As I prepare for our first visitors of the holiday season, ideas pop into my head of all the things we can do while they are in town. Where would they like to eat? What would they like to do? Which holiday events are crowd-pleasers? What activities don’t require as much walking, so grandparents can still join in?
Starting on Friday, November 21st at 6:00pm, Mozart’s annual lights display takes place every hour on the hour until midnight. The show lasts fifteen minutes, but there is plenty of time before and afterwards to enjoy a hot chocolate or something from the dessert case. Here is a video from last year, although the display changes from year to year. Mozart’s does get crowded, so plan to get there in advance, and consider dropping guests off since the parking lot fills up quickly (there is additional parking across the street). It’s also a lovely, centrally-located spot to enjoy the lakeside view and look for ducks. (Editor’s note: Mozart’s will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.)
Visit the Broken Spoke
The first time my then-boyfriend, now-husband visited Austin, I took him to the Broken Spoke. A lot has changed since then, but you will be hard pressed to find a more fitting symbol of Austin than this honky-tonk, which is celebrating 50 years in operation this year. Nestled in between new construction, the Spoke retains its old Austin charm, from its chicken fried steak to its largely-untouched dance floor to its “museum” filled with photos of the owner, James White, with the biggest names in country music. Although it’s best to go at night when a band is playing (free dance lessons are from 8-9pm most nights, y’all!), you can still get a taste of this Austin institution if you visit during the daytime hours.
Tour the Capitol
We Texans sure do love to brag about being the best, and that bravado is on full display at our state Capitol building downtown. For the first time this year, the Capitol will offer a special Holiday Tour, which will take place starting on December 8th through the 23rd. Holiday tours are free and are offered weekdays at 10:45am and 1:45pm, Saturdays at 11:00am and 1:00pm and Sundays at 1:00pm. During the Holiday Tours, the guides will discuss the different ethnic groups which settled in Texas, the traditions they brought to our state and the architecture of the building which inspired this year’s Capitol Ornament. The tours are generally 30-40 minutes in length, so it’s usually short enough for even the more fidgety kids — and there is plenty to do if you need to break off from the group (rolling down the hill on the lawn, for example). If you miss a Holiday Tour, regular tours take place from 8:30am-4:30pm Monday through Friday, 9:30am-3:30pm on Saturdays and noon until 3:30pm on Sundays.
Catch a Holiday Performance
Whether it’s a holiday-themed play, musical, concert or other performance, why not take your out of town guests along? Check out our massive list of Holiday Happenings for ideas. Maybe this is the year you attempt The Nutcracker, or perhaps something more low-key at ZACH is more your speed. If you are trying to reduce the amount of items entering your house during the holiday season, you can also request any generous out-of-town guests (hint: grandparents) purchase the tickets as a gift. Many of these events are nicer for out of towners who don’t want to stand in line, be outside for long periods of time or walk a long way. Some can even become annual traditions.
You never know what the weather will be like this time of year, but chances are that it’s nicer than folks who are coming from colder climates are used to. If the weather cooperates, you can try feeding the ducks at Lou Neff Point (where the photo above was snapped) while you stroll off your holiday indulgences, scaling the stairs at Mount Bonnell to see the Austin skyline or checking out the fall foliage at McKinney Falls State Park. If you visit Zilker Park during the day, you can see the Trail of Lights from the relative comfort of the Zilker Zephyr, the park’s own miniature train. Also, you can take a spin under the Zilker Tree without worrying about the crowds of the Trail of Lights by visiting before December 6th, or from December 22nd until New Year’s Eve. Another place you can explore is the new Family Garden at the Wildflower Center or take a short walk to the Texas Arboretum to swing on the swings in the Cathedral of Oaks.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
A trip to Austin isn’t complete without trying all the local specialties, and what better excuse do you need to break out of your regular restaurant routine? The Driskill has a long and interesting history and is exquisitely decorated for the season, with events taking place throughout the holidays. The 1886 Cafe & Bakery offers hot chocolate and a case stocked with baked goods to fortify you for seasonal excursions. A trip to the Salt Lick is a great way to check barbeque off the list and get in a little drive out to the “country”. Your guests can choose from a variety of culinary options at the Whole Foods flagship store on Lamar, eat and play on the rooftop and even skate on the small ice rink from 11am-9pm (oh, and while you are there you can get some grocery shopping done, too). A trip to Austin isn’t complete without breakfast tacos, and by all accounts Veracruz All Natural has some of the best around. For a bricks-and-mortar Mexican restaurant that’s casual and family-friendly, try Zocalo in Clarksville (if you can time it right, save room for a banana split across the street at the retro Nau‘s soda fountain, which is open 7:30am-4:15pm Monday through Friday, 8:00am-4:15pm on Saturdays and 10:30am-3:30pm on Sundays).
What else is on your must-do list for when you have friends and family in town during the holidays?
A recovering workaholic, Nicole Basham now spends her time rediscovering Austin through her 8-year-old son’s eyes. A soccer-playing mom, Nicole also enjoys tickling too close to bedtime, taking in some live music and being silly.