San Antonio for the Holidays

For a holiday season filled with multi-cultural flair as well as magical lights, you can't beat San Antonio. Here, tamales replace fruitcake as a holiday treat and Christmas tunes are performed by Mariachi bands. The Alamo City is normally filled with lights, especially along its famed River Walk, but even more so during the holidays. Every tree, bridge and walkway is lined with twinkling lights, lanterns and luminarias -- sand-filled paper bags with glowing candles inside. The luminaria display, called the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias, symbolically lights the way for the Holy Family each weekend night between 7-10 p.m. from November 30 through December 16.

Holiday festivities along the River Walk kick off the day after Thanksgiving with the Ford Holiday River Parade & Lighting Ceremony. This is one of the few nighttime river parades in the country. Nearly two million lights come to life and stay lit throughout the holiday season. First-timers may not realize that the San Antonio River is actually below street level in the downtown area. For the river parade on November 23, it's best to purchase a ticket for close-up river-level access and seating to view the parade. Tickets range between $10-$25, depending on location and seating arrangement. Purchase tickets at thesanantonioriverwalk.com website.

On December 3, the second annual "Tamales! At Pearl," a holiday family festival, takes place at the restored Pearl Brewery -- home to a Culinary Institute of America campus -- along the northern section of the River Walk. The event includes tamales served like you've never had them before, including dessert tamales, along with live music, storytelling, dancing, and that rarest of Christmastime spectacles: fireworks. For more info visit the website atpearl.com.

Where to stay? A favorite of this travel writer is The Riverwalk Vista Inn. Overlooking the River Walk and a stone's throw away from the Alamo, this 17-room hotel is small enough for personalized service and housed in a historic building that gives the place real old-Texas character, all complemented by modern amenities and service.

For sports fans, the city hosts to the 20th Annual Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 29.

To cap it all off, there's a big New Year's Eve celebration.
Celebrate San Antonio! is free to attend and features a diverse lineup of music on four stages along Alamo Street adjacent to HemisFair Park -- site of the 1968 World's Fair. A quarter-million people show up to this event each year to ring in the new year in this magical city of history, culture and light.

Photos by Darren Abate/SACVB