We are DEEP into the holiday season, y’all. If you find yourself not quite in the spirit yet (it happens, with the stress and craziness of work sometimes), treat yourself to some Trail of Lights tickets! Self-care, right? I first visited in 2016 and it’s still as magical today.
I was lucky enough to explore the trail with the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance last week (thank you for the tickets and complimentary food preview, Trail of Lights!). Trail of Lights is open until December 23rd, so get your tickets soon! I was able to visit for free this year (thanks Trail of Lights!) but I’ve still had the full general admission experience in the past. Having checked out all the perks of the higher ticket prices, here’s what I recommend:
The Zip Pass ticket with a parking pass is, in my opinion, the best deal. Zip Pass tickets are $15-20 per person, depending on the night you go. Parking passes cost an additional $15 per car. A few logistical perks to the Zip Pass with parking – Zip Passes allow you to enter the trail at 6pm, one hour before the General Admission begins. It gets VERY CROWDED. You will really appreciate that extra hour on the trail, especially if you want to visit any of the food trucks. The lines at the food trucks get very long. I’ll talk more about them in a second. Another logistical perk to the parking pass is that parking opens at the trail at 5:30pm (to be honest, I was there at about 5:10pm and the lot was already open… your experience may be different!). This is important because not only is there a lot of human traffic on the trail, there is an INSANE amount of car traffic trying to park. You do not want to get mixed up in the General Admission parking line, the crew trying to park around 6-6:30pm. You want to be joyfully walking the trail by that time. Zip Passes also get you access to the Zip Lounge, which has nice bathrooms (see my video below), a heated tent area, and free cookies and cocoa.
If the $15-20 dollar Zip Pass is cost prohibitive to your family, I totally understand. General Admission is $3 per person. For $3, you can enter the park at 7pm and you can tolerate the crowds a little easier, knowing you only spent a fraction of the cost. If you’re doing the General Admission, I’d highly recommend still buying a parking pass for $15 and still arriving at 5:30 to park. I saw so many families trying to walk along the Mopac frontage roads because they parked in some neighborhood by the trail… it’s not worth it! Just get a parking pass, arrive early, and kill time at the entrance taking cute photos under the HUGE Zilker Park Christmas Tree.
Also, for 7 of the 14 days it’s open, the trail is FREE! If that’s more your style, check out the free days on their website’s calendar.
OK. Now time for the fun stuff.
When we arrived, we first walked to some of the food trucks. There are two main spots to purchase food – Candy Cane Lane and the North Pole. At Candy Cane Lane, we sampled Burro Cheese Kitchen, Bohemian BBQ, and Redfin Seafood. Bohemian BBQ has some pretty awesome mac and cheese with shredded brisket on top – delicious! I opted for a Via 206 from Burro Cheese. The sweet and savory grilled cheese had a balsamic, apricot, fig sauce on it. I was super happy with my choice not only because it was tasty and filling, but because I could easily carry my sandwich and eat while I continued to walk and explore.
From Candy Cane Lane, we went to the first drink stop at Kringle’s Kantina. Adult beverages are served here and I happily treated myself to two new beers – Hops & Grain’s Mosaic IPA (an Austin brewery!) and Shiner’s Holiday Cheer.
Finally, we stopped at the second food truck location – The North Pole. Here, I tried Shawarma Point’s loaded curly fries. If you’re starving and want a mountain of fries with meat and feta cheese on top, this is your stop. One thing I was really missing this year were the sweet trucks! Amy’s Ice Cream is at the entrance by the Zilker Tree, but other than that, there were no dessert trucks! I really wanted some ice cream sandwiches or churros or something! You may have to save your sweet tooth until after you walk the trail. Here are some of my favorite ice cream places in Austin, if you’re interested.
Over by Shawarma Point and the North Pole you’ll find Santa waiting, along with the trail’s two rides – the carousel and the Ferris Wheel. The carousel is $5 per person and the Ferris Wheel is $6. Unless you have a real aversion to Ferris Wheels, you HAVE to ride it. You have to purchase tokens first, then take the tokens to the line. The line moves pretty quickly and the view is just amazing!!!
After eating, I was happy to walk the trail! I walked back around to the start and went through it from the beginning again, focused on the lights and installations. The trail itself is 1.25 miles, but the website says you can expect to walk about 2.5 miles overall, including parking and other detours you may take along the trail. The walking path is really nice and is easily accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. The only thing I would be concerned about is mud after a rain…
At the end of the trail is a S’mores making fire pit, a stage with live performances, and a new Holiday Market! There’s also a really cute bar called the Twinkle Tavern.
Thank you, Trail of Lights, for inviting the food bloggers out to explore the trail! We had a great time and were so wonderfully taken care of.
Here are the stories I posted at @DiscoveringATX on Instagram. Be sure to follow me to get up to the minute updates on what’s happening around Austin!