- Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
Circuit of the Americas might be best known for Formula 1, but this December it will swap race cars for Santa’s sleigh for the inaugural Winter Wonderland at the Circuit.
This “magical world of holiday amusement” centered on the track’s Grand Plaza will be held Dec. 1-2 and 8-30 and will incorporate a million lights, said Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein. A $16 general admission ticket (free for children 5 and under) includes access to 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 will be available for an additional cost.
“We’ve tried to create a real ‘wow’ experience,” Epstein said, adding that live music, food trucks, hot cocoa stands, adult beverages and a Bavarian Village with local vendors will also be part of the event. “In such a consolidated space, we think we’ve packed in a lot to do. We’ve found the latest in technology of the lights and sounds and some really fun surprises.”
Epstein said hosting a winter festival at the circuit has been in discussion since the facility opened in 2012. This year, the timing felt right.
“We finally got financially stable enough to start to think about what other things we wanted to be able to do,” Epstein said. “It’s been part of the plan for many years — to execute on it is exciting.”
Late last year, the track hired Roberto Pinto da Silva Jr. as special projects director and sent him to destinations across the United States including Buffalo, N.Y., Indianapolis, Ind., and College Station to research successful winter festivals and bring back ideas. Epstein declined to disclose the cost of Winter Wonderland at the circuit but did refer to it as a “massive investment” that included several large purchases, including a skating rink.
While the track aims to make Winter Wonderland at the Circuit an annual family event, Epstein said, the goal is not to compete with longtime holiday traditions such as Trail of Lights in Zilker Park but rather to add to the offerings in Austin.
“Trail of Lights is a great Austin holiday tradition,” Epstein said. “I think they’re very different, and I think people will see that.”
James Russell, executive director of the Trail of Lights Foundation, echoed the idea that there’s room for numerous celebrations in Austin.
“The Trail of Lights is an Austin tradition that honors the holiday season by spreading joy and celebrating togetherness,” he said. “Through that mission, we welcome new holiday additions and look forward to a full month of December activities.” (The Trail of Lights is open Dec. 9-23, after a Dec. 2 fun run.)
Winter Wonderland at the Circuit’s hours will be 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays Dec. 1-2 and 8-30, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets are on sale now; parking is included. For more information, visit circuitoftheamericas.com/winter-wonderland.