Hit the Road
Traverse Texas this fall and winter for festivals, food, art, and more
One of the perks of living in Texas is having a handful of other big, fun cultural cities within driving distance. Perhaps you've already blown through your PTO or still have some vacation time you're looking to fill — why not hop in the car and drive to one of Texas' big five?
We're talking Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, and boy do these cities have a full calendar coming up to close out 2023.
Whether you're looking to experience the holiday spirit in another area code or are tempted by one of the local festivals, fall and winter are the ideal times to visit your Lone Star neighbors.
Here's a month-by-month look at what's happening around the state:
AUSTIN: Pecan Street Festival
The Pecan Street Festival, a twice-yearly arts festival, is returning to downtown Austin on September 16-17. Over 300 local artisans and vendors will be selling their handmade art, crafts, clothing, and more in booths lined along 6th Street between Brazos Street and I-35 for the weekend. Live performances by local musicians are also scheduled throughout the weekend. And the best part? The festival is free.
DALLAS: Autumn at the Arboretum
This yearly festival features 100,000 pumpkins, gourds, and squash hailing from the pumpkin capital of Texas, Floydada, and 150,000 beautiful fall-blooming plants throughout the garden. For its 18th year, running September 16-November 5, the theme is "It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" with the return of the Peanuts Gang, themed pumpkin houses that make up the Pumpkin Village, a hay bale maze, and plenty of special events.
FORT WORTH: Oktoberfest
This three-day, Munich-style celebration of German culture includes a ceremonial tapping of the kegs, carnival rides, dachshund races, a brat-eating contest, bier barrel-rolling, stein-hoist competition, the Oktoberfest Run Und Ride, and plenty of polka bands. It's held in Trinity Park September 21-23.
HOUSTON: Houston International Jazz Festival
Head to the Miller Outdoor Theatre on September 16 for this celebration of jazz in Houston, this year featuring the Duke Ellington Orchestra directed by Charlie Young. Special guests Paul Mercer Ellington (Duke's grandson) and Tierney Malone will be there, along with the featured work of acclaimed artist Jack Whitten.
SAN ANTONIO: McNay Art Museum presents "Dreamland: Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas"
In the exhibition, a 30th-anniversary celebration of filmmaker Tim Burton’s 1993 stop-motion animated film, visitors can reacquaint themselves with Burton’s awkwardly charming cast that includes Sally, Oogie Boogie, Bone Crusher, and the beloved hero, Jack Skellington. Also meet unusual characters created by artists from the McNay’s collection, including José Clemente Orozco Farías, Julie Heffernan, Eugene Berman, Marilyn Lanfear, Willem de Kooning, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Julie Speed, and others. The exhibition runs through January 14.
AUSTIN: Austin Film Festival
During the eight-day festival, held October 26-November 2, audiences can view screenings of film and television premieres galore, plus competition films, documentaries, shorts, and more, with all-star line-ups and Q&As by your favorite writers, actors, and filmmakers.
DALLAS: State Fair of Texas
The State Fair of Texas begins its run in Dallas September 29, with 24 days of live music, carnival games, fried food creation competitions, and more. Luckily for CultureMap readers, here's a thorough guide to getting every possible discount at the fair this year.
FORT WORTH: Art Worth
This festival on the lawn at Will Rogers Memorial Center, now in its second year, celebrates visual arts and classical music October 20-22. Expect artists' exhibitions plus demonstrations of decorative arts disciplines,such as glassblowing, metal pours, potters wheel, and wood-turning.
HOUSTON: Bayou City Art Festival
A juried art festival that's responsible for raising more than $3.7 million in support of local nonprofit organizations. The outdoor festival attracts more than 20,000 attendees, offering the opportunity to meet with exhibiting artists, buy one-of-a-kind art, and enjoy food, music, and entertainment.
SAN ANTONIO: Tasting Texas Wine + Food Festival
Culinaria and Visit San Antonio head up this four-day epicurean experience that allows food and wine lovers alike to explore the unique flavors of Texas for themselves. Guests can look forward to enjoying live music, educational panels, and sampling a variety of cocktails, wines, and craft beers from October 26-29. The best part is that it’s a party with a purpose — the James Beard Foundation is the beneficiary, with $250,000 committed to support culinary students in Texas.
AUSTIN: Austin Food & Wine Festival
The 12th Annual Austin Food and Wine Festival will feature chefs, restaurants, and wine and spirits experts over two days, November 4-5. Festival highlights include the new Made In Texas Saturday night event; the return of the Hands-On Grilling event with chef Tim Love; the Fire Pit, featuring bites hot off the flames; cooking demonstrations and conversations; samples of signature dishes from local chefs and restaurants; wine, beer and cocktail tastings; live music; and more.
DALLAS: Chi Omega Christmas Market
A 46-year tradition, this massive market will feature more than 200 merchants and is expected to welcome more than 10,000 shoppers in search of the holiday spirit on November 15-18. Browse holiday decor, women’s clothing and accessories, home accents, children’s clothing and toys, food items, and more. All proceeds from ticket sales, merchant booth fees, and donations are donated to vetted local charities.
FORT WORTH: Lone Star Film Festival
Since its founding 16 years ago by local film advocates and legendary actor and Fort Worth native Bill Paxton, the Lone Star Film Society has provided film education programs for hundreds of students interested in filmmaking in the Fort Worth area. The festival itself has grown into a premier destination for filmmakers, producers, industry professionals, and film enthusiasts, with the honor of being ranked a “Top 50 Film Festival” by MovieMaker Magazine. Catch it November 2-5.
HOUSTON: Nutcracker Market
The 43rd annual Nutcracker Market will host more than 270 merchants from across the country — including more than 30 new merchants — showcasing a curated collection of unique holiday items, gourmet food, apparel, jewelry, accessories, home decor, gifts, toys, and more. Go shopping November 9-12 at NRG Park.
SAN ANTONIO: Cirque du Soleil Bazzar
Cirque du Soleil’s first return to San Antonio since 2006, and the first time the city will welcome a Big Top show, Bazzar is a dazzling homage to the Cirque du Soleil legacy that highlights its awe-inspiring acrobatic displays, adroit dancers, and talented musicians. Inspired by a traditional Middle Eastern bazaar, the production captures the bustling kinetic environment of the centuries-old, open-air market setting through its ensemble of diverse characters. It runs November 5-December 3 at Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium.
AUSTIN: Trail of Lights
What began as a small gathering in 1965 known as the Yule Fest, a gift to the city of Austin from Austin Parks and Recreation Department, has now grown into a community wide celebration of the unique spirit and people of Austin. In the 59 years since the first Yule Log was lit, the Trail now features more than 2 million lights illuminating the park, 96 lighted holiday trees, and more than 70 other holiday displays and lighted tunnels. You can visit December 8-23.
DALLAS: BMW Dallas Marathon
The annual event, held this year December 8-10, features a half-marathon (running and, new this year, walking), 50K ultra marathon, five-person marathon relay, and two-person half-marathon relay. There is also a 10K, 5K (running and walking), 5K team challenge, kids' 100-yard dash, and Oncor Kid’s Race on the following day, and return of the Friday Night Lights Mile. The weekend's events directly benefit Scottish Rite for Children. Since being named as the primary beneficiary in 1997, the Dallas Marathon Festival has donated more than $4 million to the organization.
FORT WORTH: Lightscape at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens
Lightscape returns for its second year with 80 percent newly designed displays. Visitors will walk a one-mile-long path with suspended strands and tunnels of light, see a fire garden, undulating wave of bluebonnets, singing trees, treetop sculptures, and artistic installations, all while toasting marshmallows and drinking hot chocolate and other seasonal drinks at stations along the trail. It opens November 17 and runs through January 1, 2024.
HOUSTON: Moody Gardens Ice Land
Part of Holiday in the Gardens, Ice Land lets visitors experience the vibrancy of rainforests with the monkeys, birds, butterflies, and orchid, as Christmas-decked leaf-cutter ants lead you through a magical world intricately carved from ice. Go down the giant ice slide that transports guests from the canopy to the forest floor, past ancient ruins, and along river edges. There is even an opportunity to enjoy Shivers Ice Bar, featuring festive holiday spirits inside this ultra-cool bar made completely out of ice. Visit November 18-January 16, 2024.
SAN ANTONIO: Alamo Bowl
The 2023 Valero Alamo Bowl will be played at the 65,000-seat Alamodome and broadcast on ESPN on December 28, kicking off at 8:15 pm. Last year, the Valero Alamo Bowl and its partners awarded more than $1.2 million split between students representing every participating San Antonio-area high school and four-year university — a record-setting number.
No matter where your next adventure takes you, a Hilton hotel is waiting for you.
With over 550 Hilton hotels spanning across the state of Texas, the possibilities to earn more while exploring the Lone Star State are endless.