Traveling for the holidays and wondering what to do? Valencia Group has both classic holiday attractions and outside-the-box events in each destination.


“Home for the holidays” might be the status quo, but for adventure-seeking travelers, the holidays offer a long stretch of vacation from work (and school days) perfect for some jet-setting.

However, eschewing holiday celebrations at home doesn’t mean you have to skip the festivities during your trip, so we’ve rounded up the best holiday events and activities in each of Valencia Group’s destinations: Austin, College Station, Houston, Irving, San Antonio, and San Jose. There’s a little something for everyone, whether you like your holidays quirky or classic.

Keep Christmas Weird [Austin, TX]

Delightfully Different: Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

A far cry from your grandma’s church basement craft show, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar is one of Austin’s longest running art and music festivals, welcoming more than 40,000 people each year.

Only in Austin, the “Live Music Capital of the World,” could you find a holiday event that spans 11 days, features national Grammy-award winning musicians, and allows you to do all of your holiday gift shopping. In addition to enjoying three bands per day on the Armadillo stage, attendees can peruse a diverse offering of upscale art, handmade gifts, heirloom pieces, and indie crafts from 160 meticulously curated national and local award-winning artists.

Traditional Austin Holiday Event: Trail of Lights

A 54-year-old community-wide celebration of Austin’s unique spirit, the walkable one-and-a-quarter-mile Trail of Lights now includes 40 displays, two million lights, community performances, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, and a lighted tunnel, all located in Austin’s Zilker Park.

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The Holidays in the Heart of Aggie Country [College Station, TX]

Delightfully Different: Santa’s Wonderland

Texas A&M University might be College Station’s biggest attraction, but come holiday season when students are off on winter break, College Station is best known as the home of Texas’ biggest Christmas attraction, Santa’s Wonderland.

From Santa’s Town, where you’ll find food, entertainment, shopping, and activities, to the Trail of Lights, which sparkles with more than three million lights, Santa’s Wonderland is where visitors go to get a true Texas holiday experience. Festivities include hayrides behind Clydesdale and Percheron draft horses, wintery wonderland tableaus complete with real snow and a toboggan chute, Texas’ version of the Polar Express, a mechanical bull (it is Aggie Country, after all), and much more.

Traditional College Station Holiday Event: Christmas in the Park

An old-fashioned, community-fueled holiday celebration, Christmas in the Park fills Stephen C. Beachy Central Park with a million lights, hayrides, hot cocoa, and photos with Santa from November 30 through December 8.

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An Abundance of Gulf Coast Holiday Cheer [Houston, TX]

Delightfully Different: Galveston’s Eclectic Christmas Extravaganza

If you’re in search of something truly different this holiday season, then the hour trip south of Houston to Galveston is well worth the adventure. The beachy gulf island is the last place you’d expect to find two million pounds of ice, but every December Ice Land’s master carvers turn Galveston into a winter wonderland of ice forts, sculptures, and ice chute slides.

Take your frozen fun a step further by skating some laps at Houston’s outdoor ice rink, The Ice at Discovery Green, after returning from Galveston.

Traditional Houston Holiday Event: Zoo Lights

Two million lights and 15 miles of eco-friendly LEDs drape over ancient oak trees and along winding paths during the Houston Zoo’s Zoo Lights, a family-friendly holiday celebration. Sip hot chocolate as you explore the zoo in this after-hours holiday wonderland, complete with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spy on what the animals do after dark.

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A Texas Multicultural Holiday [San Antonio, TX]

Delightfully Different: La Gran Tamalada

Market Square is ground zero for one of San Antonio’s most beloved (and delicious) holiday traditions, La Gran Tamalada. Each year, The Cortez family, owners of the popular Mi Terra restaurant, teach participants the fine art of making tamales with their own family recipe, passed down through the generations.

After one bite, you will understand why these mouthwatering delicacies made of masa and meat are synonymous with Christmas in Mexico and the American Southwest.

Traditional San Antonio Holiday Event: River Walk Holiday Lights and Ford Holiday River Parade

Each year, thousands of colored lights transform the River Walk into an even brighter and more festive spectacle in the heart of the city. The annual lighting ceremony kicks off with the Ford Holiday River Parade, a visual one-hour feast of lavishly decorated parade floats, costumed float riders, and holiday music. The annual event is singular and unique in that it happens to be one of the country’s only nighttime river parades.

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A Not-So Blue, Blue Christmas  [Irving, TX]

Delightfully Different: An Elvis Kind of Christmas

For one night only, Kraig Parker, one of the best Elvis Impersonators in the country, jives and shakes his way across the stage of Grapevine’s Palace Theatre, just 15 miles from Irving. Backed by his Royal Tribute Band Kraig, the show mixes festive holiday classics like Blue Christmas and Silent Night with the king’s signature tunes.

Taditional Holiday Event: Enchant Light Maze

Just 14 miles away in Arlington, Enchant has created the biggest light maze and holiday market in the country. The object of this maze isn’t to get out but to see all the displays in the stadium sized maze and to find all of Santa’s reindeer hidden throughout. There is also an ice-skating trail, hot cocoa, and a European style Christmas market.

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Christmas on the Sunny West Coast [San Jose, CA]

Delightfully Different: Santa Cruz Polar Express

For those who grew up reading the beloved children’s classic, The Polar Express, Santa Cruz has their own version of a midnight train ride to the North Pole. Put on by the Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railroad, the Santa Cruz Polar Express has re-created in intricate detail the most important aspects of the story, like the hot cocoa served by dancing chefs, singing elves, pajama-clad children, and the iconic silver bell that only those who believe can hear ringing.

Looking to bring a little Polar Express energy of your own to San Jose? Sign up for Silicon Valley’s Santa Run, a 5K where the whole family can dress up as your favorite holiday character and speed your way to the finish line where hot chocolate is ready to be sipped beneath the palm trees.

Traditional San Jose Holiday Event: Christmas in the Park

For more than 30 years, the two-acre Plaza de Cesar Chavez in the heart of downtown San Jose has been transformed each December into a holiday fantasyland, full of sparkling lights, a 60-foot Community Giving Tree, and 60 musical and animated exhibits, as a part of Christmas in the Park.

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