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 Dec. 30 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.
Is your family dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, you can’t miss the all-new attractions this year, featuring real snow (that’s right!). Make snowmen, snow angels or have a snowball fight on the playground, or grab a tube and slide down Frostbite Mountain (riders must be at least 3 years, and above 38 inches).
Price: Adults from $28.95; kids 12 and under from $23.95; free for kids under 2
18898 Hwy 6, College Station; 979/690-7212
Three hours east of Dallas, the city of Marshall hosts its 32nd annual Wonderland of Lights all month long (through Dec. 30), 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 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. 15 when you can join Wonderland of Sites, a tour of the historic homes, museums and churches. Or attend StoryFest, a new event this year, on Dec. 22.
Hours: 6-9pm Tuesday-Sunday; 4-10pm Saturday; closed 12/24, 12/25 and 12/31
Price: Photo opportunities and events are free; activities cost extra.
Old Harrison County Courthouse, Peter Whetstone Square, 200 W. Houston St., Marshall; 903/702-7777
This tree-shaded Hill County enclave is magical any time of year, in our opinion, but your family can’t miss the chance to walk through the literal winter wonderland at the 6-acre Trail of Lights walking tour (which is not stroller-friendly), located at the EmilyAnn Theatre & Gardens. Now through Dec. 28, you can see award-winning displays by local businesses, schools, even families. On any night, enjoy a live music, shopping, food, train rides and a visit from Santa—but we’re marking our calendars for Dec. 15, Chocolate Festival Night. (Yum.)
Hours: 6-9pm Sunday-Thursday; 6-10pm Friday-Saturday
Price: Free admission; donations are welcome
EmilyAnn Theatre & Gardens, 1101 FM 2325, Wimberley; 512/847-6969
This article was first published on Nov. 30, 2017; it was updated on Dec. 7, 2018.