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December Travel Guide: Holiday Happenings in San Antonio

Under the sun or under the stars, the city shines this season

San Antonio comes to life this December with outdoor exhibits and activities celebrating the season. Spend an electric day at the San Antonio Zoo’s North Pole then opt for an evening on the banks of the River Walk surrounded by glowing paper lanterns.

GO HERE: San Antonio Zoo

TO SEE THIS: Now through Dec. 31, the Zoo Lights exhibit at the San Antonio Zoo has turned the wildlife park into a holiday wonderland. Pop your tot on the back of a camel for a ride—because, why not?—and then send them, with their Christmas list in hand, to Santa at the zoo’s version of the North Pole. If you happen to spend the whole day there, stop by the Lakeside Lightshow extravaganza at night to see the holiday lights twinkling to hip-hop tunes. Zoo Lights events run throughout the day from noon to 9pm. Zoo admission is $16.90 for adults, $13.35 for kids ages 3–11 and free for children younger than age 2.

GO HERE: San Antonio Botanical Garden

TO SEE THIS: Filled with beautiful flowers and lush greenery, the massive garden is decked out in holiday décor for the Holidays in Bloom exhibit. Grab an Insta-worthy family photo next to garlands, red ribbons and festive ornaments. Following the #obligatory social media post, head over to the garden’s other feature exhibit, Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks, which showcases 13 larger-than-life LEGO sculptures. Download a Nature Connects Bingo map at sabot.org so your kids can put their sculpture-spotting skills to the test. Admission to the garden is $9 for kids ages 2–12, free for age 3 and younger, and $12 for adults. Both exhibits are on display now through Dec. 31.

GO HERE: Sea World

TO DO THIS: There are a number of kid-friendly holiday activities at the city’s most popular aquarium and amusement park, Sea World. Introduce your kids to holiday celebrities such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, eat a family dinner with Santa Claus himself or tap your feet to the sounds of a mariachi band. Before you leave, visit the 27-foot-tall Christmas tree in front of the Nautilus Amphitheatre. The festive pine makes the perfect backdrop for your family photo-laden holiday card. Admission for ages 3 and older starts at $39. Advance tickets are available online at a discounted rate.

GO HERE: Elf Acres

TO DO THIS: With 15 acres of lights and holiday icons on display—we’re talking reindeer, gingerbread men and toy soldiers—Elf Acres is aglow at night now through Dec. 30. Enjoy the view from the comfort of your car as you and the kids sip hot cocoa and listen to Elf Acres’ own holiday hit radio station. But if the kids do get restless in the car (which they will), park at the end of the trail to walk around, meet up with Santa and fill your kids’ hungry bellies with funnel cake and kettle corn. Park admission is $27 per vehicle, but Santa photos and those sugary-concessions cost extra.

GO HERE: River Walk

TO DO THIS: Paper lanterns will adorn the banks of the River Walk at the Ford Fiesta de Las Luminarias event during the first three weekends in December. These luminarias, also known as forolitos, are part of a centuries-old Mexican Christmas tradition. Typically placed outside of houses on Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve, they are said to light the way to Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph. Luminarias are available for purchase ($11.99) at the River Walk store or online here.

AND SEE THIS: Take part in a traditional Jewish holiday celebration—the lighting of the Menorah—along the River Walk. For more than 20 years the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Learning has hosted Chanukah on the River, which will begin at 4:15pm on Dec. 9. This is a great opportunity to teach your kids how other faiths and cultures experience the holidays. This year, Brooklyn-based Jewish artist Yoni Z will perform. Admission to the event, including the concert, is free.