- Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
What’s your idea of the perfect holiday-light-viewing experience?
Do you love braving the crowds to set eyes on the city’s fanciest, loudest and most expensive displays, or would you rather take a quiet stroll past some simple lights while sipping hot cocoa with those you love?
No matter what kind of light-viewer you are, there’s something for you in Central Texas this holiday season. Here are five ideas.
Circuit of the Americas might be best known for Formula One, but in December it’s swapping race cars for Santa’s sleigh for the inaugural Winter Wonderland at the Circuit.
Here’s what you can expect: A walking light trail, a petting zoo, Santa’s workshop, a human snow globe, holiday movies on the lawn and an immersive tunnel that contains a light show set to music. A skating rink, train rides, carnival rides, a hot air balloon float, camel rides and souvenir photos with Santa are available for an additional cost.
“We’ve tried to create a real ‘wow’ experience,” said Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein, adding that live music, food trucks, hot cocoa stands, adult beverages and a Bavarian Village with local vendors are also part of the event. “In such a consolidated space, we think we’ve packed in a lot to do.”
Just remember, because this is the buzziest place in town this year, you’ll want to go early to beat the crowds.
Info: Winter Wonderland at the Circuit is open 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 6 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday Dec. 1-2 and 8-30, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Admission is $16, free for 5 and younger; parking is included. Some activities are an additional cost. 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd., circuitoftheamericas.com/winter-wonderland.
For traditional or longtime Austinites, no holiday season is complete without a visit to the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park. If you’re eager to map out this year’s excursion, never fear — we’ve got the scoop on what to expect.
More than 400,000 guests are expected to visit the 53rd annual Austin Trail of Lights, which will feature more than 2 million lights, four light tunnels, a 90-foot Ferris wheel, 40 displays, more than 20 food trucks and two stages.
“The Trail of Lights is an Austin tradition that honors the holiday season by spreading joy and celebrating togetherness,” said James Russell, executive director of the Trail of Lights Foundation.
There will be a variety of specialty and theme nights, including UT Night Dec. 10, the annual Heroes Night honoring first responders Dec. 12 and Movie Night Dec. 19. Don’t miss the chance to spin under the towering Zilker Tree, which you can visit for free; it will be lit through Dec. 31.
Info: The Austin Trail of Lights is open 7 to 10 p.m. Dec. 9-23. Admission is free Dec. 9-14 and $3 for ages 12 and older Dec. 15-23. Advance ticket sales, parking passes ($15 per vehicle) and VIP passes are available online. Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Road, austintrailoflights.org.
In recent years, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters has become a go-to destination folks who don’t want to have to move around a lot to see the holiday lights.
This year, the popular lakeside coffee shop is upping the ante with a show that will include more than a million LED lights. Expect Austin- and holiday-centric displays, an audio-activated wall of lights and festive songs performed by choirs from various local schools and community groups. The show is offered throughout the evening; arrive any time to enjoy the fun.
Coffee, hot chocolate and holiday goodies are available for purchase.
Info: Mozart’s Christmas Light Show is open now through Jan. 1 (except Christmas Day) from 6 to 11 p.m. nightly. Admission is free. 3825 Lake Austin Blvd., mozartscoffee.com.
Want to enjoy the lights but still need to wrap up some of that last-minute shopping? The Domain has you covered.
The Domain II between Dick’s Sporting Goods and Dillard’s will offer shows featuring 200,000 lights and strobes dancing in synchronization to holiday music nightly at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. through Jan. 1.
Other special events will be offered through Dec. 23 and include photos with Santa, strolling carolers (Saturday nights only), live music (Fridays-Sundays only) and free horse-drawn carriage rides (5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights with pick-up locations near California Pizza Kitchen and the Brass Tap).
Info: The Domain will host various holiday activities throughout December. Check website for details. 11410 Century Oaks Terrace, simon.com/mall/the-domain.
Want to visit the Trail of Lights but hoping to avoid the crowds? Why not head to Buda?
This annual free holiday event at Historic Stagecoach Park includes lighted and decorated displays provided by local businesses and organizations. Sip hot cocoa as you walk the trail, roast marshmallows by the campfire and snap a photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Info: The Buda Trail of Lights is open 6 to 10 p.m. Dec. 8-9 and Dec. 14-17. Admission and parking are free. Historic Stagecoach Park, 880 Main St., Buda, ci.buda.tx.us/525/trail-of-lights.