By James Waterson
Festive parades, trees decked out in colorful lights and ribbons, and a sprawling winter wonderland where it snows every night. These are just a few of the ways you can experience the magic of the most wonderful time of the year in College Station, home to 54 days of holiday events in November and December. Say “howdy” to jolly old Saint Nick in the fun-for-all-ages Santa’s Wonderland, go on a tasting tour of a first-class winery, and shop for unique gifts in lively historic Downtown Bryan. Add a touch of Texas charm and make your holidays your own in College Station. Here’s how.
Experience Santa’s Wonderland
Towering slopes blanketed by fresh white snow. Horse-drawn carriage rides though breathtaking displays of three million lights. Visits with Santa in his very own cottage. A full stocking’s worth of holiday cheer awaits at Santa’s Wonderland in College Station. From Nov. 8 through Dec. 30, feel like you’re in the North Pole as you sip hot cocoa and revel in all the Christmas cheer. Go on a hay or carriage ride to see the lights, slide down a snowy hill on an inner tube, and enjoy your favorite festive tunes performed by some of the Lone Star State’s most talented musicians.
Although these activities are more than enough to keep you busy, we’re just getting started. Find some one-of-a-kind gifts for the fine folks on your shopping list in Santa’s Town, home to 25,000 square feet of covered shopping. Take photos in one of two Texas-sized snow globes or with the giant polar bear statues that guard the bright lights of the Lone Star Grand Illumination. If you’re traveling with your kids, take them to meet Tinsel the Elf to see if they’re on the naughty or nice list, and let them ride Santa’s Wonderland Kid’s Train before visiting the petting zoo.
When your appetite arrives, there’s no better place to be than Frostbite’s Food Village. Dig into delicious barbecue, homemade pizzas, and Texas-sized burgers, then roast your own s’mores or get some fudge, pie, or peach cobbler topped with ice cream for dessert. Cap it all with a tasting of reds and whites from Wonderland Winery, then buy a bottle or two to take home with you. Since you won’t find them in any store, this is a unique way you can bring all the joy of Santa’s Wonderland home with you.
Add Yuletide Cheer to Your Next Hotel Stay
Visiting the Bryan College Station area during the holidays doesn’t mean you have to go without all the festive fun you’d have at home. The area’s biggest and best hotels deck their halls with seasonal delight that’ll put you right in the Christmas spirit. Yet there’s more. The Stella Hotel and the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center host breakfasts with Santa throughout December. Breakfast with Jolly Old Saint Nick at the latter includes cookie decorating, face painting, and the chance to snap a photo with the big man himself while he’s visiting from the North Pole. Meanwhile, Cavalry Court and The George Hotel have their own holiday appeal, so stay in comfort and revel in all the merriment of the season.
Enjoy Family-Friendly Holiday Fun
Is it really the Christmas season without cookies, hot cocoa, and a Texas-sized tree? Enjoy all this, and more, at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum’s Holidays in the Rotunda (Dec. 7). Starting at 10 a.m., this free event features all the family-friendly holiday entertainment you need to kick off the most wonderful time of the year. Get a cookie and a cup of hot cocoa and admire the 19-foot Christmas tree, then let your little ones make ornaments and play in Santa’s workshop. Kris Kringle will also be on hand, so make sure your kids have their wish lists handy.
Get into the Holiday Spirit at a Festive Parade
Looking to celebrate the season? Experience Bryan College Station’s two merry holiday parades. Witness nearly 80 vibrant floats and autos bedecked in seasonal cheer by local businesses and organizations, as well as performances by area high school bands and the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band at the B/CS Christmas Parade (Dec. 8). For after-dark fun, make sure you’re in Downtown Bryan for the Downtown Lighted Christmas Parade (Dec. 13). Floats, vehicles, fire engines, and more covered in lights wind through the downtown area, and Santa himself just might make an appearance. Come for the parade and stay for Downtown Bryan’s first-rate dining and nightlife.
Shop for One-of-a-Kind Gifts in Downtown Bryan
The holidays are a the season of giving, and Downtown Bryan’s 20 one-of-a-kind boutiques make it easy to find something for everyone on your list. For that fan of vintage music, thumb through Curious Collections Vinyl Records’ vast compendium of thousands of old-fashioned records. To surprise and delight the art collector in your life, Brazos Glassworks and White Lotus Pottery craft works that you won’t find anywhere else. Both spots are working art studios that offer classes for even the most novice of artisan, when you’re feeling inspired.
Not sure what to get? Step into Old Bryan Marketplace, a charming spot with home décor, bedding, bath products, furniture, and more in a historic 22,000-square-foot building. Meanwhile, Bird’s Nest Gifts & Antiques’ rare and fascinating finds makes it the kind of place you’ll want to take your time in. Although you could easily get lost in Downtown Bryan’s many shops, there’s much more to see and do here.
Beyond the restaurants and nightlife spots, there are several holiday events you won’t want to miss. Watch as all the holiday magic comes to the downtown area during Lights On! (Nov. 22), when all the Christmas lights are turned on by Santa himself. To sip and shop the night away, join in on all the revelry of Wine & Wassail (Nov. 30). Fill your glass and take in all the decorations as you wander from one shop to the next. Whether you’re looking to cross a few gifts off your list or to just enjoy a night out on the town, this is one of many essential ways to celebrate the season in Bryan College Station.
Sip & Savor Award-Winning Wine
The weather outside might be frightful, but a glass of locally made wine is so delightful. Treat yourself to some of Texas’ best reds and whites this holiday season at Bryan’s own Messina Hof Winery & Resort. The most awarded winery in the Lone Star State, the winery is a great place to relish a glass of merlot or chardonnay along with a cheese plate. Come back in the evening for a romantic dinner at The Vintage House Restaurant, which offers a fine-dining experience and a menu full of fresh herbs and vegetables from the winery’s garden.
Beyond all the wine tasting, the winery hosts a calendar’s worth of holiday events you won’t want to miss. Indulge in three award-winning wines paired with two chef-prepared desserts during Sips and Sweets (Nov. 27 and Dec. 4, 11, and 18). To learn the ins and outs of wine making while warming up with mulled wine along the way, get your tickets for one of the Christmas Cellar Tours (Dec. 14, 21, and 22).
Want to brush up on your cooking skills? Sign up for Christmas with the Chef (Dec. 15), a holiday version of Messina Hof’s monthly cooking classes. Finally, welcome the arrival of a new year at the winery’s annual New Year’s Eve Party (Dec. 31), when you’ll taste delicious wines and enjoy mouthwatering eats from the dessert bar. Can’t wait to celebrate the season? You’ll find tickets for these events on Messina Hof’s website.
Embark on Santa’s Safari
Watch lounging camels and strutting ostriches, feed a giraffe by hand, and make the acquaintance of a friendly pygmy goat before meeting Santa Claus himself. This is what you’ll get at Aggieland Safari’s own holiday-themed walk on the wild side. See zebras, buffalo, and more as you follow the Drive-Thru Safari, then enjoy a close-up view of hippos, kangaroos, wallabies, and warthogs in the Adventure Zoo.
Along the way, check out the live nativity scene, warm up with hot cocoa or apple cider, get photos taken with Safari Santa, and stick around to roast marshmallows over a fire pit. There’s even face painting and train rides for the kids, so everyone can find a bit of holiday cheer. Santa’s Safari is held every weekend in December, and you can find more information about it here.
Whether you’re taking in all the yuletide cheer of Santa’s Wonderland, watching a festive parade march by, or relishing the succulent tastes of world-class wines, there are many ways to welcome the holiday season in Bryan College Station. Plan your visit here.
About the Author: James Waterson is the head writer and content specialist for Tour Texas. When he isn’t writing about the many great places in the state of Texas, he’s planning his next epic adventure in the Lone Star State.