, made with ingredients sourced as locally as possible (except for hops, which don’t grow well in Texas). Owner/brewmaster and native Texan Trevor Nearburg and head brewer Gino Guerrero have made this seasonal IPA over the years, despite multiple rattlesnake encounters while foraging the fruit. They use vanilla beans, lactose sugar, and lots of oats and hops with melon and berry flavor profiles to boost the earthy melon flavors of the prickly pears. The beer is pink, hazy and delicious, perfect for the summer. It will be available onsite starting June 16 for several months. The brewery features an outdoor deck and wooded beer garden with a fenced-in kids play area and a dog park. Also onsite, Taqueria la Violete, which has an extensive antojito, taco and a la carte menu and an ice cream stand with homemade ice creams and sorbets. Open Thursday from 3-8 pm, Friday and Saturday from 12-9 pm, and Sunday 11 am-7 pm.

Austin Eastciders Passion Fruit Cider
Austin Eastciders uses real fruit in its ciders (including pulp). Passion Fruit Cider, available through August, evokes tropical places with a sweet and tart passion fruit flavor and notes of grapefruit, citrus, and mango. It started as a fan favorite in the Austin tasting room and has a decided summertime flavor, says vice president of marketing Dave Rule. “It pairs well with some of the season’s favorite foods, including Hawaiian BBQ, coconut curry, mascarpone, and sorbet, making it perfect for summer.” Austin Eastciders products are available at major retailers including HEB, Kroger, Target, and Whole Foods and in bars and restaurants, as well as by online ordering or at the Springdale Road tasting room. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 1pm to 10 pm and Sunday from 12pm to 7 pm.

Fitzhugh Brewing Hefeweizen
Austinites love their Hefeweizens, a yeasty wheat beer, cloudy due to the yeast. The one from this brewery in Dripping Springs is “a perfect beer for sipping on the porch or by the pool on a hot summer day,” according to head brewer Nathan Rice. “Hefeweizens are light-bodied, low in alcohol content and won’t leave you feeling heavy.” He actually set out to create a Kristallweizen, a beer with the flavor profile of a Hefeweizen but clear rather than hazy, but the yeast had other ideas. “It still has excellent flavor and body, it’s just hazy, like a traditional Hefe.” Rice says the brew was inspired by Fitzhugh customers. “While I like brewing obscure historic styles, I’m also very open to customer feedback and requests. The two biggest questions we get at the bar are ‘What’s your lightest beer?’ and ‘What do you have that’s like a Hefe?’ I think people know and enjoy the style, so I thought bringing one to the table was the only smart choice.”

Available on site and to-go through July 4th or until customers drink it all. Featuring a large family- and dog-friendly outdoor garden, a menu of smoked meats, comfort foods and seasonal sides served by PEJ Kitchens, Fitzhugh Brewing is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4-8 pm, Saturday from 11-9 pm (kitchen closes at 8 pm), and Sunday from 12-7 pm.

Lazarus Brewing Black Pearl
A summer offering from this East Sixth street brewery, Black Pearl is a rice lager brewed with a special mountain peppercorn native to Taiwan called Maqaw, which lends notes of lemongrass, ginger and citron to the beer. Black Pearl was inspired when general manager Marcus TenHarmsel discovered the exotic spice at a local Gin Bar in Taiwan and realized it would lend itself well to a beer. “At 4.9% ABV, it's one of those beers you can drink several of and is immensely refreshing on a hot day,” he says. “And, we won a gold medal for Black Pearl at the World Beer Cup just a couple of months ago. We currently have a little bit left on tap at the brewery, but will have another batch coming soon.” (If they’re out, try East of Eden, a farmhouse-style wild saison with peaches inspired by the ales commonly produced in Belgium and France). Available on tap and in four-pack tallboys to-go. Lazarus features a large shaded patio and deck, and is dog-friendly. Open weekdays from 7:30 am to 11 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 11 pm and Sunday from 9 am to 10 pm.

Shiner Beer ¡Órale!
This Mexican-style lager – with a name that roughly translates to “hell, yeah!” – is brewed with agave and has an earthy, mildly sweet flavor that matches well with summer classics such as tacos, hamburgers, hot dogs, and BBQ. The idea for ¡Órale! came from Carlos Alvarez, CEO of Gambrinus Company in San Antonio, which owns Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner, Texas, where all Shiner beers are made. Alvare grew up in Mexico and has worked with iconic Mexican cerveza brands such as Corona. He noted a spike in the popularity of craft-brewed Mexican-style lagers and had this one crafted just in time for summer. Available at stores nationwide and in the brewery taproom, which is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm, and Sunday from 12-6 pm.

Zilker Brewing Killer Light
Fermenting with a hybrid German yeast and cold conditioning for three weeks gives this German Kolsch a super smooth experience, says Patrick Clark, one of the co-founders of the East Sixth Street brewery. “We wanted a clean and simple Kolsch to stave off the mid-summer heat,” Clark says. “This is a super clean, simple, easy drinking light beer.” Available on draft and in cans in the taproom starting June 25th and at Austin area H-E-B, Whole Foods, and Specs stores on June 28. Zilker features a food truck on site, as well as an outdoor seating area, and its taproom is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 11-9 pm, Thursdays 11-10 pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-11 pm, and Sunday from 11-8 pm.

Photo by Hunter Townsend

Beloved East Austin bar Nickel City pours out Houston expansion

In the nickel of time

It’s possible that back in 2020, no one told Nickel City owner Travis Tober about the pandemic: At least, it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down. The force behind the venerated East Austin watering hole not only expanded into Fort Worth in January 2021, but also opened a new concept, Old Pal Texas Tavern, just months later in Lockhart’s Historic Downtown Square. This year, he co-founded Lockhart's Best Little Wine & Books — and it appears he’s just getting started, announcing a new Nickel City coming to Houston early next year.

Nationally acclaimed and locally beloved in both Austin and Forth Worth, Nickel City’s third location will be in Houston’s East Downtown area at 2910 McKinney St. The original Austin location opened in 2017 in the former home of the Longbranch Inn, quickly becoming one of the top bar programs in the country with a slew of accolades, including Esquire’s “Best Bars in America.”

Hailing from Buffalo, New York, Tober plans to bring the familiar “Rust Belt Chic” aesthetic to the Houston outpost, along with the “bar inside a bar” concept introduced in the Fort Worth location’s not-so-secret mezcal bar, Bar Bagazo. Like the Fort Worth mezcaleria, the Houston concept will feature a single spirit focus, with a patio bar focused on rum.

Projected to open in early 2023, the third location will convert 3,200 square feet of a 1940’s warehouse with an interesting brick facade. Co-owner Craig Primozich will oversee design and construction, hiring Houston-based interior design team Lizzy Bufton and Stephanie Russel of Taft Studio to guide the project.

In an exclusive sneak peek for CultureMap, Tober answered five quick-fire questions about what’s sure to become one of Houston’s new favorite neighborhood hangs.

CultureMap: What kept you going during the pandemic with all these new concepts?
Travis Tober: With bars, it can be a bit easier to redevelop and pivot, and it’s that idea that when stuff gets harder, the tough get going, and the pandemic allowed us to see where our shortcomings had been so that we could decide what to do differently and what to change. We redid our patios at both Nickels during the pandemic, and we’re excited to introduce an even bigger patio in Houston for that same reason.

CM: What’s the same and what’s different about each location?
TT: So in Austin, we have our cash-only bar, which raises money for charity. We like to feature traveling bartenders there about once or twice a month, and it all goes to charity. In Fort Worth, we wanted to be the largest agave spirit bar in the area, which we accomplished with over 250 SKUs of agave spirit. That bar itself was based on annual pop-ups we had been doing in Guadalajara, so we wanted to reflect that city in that back room in Bar Bagazo. For Houston, we realized patios were our shortcomings, and people really love the outdoors there whether it’s a gazillion degrees or not.

CM: Why did you choose Houston as your next Texas outpost?
TT: To me, Houston is the best food city in the U.S. It’s the biggest city in Texas and top 4 in the United States. It’s kind of like New York in that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. And it’s such a diverse city, it’s a 24-hour city, so we’re really excited about bringing a new Nickel City there.

CM: Why rum?
TT: Houston is known as a big rum town: It’s one of the top cities in the United States for consumers of rum, so we wanted to do something a little more lighthearted with tropical vacation vibes — not tiki, but more tropical.

CM: Last question: What are you drinking today?
TT: I am in Chicago researching rum bars and sourcing equipment for the Houston concept, so I’m drinking daiquiris.

The Houston outpost will be Nickel City's third location in Texas.

Photo by Hunter Townsend
The Houston outpost will be Nickel City's third location in Texas.

Country music icon and Texas legend Mickey Gilley passes away at 86

remembering mickey gilley

A Texas country music icon has passed away. Mickey Gilley, the artist whose career spanned more than 50 years, died surrounded by his family on May 7, according to Pasadena mayor Jeff Wagner. He was 86.

Born in 1936 in Natchez, Mississippi to a famed family that included iconic cousins Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart, Gilley cut his teeth at small clubs, eventually charting some 39 Top 10 hits and 17 No. 1 singles.

He became a Houston-area fixture as he gigged at the Nesadel Club in Pasadena. In 1970, he opened his now-famed, eponymous Gilley’s honky-tonk in Pasadena, which would eventually be known as the “world’s biggest honky-tonk.”

The club — and its legendary mechanical bull — would eventually create a memorable setting in the 1980 John Travolta smash hit, Urban Cowboy. An over-the-top movie premiere at the club in 1980 saw the likes of Lynn Wyatt, Andy Warhol, and Diane von Furstenberg. Gilley not only starred in the blockbuster, but his cover of “Stand by Me” became a pop and adult contemporary hit that year, marking a resurgence for the singer. (He later recounted that magical era with local TV legend Dave Ward.)

With Urban Cowboy putting him back in the spotlight, Gilley moved to television in the 1980s, appearing in popular series such as Murder She Wrote, The Fall Guy, Fantasy Island, and Dukes of Hazzard.

His Gilley’s club no longer operates in Pasadena (a store is located nearby), as it shuttered in 1989 due to dispute between Gilley and one-time partner Sherwood Cryer. In 1990, the honky-tonk burned down; the fire was ruled as arson by local investigators.

But the club brand also grew to an entertainment complex in Dallas, Las Vegas, and Durant, Oklahoma. Gilley’s retro gear has become a Texan “if you know, you know” fashion favorite.

The longtime Pasadena resident boasts a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, six Academy of Country Music Awards, and a place in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. Fittingly, a street in Pasadena is named for the star: Mickey Gilley Boulevard.

“Pasadena has lost a true legend,” Wagner said in a social media post, adding that “his talent and larger-than-life personality helped ignite a new interest in country music as he introduced the world to Pasadena through his dance hall and Urban Cowboy in 1980. We were so honored to have Mickey perform at our State of the City in February, 2020. Our prayers for comfort and peace are with Mickey’s family, his loved ones and his fans.”

Photo courtesy of Mardi Gras! Galveston

The reveler’s guide to opening weekend of Texas’ biggest Mardi Gras celebration

just bead it

One of the biggest draws on the Texas Gulf Coast is back for a big beaded bash. Mardi Gras! Galveston — now in its 11th year — returns to the island February 18-March 1 after being canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic.

Visitors can expect a blowout weekend of parades, balcony parties, eats, an Airstream rally, killer concerts, and of course, plenty of beads. So where to begin this weekend? Kinley White of Yaga’s Entertainment, the company producing the grand event, offers up a must-attend list.

Friday, February 18
Get to the island early for the George P. Mitchell Mardi Gras Award Ceremony at 5:30 pm, followed by a corresponding parade through downtown Galveston at 7 pm.

Then, hundreds of umbrella dancers will twist through the streets of downtown at the 11th annual Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade at 8:30 pm. That’s followed by the Mardi Gras! Galveston Parade and several concerts that will keep the party going through the night.

Saturday, February 19
It’s parade time as the revelry runs along Galveston’s Seawall and through the downtown Mardi Gras Entertainment District. Look for two of Mardi Gras! Galveston’s largest events: the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius Kick-Off Parade (noon) and the Krewe of Gambrinus Parade (6 pm).

Music fans can jam out the live music headliners, ’90s rock band 3 Doors Down, who will perform at 5:30 pm on the Corona Extra Stage located at the corner of 23rd and Strand streets. (Make sure to yell out the chorus to their big single, “Kryptonite.”)

Sunday, February 20
Fiesta Gras! returns for its fifth year, celebrating Hispanic heritage and highlighting Latino-oriented entertainment and fun. Latin Grammy Award-winning Tejano group Siggno headlines at 2:30 pm, followed by musical act LaDezz.

Also on tap are two themed parades, El Norte La Raza and Los Locos Vaqueros Parade, which features defensive lineman Roy Lopez of the Houston Texans serving as the parade’s grand marshal. Fiesta Gras! will be located in the downtown entertainment district at the corner of 23rd and Strand streets.

Airstreams all over
New for 2022 is the Streamin’ on the Strand Airstream Rally from February 18-February 20. Expect 47 Airstream trailers in the entertainment district on Mechanic Street.

Balcony parties
It’s not too late to score tickets for the balcony parties. Be sure to wear comfortable, festive gear and shoes. These events are 21-and-up only and feature festivities, a cash bar, and music. Click here for tickets.

Mardi grub
Galveston offers a host of restaurants serving seafood, Cajun, Italian, and Mexican fare. Some of White’s recommendations:

  • Yaga’s Cafe (2314 Strand St.)
  • Riondo’s Ristorante (2328 Strand St.)
  • The Sunflower Bakery & Cafe (512 14th St.)
  • Gumbo Diner (3602 Seawall Blvd.)
  • Mosquito Cafe (628 14th St.)
  • Taquilo’s Tex-Mex Cantina (2101 Postoffice St.)
  • BLVD Seafood (2804 Avenue R ½ at 28th St. & Seawall Blvd.)

It's time to bead it, y'all.

Photo courtesy of Mardi Gras! Galveston
It's time to bead it, y'all.
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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.