More than 100,000 twinkling LED lights have brought instant holiday sparkle to San Antonio’s River Walk.

For the second year in a row, the lights brightened the River Walk early; they glittered to life earlier than usual last year in an effort to spark some joy during the dark days of the pandemic.

This year, the lights came on two weeks ahead of their usual debut on Nov. 26 during the Ford Holiday River Parade — but the official, televised lighting ceremony still took place that evening ahead of the parade at the Arneson River Theatre.

On Nov. 26, H-E-B’s gift to San Antonio, a 50-foot-tall Christmas tree erected in Travis Park downtown, was lit by more than 10,000 red, white and blue lights plus handmade ornaments. The ice skating rink at the park opened on Nov. 19.

North of downtown, the river is also lit through the Pearl District thanks to the San Antonio River Authority. A 30-foot musical tree light show at the Museum Reach lock and dam also returned this year.

The River Walk’s lights are just one of many opportunities for those seeking a sparkly holiday scene. Some are free and self-guided while others are ticketed events.

The University of the Incarnate Word

On Nov. 20, the University of the Incarnate Word kicked off its 35th annual Light the Way Holiday Festival with its million twinkling lights and in-person traditions intact. The celebration included live music, food trucks, Shoppers’ Lane, kids activities, meet and greets with Santa and a fireworks display at the end of the event. The lights all around the campus remain on through the holidays.

Windcrest Light Up, Dec. 4 – Dec. 31

Residents of Windcrest have gone all in decorating their homes with elaborate light displays for decades now. This year’s theme is A Kaleidoscope of Colors, a 2021 Christmas Odyssey. The tour is free and the city offers a map, available at Windcrest City Hall and other places around town, featuring the winners of the Light Up contest — and back by popular demand, a People’s Choice Award that began last year. Look for the QR code on the map to enter your favorite home display.

San Antonio Botanical Garden Lightscape, Nov. 19 – Jan. 2

This new, ticketed event first premiered to sold-out crowds in the U.K. and then Chicago, according to the Botanical Garden’s Lightscape website. This version will include installations unique to Texas created by local and international artists. The experience takes place throughout the Garden’s 38 acres, and includes light displays along an illuminated one-mile path winding through the gardens, a field of Texas bluebonnets, and the “Winter Cathedral,” a towering arch tunnel ablaze with 100,000 lights. Adult tickets are $23-$25 and $16-$18 for children 3-12 ($2 off for members).

Whataburger Zoo Lights, Nov. 19 – Jan 2

While the animals sleep, the San Antonio Zoo comes alive with holiday lights. This year’s display is advertised as bigger and brighter than ever, with two new 32-foot LED trees and a new Holiday Sing-Along Express train ride. Each area of the zoo is glittering and gleaming, and the “high-energy Lakeside Light Show” includes a customer soundtrack of Christmas and Latin songs. Roast s’mores, visit with Mrs. Claus and decorate some cookies. Zoo Lights is included with standard admission — $21.73 for adults and $17.60 for children — and is free for members and children younger than 3.

Lights Alive!, Nov. 19 – Jan. 2

Lights Alive!, located in Alamo Ranch, is a 100% computer-controlled, musically synchronized, nearly-mile long drive-through light show. The website bills it as the first of its kind in Texas, “intensive and immersive,” and set to “high energy,” non-traditional remixes and popular Christmas classics. The conclusion of the experience opens into a “Park & Play Wonderland” where you can get out of your car and take photos with Santa, make crafts and program your own light show. There is also, according to the website, a Gingerbread Escape Room and “inflatable axe-throwing.” Festivities kick off at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $35-$45 per single vehicle.

Don Strange Ranch presents Christmas on the Ranch, Nov. 26 – Dec. 24

This annual, ticketed drive-through light display in Boerne looks from its website like it ought to come with a seizure warning! Billing itself as the best drive-through light show in Texas, with more than a mile of light displays plus an expanded Santa’s Village, the 8th annual event also offers food and drink including hot cocoa and s’mores. Open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 6 – 10 p.m., tickets start at $30 per car or truck. Hayrides through the lights are $15 per person.

Santa’s Ranch, Nov. 5 – Jan. 2

Santa’s Ranch in New Braunfels bills itself as one of Texas’ favorite Christmas displays, with more than a mile of winding country roads sparkling with “1.5 million dazzling holiday lights” and animated displays. Hot cocoa, kettle corn and other snacks are available. Tickets start at $35 per vehicle.

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San Antonio Report Staff

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.