Winter in Austin is more of a brief glimmer than a full-sized season, which means Texans tend to maximize on the holiday festivities.
So, if you’re seeking an escape from the blustery winds and slush-to-snow gradients of the northern territories, book a trip to the capital of Texas, where winter is far more gentle — but no less merry.
Where To Stay
Check into Fairmont Austin, the city’s newest (and biggest) luxury hotel, located in the heart of downtown. Book a Gold Level room for perks like private check-in, entry into a snack-stocked Gold Lounge and a dedicated concierge team that will go above and beyond to fulfill special requests.
Book the stunning skyscraper’s Trees of Hope Package this holiday season to enjoy 20 percent off your stay, a $25 hotel credit and a pocket full of good vibes — a $10 donation will be made each day of your stay to Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas.
How To Get Into The Holiday Spirit
There’s no shortage of shopping opportunities in Austin leading up to the holidays. Be sure to visit Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, an annual art market at the Palmer Events Center showcasing handmade gifts and local music. This year, the event will celebrate 12 Days of Giving by donating to 12 different nonprofits from December 13 to 24.
Running through Christmas Eve, Blue Genie Art Bazaar is another Austin tradition specializing in locally crafted gifts.
As the sun sets, head to Austin Trail of Lights, the city’s iconic holiday display. Between December 10 and 23, Zilker Park shines with 2 million twinkling lights, 90 bedazzled trees and more than 65 animated displays. Nightly entertainment, 30 food trucks and a slew of special events keep kids (and kids at heart) engaged all season long.
Don’t think you’ll experience a true winter wonderland in Texas? Think again. The Miracle on 5th Street holiday pop-up takes over The Eleanor downtown until December 29. The Christmas-tinged spot features a “ski slope” bar serving Shot-Skis alongside both hot and cold yuletide cocktails.
For something equally festive but more climate-appropriate, trade in your candy canes for swizzle sticks at Nickel City, where a tiki-themed Sippin’ Santa surf shack welcomes party elves through December 31.
Where to Eat
While at Fairmont, book dinner at Garrison, where the property’s culinary team executes haute cuisine with none of the pretension and all of the playfulness — dinner begins with a treasure chest of surprises and ends with an origami-folded dessert menu. Familiar dishes like tater tots are elevated with aerated Gruyère and black truffles, while locally sourced proteins are kissed by global influence, as seen in the Windy Bar Ranch beef shank served with savory almond mole and featherweight arepas (griddled corn cakes).
If you come to Austin without eating barbecue, were you even really here? Take a break from the holiday merriment with a Texas-sized sandwich at La Barbecue, which boasts meaty creations like El Sancho Loco (sausage, pulled pork, chopped beef and pickled red onions on a potato bun) and the Bobby Dawg (jalapeño sausage topped with chopped beef or pulled pork, beans, cheese, onions and more jalapeños).
To get a taste of Texas with a dash of refinement, stop in for dinner at Ciclo, the recently launched restaurant and bar of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Four Seasons Hotel Austin. The concept, a collaboration between the hotel’s longtime chef de cuisine James Flowers and restaurateur Richard Sandoval, features Latin-inspired local cuisine, resulting in dishes like pork belly al pastor, wild boar pappardelle and lomo saltado (a Peruvian stir-fry of seared beef tenderloin, onions, tomatoes and french fries).
But if you just can’t shake the holiday spirit, book a seat inside The Westin Austin Downtown’s gingerbread house dining room. The frosted wonderland, an extension of the hotel’s Southern restaurant Stella San Jac, offers seating for 10 to 12 people, an interactive photo booth and a variety of menu options for breakfast, brunch and even a four-course dinner. And to sweeten the deal even more, a portion of all proceeds goes toward Back on My Feet, a local nonprofit combating homelessness.
Where To Imbibe
The Fairmont is just a stone’s throw from bustling Sixth Street. And though this section of downtown is not unlike New Orleans’ Bourbon Street on most nights, some of the city’s best bars are also discreetly tucked away here, if you know where to look.
Midnight Cowboy, a speakeasy located in a former brothel, is one such oasis of calm. Book online (parties of four and more can even secure a private room) and follow the red light to sample next-level creations. The most recent menu draws inspiration from the art of conversation, with aptly named offerings like The Awkward Pause and Small Talk.
Just around the corner is another hidden cocktail bar called Here Nor There, which is under a historic building that we can’t name. Get the address after you make a reservation online. Once inside, nestle into an intimate nook and prepare to be wowed by the bar’s exquisite vintage glassware and top-notch ice program.
Pro tip: you don’t need to be a local to visit this members-only lounge. Perks of joining include priority entrance and access to a vintage liquor cabinet.
What Else To Do
Winter is entirely unpredictable in Austin, so be sure to check the weather forecast before your visit, and even then, expect surprises. It could end up being warm enough to sun yourself at Barton Springs or paddle Ladybird Lake in a kayak.
But if you happen to land in town during a cold stretch, stay active by paying a visit to one of the city’s local gyms.
Love Cycling Studio represents the city’s passion for music with a state-of-the-art video wall. Choose from a number of themed classes (from Ladies of Hip Hop to EDM) and burn calories effortlessly while your favorite music videos play behind the instructor.
For an entirely different type of Spin, get your upper body workout in at this ping-pong bar, an NYC transplant that just opened an Austin branch.