Holiday Fun With the Grandparents in Central Texas

Holiday grandparent fun 


As much as I don’t want to admit it, the holidays are upon us. While Thanksgiving last year was the earliest possible date, this year, it’s the latest, meaning that many of us are getting out our calendars now, adding in our favorite traditions and seeing what new events might make the cut this year. 

Holidays are all about spending time with family, so you may have the responsibility of planning activities for out of town guests, or coordinating with in-town relatives. You may even be in the unenviable position of attempting to satisfy the interests and needs of multiple generations. Add in the fact that as Austin grows, some of our holiday events are becoming ever more popular, and it’s enough to make you want to hit the eggnog… 

Not to worry — we have you covered. Here is our handpicked list of holiday happenings that will give your kids and their grandparents reason to cheer: 

Thanksgivukkah (11/24): Central Market is generally a crowd pleaser. You’ve got the playground for the kids (note that at press time, the pond is blocked off due to construction, which for some parents, might actually be a good thing), access to the store for anything out-of-town guests might need and of course, performances by children’s choirs and Yemima and the Flying Balalakia Brothers and activities to commemorate the start of Chanukah. Don’t forget that in addition to the food available at the Cafe, you can purchase items from inside the store to knosh on. 



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Free Fun In Austin continues to highlight Austin area locations and activities that may not be available at this time. We encourage you to take all safety measures to keep yourself and your neighbors safe. It is our hope that the stories and features on this site will help inform your plans in the future.
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Four Seasons (11/26-1/1): Going downtown usually elicits a collective groan among parents, since traffic and parking can easily stifle your holiday cheer, but at the Four Seasons, you can drop off your guests at the door and park underground, so that’s one less thing to worry about. Each year, the pastry chefs construct a miniature gingerbread wonderland. Dr. Seuss fans, note that this year, you can visit the WhoVillage, complete with ten houses, Mt. Crumpet and Cindy Lou Who’s House. The display will be open 24 hours a day, starting on November 26th and wrapping up on January 1st. Open Houses with free apple cider, Santa and the house makers will take place on December 4th and 5th from 5-6pm and you can make reservations for your child to have tea with the family (and a favorite teddy bear) on November 30th, December 1st, 7th, 8th, 14th, 15th, 21st and 22nd by calling TRIO at (512) 685-8300. 

Blue Genie Art Bazaar (11/29-12/24): With weight limits on luggage these days, it’s hard to blame out-of-town guests for wanting to do some shopping here in Austin, and the Blue Genie Art Bazaar is a great place to get some Austintatious gifts, all under one roof. From November 29th all the way up until Christmas Eve, Blue Genie is open, from 10am until 10pm, with free admission and parking (and, located right next to Highland Mall, decidedly off the beaten path). Shopaholics can choose from over 140 locally-based artisans in a relatively compact layout. Unlike some of the other craft fairs which take place around this time of year, the booths are unmanned, so you can shop from multiple vendors and pay at the front (if you are like me and get uncomfortable inspecting wares with the artisan on hand). On Make-A-Wish Mondays, 10% of profits go to fulfill the wish of a local child. There are definitely breakables at the Bazaar, so if you’ll have to keep a close eye on your littlest ones. 

Zilker Zephyr (anytime): Yes, the Trail of Lights is great, but…let’s face it. It’s also the hottest ticket in town around this time of year. You can get a great view of the Trail from the (relative) comfort of Austin’s favorite miniature train, which departs at around 10:15am and every 30-40 minutes afterwards, until 5pm during the week and 6pm on the weekends. Tickets are $3 for adults and $2 for children 1-11 years old, and tickets cannot be purchased in advance. Oh, and make sure to have cash, since that’s all you can pay with. If the temperature is below 50 degrees, the Zephyr might start a little later and may close entirely in case of high winds or cold weather. It’s best to buy your tickets when you arrive (you can park right by Barton Springs), and then you can always hang out on the playground until your departure time. If you are wondering whether the train is open a particular day, you can always call at (512) 478-8286. Train rides are about 20 minutes. Oh, and if you noticed that the playground was closed recently for maintenance, as of 11/19 it is back open. 

A satisfied customer on the Zilker Zephyr.

The Nutcracker (12/7-12/23): For many Austin families, the holiday is not complete without catching a performance of the Nutcracker, put on by Ballet Austin. This year (if you are counting, the 51st annual production!), the Nutcracker will feature new sets and costumes. If you have family members attending who may have limited mobility, my friend Sara tipped me off to the fact that the parterre section is close to the entrance and offers good views. The Long Center also has mobility impaired parking and seating. I also learned that when you arrive, you can order drinks and snacks for the first intermission, so that they will be waiting on a table in the lobby — no waiting! During intermission, your kids may need to get out the wiggles, so you can head outside to the Terrace. The ballet is about 2 hours long and the show is recommended for ages 3 and up (although the Rat King may be a little scary for the youngest in the audience). Tickets start at $12.

The Driskill (anytime): Nothing says old Austin quite like the Driskill Hotel, which was built in 1886 and which is a good excuse to get your littles all gussied up and a great place to snap some holiday photos. The Driskill has holiday teas on weekends by reservation, (512) 391-1234. You could also visit the 1886 Cafe & Bakery for a fancy sweet treat and hot chocolate any evening in December (the Cafe will be open from 6:30 until midnight). The hotel is decked out for the holidays, so just exploring the lobby on the way to get your car could be an adventure. 

Zilker Tree (12/1-12/31): Yes, we’ve already mentioned the ever-popular Trail of Lights, but if you are looking for something low-key (or with less walking), check out the Zilker Tree during the week or on a non-Trail of Lights Friday night (meaning, NOT on December 7th-22nd). The lighting of the Tree will take place on December 1st and the tree will remain lit until New Year’s Eve each night until midnight. This is one of my favorite holiday traditions — partly because, as an Austin native, I’ve been going almost every year, and partly because it is such a simple and fun activity. I’ll admit it…a big draw for our family is the kettle corn. Don’t eat too much of it before you do your obligatory spin underneath the tree. Oh, and bring cash for vendors — and be prepared for your kids to ask for glow in the dark merchandise (if you are really thinking ahead, purchase them ahead of time and present them when you arrive to save yourself the $ on whatever light-up sword/bracelet/necklace is for sale there). Parking is free and is located adjacent to the tree on the field and in the surrounding lots. 

What’s your favorite thing to do when the grandparents come into town during the holidays?



A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.

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