In San Antonio, no place does the holiday season better than downtown and the world-famous River Walk.

“What makes the holidays in San Antonio so special? Simple, it’s tradition,” said Maggie Thompson, executive director of the San Antonio River Walk Association. “Generations of families have been coming to our events for decades.”

The unofficial kickoff is the legendary Holiday Lights on the River Walk. Running through Jan. 7, the river is illuminated from dusk until dawn with thousands of holiday bulbs strung in the trees. Easily one of the most popular events in the city, it is also free.

“We turn on the river lights the day after Thanksgiving,” Thompson said. “We have over 100,000 lights that are breathtaking to see.”

The Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias also happens each day starting at dusk. Visitors can witness over 2,000 luminarias (traditional Mexican paper lanterns) as they stroll along the River Walk. The Ford Holiday Boat Caroling will feature groups from across the city floating on the newly unveiled river barges, singing beloved holiday songs.

If you are looking for dazzling sights off of the River Walk, visit the University of the Incarnate Word to see all the beautiful lights decorating the campus. Kicked off by the Light the Way celebration in mid-November, the lights should stay up through early January.

Just down the road from UIW is the annual Zoo Lights in Brackenridge Park. Thousands of twinkling lights, wild colors, exotic decorations and intricate animal patterns illuminate the walkways of the San Antonio Zoo. New will be ice skating and camel rides.

The McNay Art Museum gets in on the holiday festivities with a Yuletide exhibit titled “Behind the Scenes: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The exhibit runs through Dec. 31 and features models used in the film. The museum is at 6000 N. New Braunfels Ave.

As the city heads toward New Year’s Eve, there are still plenty of festivities. The San Antonio Botanical Garden, 555 Funston Place, presents Holidays in Bloom through Dec. 31. Visitors are invited to take individual or family photographs against the decked-out holiday backgrounds.

Lastly, the San Antonio 300 Commission, which is planning the city’s 300th birthday, kicks off months of celebrations leading with Tricentennial Celebrate 300, on Dec. 31. Downtown’s cityscape will be transformed through majestic projections on buildings, festive lighting and decorations. There also will be events for families and children, concluding with a special fireworks show as the clock strikes midnight.

Visit for more details.

“San Antonio during the holidays is one of the best places to visit for families,” Thompson said. “Not only is the temperature usually very inviting, but we continue to find new ways to enhance the city’s ambiance each year.”

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