Austin’s favorite holiday tradition, the Trail of Lights, is better than ever.

By Deborah Hamilton-Lynne, Photos by Casey Champan Ross, Kyle Barnes and Dear Wesleyann Photography

What event has 2 million lights, four light tunnels, a 90-foot Ferris wheel, 40 displays, two performance stages, shopping and more than 20 of Austin’s favorite food trucks? ’Tis the season for one of the city’s most beloved holiday events: the Trail of Lights. The annual event celebrates the creativity, talents, accomplishments and generosity of Austinites.

“2017’s [Trail of Lights] is a culmination of a great year, highlighting the people, music, groups, food, technology, charitable organizations and businesses that make Austin the place we love to call home,” says Leah Davis, Trail of Lights Foundation board president.

This year, visitors can expect to see new modernized displays, interactive environments, many of Austin’s best food trucks, local musical talent, movies, local merchants and more. For those who visit the Trail of Lights as an annual tradition, new activities await. For those who haven’t yet been, this is the year to start the tradition.

The celebration kicks off Dec. 8, with the fourth annual Night Lights Preview Party, featuring entertainment from Mother Falcon String Trio, Whiskey Shivers and DJ Mel, light bites from Austin-area restaurants and complimentary beer and wine. Tickets start at $75 and can be purchased online.

The Trail of Lights opens to the public Dec. 9, and will feature a special opening ceremony and performance by Alan Haynes. The trail will remain open from Dec. 10 through 23, with general admission gates opening at 7 p.m. each evening. Admission is free Dec. 9 through 14, 18 and 19.

Classic must-do tradition: The North Pole

Stop by the North Pole for photos at Santa’s house, presented by the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas and Ascension. Take in the view from the Ferris wheel, participate in the H-E-B Read 3 Train book giveaway and enjoy the interactive Santa’s workshop, where visitors can create their own holiday videos to share.

What’s new

– Arctic Point: A new seating and hospitality area offers a resting point and expands Arctic Point, featuring Pennybacker Bridge, one of the best photo opportunities at the event.

– Surfing Santa: Look for Santa hanging with his surfboards at Surfing Santa, a new display sponsored by NLand Surf Park.

– The Starry Night Tunnel: The Starry Night Tunnel, a family favorite, will sparkle even brighter with more than twice as many lights as past years, thanks to longtime sponsorship from Lori and Tito Beveridge.

Special events

Dec. 10 is University of Texas night, and the trail will glow burnt orange to celebrate special programming and entertainment for alumni, students, faculty and friends.

Dec. 12 is Heroes Night and will honor first responders, active United States military, veterans, police, firefighters and emergency responders.

De. 14 is Cap City Music Night, a salute to the musicians and nonprofits that support them in the live music capital of the world. The stages will be rocking to the sounds of Mother Falcon and the Ephraim Owens Quartet.

Dec. 19 is movie night at the Trail of Lights. Grab a blanket and enjoy Elf beneath the stars.

Must-know Trail of Lights facts

  1. Parking must be prepaid online.
  2. Early entry Zip Fast Passes, platinum passes, general-admission tickets, parking and shuttle tickets will be available for purchase on select nights. Calendars for ticket availability and online ticket purchases are available online.

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