It’s that time of year again, when the Christmas lights in San Antonio go up, and we search for the most illuminated areas. We rarely get snow here in San Antonio, but the festive decorations will be glowing none-the-less. Visit some of the popular areas around the Alamo City to see them in a different light. It only happens once per year and now is the time to make your plans.
Seeing the Christmas lights in San Antonio can be a wonderful experience. It’s also a dog friendly experience because most of the lighting is found outdoors. We have traveled through the city and into the Hill Country to find the brightest lights, and most unique displays. This guide will show you several areas inside San Antonio. It will also lead you as far as 80 miles north of the city to some smaller locations you may want to visit.
More than likely you will not find any snow on the ground in San Antonio. However, the weather may warrant a jacket or sweatshirt. Grab your beverage of choice (hot chocolate, coffee, tea, etc.), round up your family including any dogs, and head out for some easy exercise at the places I’m about to discuss.
The San Antonio Riverwalk
Let’s begin with the most popular area inside River City, and work our way out from there. Every year people travel here to visit the San Antonio Riverwalk, our nations largest urban ecosystem. Christmastime makes the riverwalk even more unique than usual. Thousands of lights are suspended from the trees throughout the downtown stretch. There are many lights, but it will not be as bright as you might expect because they are spaced apart. One year we looked down upon the lights from the Tower of the Americas, and it was difficult to spot the riverwalk.
If you plan on visiting the riverwalk to see the Christmas lights in San Antonio, they will light up the day following Thanksgiving until January 14th. The riverwalk is open 24 hours a day, and the lights will be on from dusk until dawn. It is free to use the riverwalk and see the lights everyday, except for the day of the Holiday Parade.
The 2019 Holiday River Parade
This year the Holiday Parade takes place on the evening of November 29th. Once 4pm arrives you will not be able to access the San Antonio Riverwalk without purchasing a ticket for the parade. This years theme is Christmas music performed by Texas musicians. At 6pm there will be a live performance at the outdoor theatre. Afterwards, the parade will come down the river and it will be broadcast live on television. Enjoy Texas Christmas music, festive floats, and wave to Santa.
The riverwalk in San Antonio is dog friendly, but the downtown stretch may not be appropriate for all dogs. Even the most well behaved pup may be difficult to maneuver on the riverwalk. The area is crowded and people move slowly. We’ve taken our girl to the riverwalk several times. It has been the most difficult area to walk her because she wants to pass everyone, and find all the ducks. She has witnessed one daytime River Parade without any issues, but she is very well behaved.
Hemisfair Park is probably the most visited park in San Antonio. The park is full of tourists on a daily basis, and is fairly well lit at night. As the holidays approach you can see Christmas lights in San Antonio from ground level, and from 579 feet above ground. One year we viewed the lights throughout the city from the Tower of the Americas. My photo simply does not do the view justice.
It was fun seeing the Christmas lights from the top of the tower, and trying to determine where they were located around the city. The streams of traffic on various highways also added to the effect. If you have not been to the top of the Tower of the Americas, this is a very good time of year to do so. Adult admission is $14, and the tower is open from 10am – 10pm five days a week. The other two days it is open from 10am – 11pm, and those days are Friday and Saturday.
San Fernando Cathedral
Just west of the San Antonio River you will find the San Fernando Cathedral. This sanctuary is the oldest one operating in the country. Christmas lights in San Antonio can be seen around the cathedral. You will also notice carriages being pulled by horses which are lit up, and decorated for the season. However, the cathedral light show is the real draw which takes place late in the evening.
The light show at San Fernando Cathedral takes place year round and is not part of the festivities, but it’s worth mentioning here. Lights are projected onto the front of the building up to 12 times a week. The display will take you on an artistic journey through the history of San Antonio. It is scheduled to take place at 9pm, 9:30pm, and 10pm on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the year.
The light show is free to watch. Unfortunately, the show may be cancelled due to weather, technical issues, or for other reasons. We have arrived a few times to see the show and it did not take place. Apparently it is a very hit-or-miss event. For us it has simply been a miss, but we hope to finally witness the 24 minute display of light soon. When we do so I will be able to post a better photo for you to see.
Travis Park is located a couple blocks east of the San Antonio River in the downtown area. It’s a short walk from the northern stretch of the riverwalk. Each year the park hosts the lighting of a very large Christmas tree. The next event will take place on November 29th, 2019 at 6pm. Home Alone, the movie, will play in the park following the lighting ceremony.
The Christmas tree lighting is free for all. There will also be live music, and an appearance by Santa, of course. Travis Park also has a dog park, although it is incredibly small. If you happen to miss the event, you can always visit the park throughout December to see the tree. Other movies will also be played on various days throughout the month. Check the parks website for future movie dates.
The Pearl in San Antonio is known by several names, and is just north of the downtown area. The revitalized area has become very popular and is another good place to see the Christmas lights in San Antonio. The Pearl will display its own style of lighting during the holidays, and the San Antonio Riverwalk on its west side will mimic the downtown stretch. It will also be hosting a unique event known as Posada at the Pearl.
During the Posada you can be an active participant as Mary and Joseph ride through the Pearl on a donkey seeking a place to stay. Sing songs with the mariachi and celebrate the coming of Christmas. This year the Posada at the Pearl will be taking place on December 18th, at 6:30pm. Children may be dressed up as shepherds, or angels. Other events throughout the season include the Night Market, Chanukah, and Christmas caroling. Visit the Pearl event page for dates of those events, or checkout our very first article to see why we love the Pearl.
Mission San Jose
The Queen of the Missions in San Antonio will host a Christmas tree lighting on December 7th, 2019. The event will also include cookies, drinks, balloons, and live music. Santa will be escorted by the San Antonio fire department. This family friendly event will take place at 43571 Mission Blvd.
All four missions south of downtown hold mass every week. During the holiday season some of the missions have a special mariachi mass. Attendance increases substantially during December as visitors and residents celebrate Christmas. I’m unsure how well lit the missions are at night because we visited them during daytime. If you would like more details and photos about our visits, read our article about the Missions in San Antonio.
The Christmas lights in San Antonio are above ground, but you can travel into the Texas Hill Country this season for a different experience. Natural Bridge Caverns is located north of San Antonio, and is the largest of its kind in Texas. The family friendly attraction has the following things to do this holiday season:
- Christmas hayride
- Ice skating
- Giant snow globe
- Underground nativity
- Twisted trails
- Reindeer maze
General admission to Natural Bridge Caverns is between $24 – $28, and some of the activities are $10 extra. Cave tours can be done year round, and Christmas concerts may be held inside the caverns on certain nights.
In Boerne, Cave Without A Name also gives tours and hosts concerts throughout the year. Although the caves are smaller, a concert underground will be like no other you have heard. We recently attended a Halloween concert at Cave Without A Name, and the acoustics were phenomenal. There is definitely no need for additional reverb in a cave. The concerts typically cost $30 per person and last about two hours. There are three holiday performances which will be taking place on Saturdays before the end of the year.
Enchanted Springs Ranch
Boerne has a place that replicates an old town in the Wild West. They call this place Enchanted Springs Ranch, and it was once a Hollywood movie set. It is currently used primarily for private events. However, they assemble a huge display of lights during the holiday season and allow the public to visit. In all honesty, Christmas lights in San Antonio are quite dim compared to what you will find at Enchanted Springs Ranch. Sadly, I do not have a photo of the front of the property which is the brightest area. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for kids if purchased online ahead of time.
In addition to the Christmas lights, the ranch also has several family friendly games and things to do during your visit.
- Reindeer roping
- Scavenger hunt
- Lazer tag
- Cookie decorating
- Light maze
- Escape room
- S’mores around the campfire
- Free photos with Santa
The ranch calls this event the Old West Christmas Light Fest. In 2019, it begins Thanksgiving evening and ends Christmas night. The first few weeks the fest takes place Thursday through Sunday, from 6pm – 10pm. The week of Christmas the fest takes place everyday from 6pm – 10pm. Arrive as early as possible because the ranch fills up very quickly.
When you arrive you will wait at the entrance in your vehicle. You can pay with cash or credit card. You cannot miss the ranch because the lights could be seen from an airplane. The staff will wave vehicles ahead by rows. You will drive through the extremely festive property for nearly half a mile until you reach a parking area. Once you park you may wander the property, or enter the town. This is a fantastic place for families and visitors.
This past year we visited Fredericksburg to witness the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Fredericksburg is about 80 miles north of downtown San Antonio, and the furthest destination in this article. It’s a small town filled with tourists and residents of Austin, and San Antonio on any given weekend. Many of their events take place at MarktPlatz on Main Street. This is where the ball was lowered from a crane on New Year’s Eve.
The town celebrated New Year’s twice so that people had the opportunity to see it early. We had our girl, Abbey, with us so we opted for the ball drop at 6pm, and left before any fireworks could go off during the “real” drop. The shops on Main Street were decorated, and the park contained a large Christmas tree as well as other decorations. There is always a lot going on in Fredericksburg, Texas. Here are some of the other holiday events:
- German Christmas pyramid and tree lighting
- Holiday Trade Days
- Christmas Wine Affair
- Ice skating
- Trolly Christmas lights tour
- Turkey Trot
- Christmas parade
- Sip with Santa
- Santa’s Fly-in
You can find dates for these and other events on the Texas Hill Country calendar. Furthermore, you can find other great things to do in our article Amazing Things to do in Fredericksburg TX. Fredericksburg is a very dog friendly town, as are most of the activities.
Johnson City is also north of San Antonio, and nearly as far as Fredericksburg. This town may be small, but they wrap their trees and buildings in more lights than I have ever seen. We drove through one year and it appeared as if everyone in the community must have contributed. They have been illuminating the former home of President Lyndon B. Johnson for at least 30 years. They really know how to light up a town.
This year you can witness the lighting of the courthouse on November 29th, 2019 at 6:30pm. The ceremony also includes fireworks, just in case you were planning on bringing your dog. The following day you can see the Lighted Hooves and Wheels parade at the same time. Checkout Johnson City’s calendar of events for other things to do in town. You will be blown away by the Christmas lights in this town, and the effort it must take to accomplish it all.
Other Places to See the Lights
This guide is by no means all inclusive as far as Christmas lights in San Antonio go. I’m sure there are many other good places to see the lights. However, these are the best places we know about and have personally experienced. I will be updating this guide to include more places in the San Antonio area. In fact, one of the places we plan on visiting this season is New Braunfels.
In the meantime, feel free to share the places you like to visit this time of year.
The Christmas lights in San Antonio are great to see during December, but hiking in San Antonio is great all year. If you enjoy finding dog friendly places to hike in the Alamo City, you can find everything you need to know in our Ultimate Guide to Hiking in San Antonio.
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I wish you good fortune on the trails to come.