The Dallas-Fort Worth area provides enough holiday magic to keep the family occupied every weekend until the new year, but sometimes the only way to get away from the stress of the holiday to-do list (shopping, cooking, baking, etc.) is to get out of town. So pack up the sleigh—er, car—and hit the road to explore Texas’ small town holiday charms that are four hours or less from home.
Drive three hours south to experience College Station’s version of the North Pole. Santa’s Wonderland is open daily through Jan. 7 with live music, Texas-size eats, and of course, the man in red himself. Take a hayride or carriage ride to see festive vignettes and three million twinkling lights; jump up and down in a snow globe bounce house; play in the snow; ride the kids’ train (for kids 48 inches and shorter); sled down a toboggan chute (for kids younger than 12 and at least 44 inches); ride a pony and more. The park opens at 6pm on weekdays and 3pm on weekends; get there early to see Santa and Mrs. Claus make their magical entrance. Adults, from $32.95; kids ages 3–12, from $27.95.
Three hours east of Dallas, the city of Marshall hosts its 31st Wonderland of Lights all month long, as millions of white lights illuminate the historic Harrison County Courthouse and transform the downtown square into a winter wonderland. Set the kids loose to explore Santa’s Village, a new destination this year, where littles can visit Santa, build toy trains or decorate cookies before heading to the outdoor rink to ice skate.
To navigate this festive town, you have options: Take a horse-drawn carriage, the Holley Trolley or the Wonderland Express train. Go Dec. 9 when you can shop for stocking stuffers and other gifts at the Outdoor Christmas Market. Or join the art, history and steeple tour on Dec. 16. The events are free; activities cost extra.
This tree-shaded Hill County enclave is magical any time of year, in our opinion, but make the four-hour trek on Dec. 9 for a seasonal dose of magic at Winter’s Eve on the Square. In the quaint downtown, enjoy carols, shopping, food, live music and a visit from Santa, of course—he arrives at 6pm. And don’t leave town without taking the 6-acre Trail of Lights walking tour (which is not stroller-friendly) Thursday–Sunday through Dec. 28 to see award-winning displays by local businesses, schools, even families. Free; donations are strongly encouraged.
Hotels in small towns tend to fill up around the holidays, but Airbnb features several family-friendly rentals. In College Station, book a quaint cottage near campus (from $89 per night) or the modern apartment with the pool (from $65 per night). In Marshall, bring the whole crew to stay in a three-bedroom lake house with access to walking trails (from $195 per night). And just outside of Wimberley, stay with the kids in a true two-story tiny house (from $85 per night) or a two-bedroom cottage with views of the hill country (from $99 per night).