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The Holiday Season in San Antonio: Lighting Up the River Walk

Program No. 22273RJ
Celebrate the holidays in San Antonio, where you’ll enjoy the festively lit Historic District, view the lights of the River Walk and revel in lectures and excursions to iconic sites.
6 days
Rating (4.93)
Activity Level
Starts at

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Prices displayed below are based on per person,doubleoccupancy.
DATES & starting prices
Nov 27 - Dec 2, 2023
Starting at
Dec 4 - Dec 9, 2023
Starting at
Dec 11 - Dec 16, 2023
Starting at
Dec 18 - Dec 23, 2023
Starting at
DATES & starting prices
Nov 27 - Dec 2, 2023
Starting at
Dec 4 - Dec 9, 2023
Starting at
Dec 11 - Dec 16, 2023
Starting at
Dec 18 - Dec 23, 2023
Starting at

At a Glance

View the River Walk ablaze with millions of lights while journeying along the river. Through expert-led visits to San Antonio’s iconic historical sites such as the Alamo and The King William District and explorations of the vibrant and lively El Mercado and La Villita areas, you will welcome a greater perspective and understanding of this fascinating city in its most beautiful time of the year.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
For people who enjoy walking as much as two miles a day, to explore historic neighborhoods or trails. Standing in a museum for up to 2-3 hours. Ability to go up and down stairs each day.

Best of all, you’ll…

  • Enjoy historic city sights and a historic neighborhood decorated for the holidays.
  • Experience the San Fernando Cathedral, built in 1731 as a center for city life.
  • Learn about the life of LBJ on a day-long field trip to the Texas Hill Country, admiring the sparkling holiday lights in small Texas towns along the way.

General Notes

Enjoy lights and luminarias along the river walk throughout the holiday season. On December dates, there will also be carolers on the river barges.
Featured Expert
All Experts
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Allen Lee Hamilton
Allen Lee Hamilton is a professor of Texas and American history at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio. The author of four books and 30+ articles in historical and popular journals, he has won three NISOD Awards from the University of Texas for Teaching Excellence. He completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Texas at Arlington, and his doctoral work at the University of Oklahoma. Allen is a fourth generation Texan whose family has been in this great state since 1866.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Mary Brennan
Mary Brennan View biography
Mary Brennan is dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Texas State University. She has exhaustively researched conservative politics in America and has penned a number of books related to the subject, including "Wives, Mothers, and the Red Menace" that evolved from her curiosity about Joe McCarthy’s wife, and "Pat Nixon: Embattled First Lady." Mary has appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, including CNN’s "The Sixties" and CSPAN's "First Ladies: Influence and Image."
Profile Image of Allen Hamilton
Allen Lee Hamilton View biography
Allen Lee Hamilton is a professor of Texas and American history at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio. The author of four books and 30+ articles in historical and popular journals, he has won three NISOD Awards from the University of Texas for Teaching Excellence. He completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Texas at Arlington, and his doctoral work at the University of Oklahoma. Allen is a fourth generation Texan whose family has been in this great state since 1866.
Profile Image of Linda Murray
Linda Jo Murray View biography
Linda Murray loves everything about her home state of Texas. After growing up camping in the Hill Country and fishing at the coast, she went on to become a master naturalist. She can also share first-hand knowledge of the San Antonio Botanical Gardens and Ville Finale as one of their docents. Linda especially enjoys leading educational adventures through San Antonio and sharing her expertise and observations with locals and visitors alike. She is a fan of history, storytelling, and walking.
Profile Image of Bill Perryman
Bill Perryman View biography
A fifth generation Texan and an award-winning teacher, Bill Perryman is known throughout Texas for his historical portrayals of heroic figures in Texas and American history and for his teacher trainings, seminars and educational explorations of historic San Antonio. He is the founder of History In Person Theater which is an official arts program for the Texas Commission on the Arts. Bill’s passion for history captivates audiences!
Profile Image of Mary Jurewicz
Mary Jurewicz View biography
Mary F. Jurewicz was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Emmanuel College and worked for John Hancock Life Insurance Company Investments. After marriage, Mary moved to Connecticut and received a master’s in educational psychology from the University of Connecticut. She taught Special Education for a number of years. Mary arrived in the great state of Texas — the longest stay of any location, so far! — and served three years as a volunteer in the San Antonio Historical Parks.
Profile Image of Jane Martin
Jane Martin View biography
Jane Martin grew up in San Antonio and holds a bachelor’s in art history and a master’s in architecture. Being a Certified Professional Guide is the culmination of twenty years teaching History of Architecture at San Antonio College and over thirty years as a volunteer docent at the McNay Art Museum. She is an associate member of the American Institute of Architects. Jane’s lifelong passion for architectural history has led her to become a seasoned explorer, traveling extensively throughout the world, including studies in Italy.
Profile Image of Ken Erfurth
Ken Erfurth View biography
Ken Erfurth is a life-long resident of San Antonio whose interest in the region’s history, culture, and architecture began at an early age. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and is a registered architect. He has been conducting educational adventures in San Antonio for various groups for over 20 years. In recent years, Ken has used photography to document the unique visual aspects of his native city and surrounding area. His images have been exhibited and published in multiple forums.
Profile Image of Ginger Burkholder
Ginger Burkholder View biography
Ginger Burkholder is a proud seventh-generation Texan, a Daughter of the Republic of Texas, a former elementary and secondary educator and retired financial services professional. She is the eldest of ten, mother of three and “Nani” to eight young Texans. She loves the outdoors, cooking and pursuing creative arts. As a Group Leader, Ginger enjoys sharing the rich culture and history of San Antonio and South Texas.
Profile Image of Janie Cadena
Janie Cadena View biography
Janie Cadena, a Texas native, is a descendant of early German settlers. She was bitten by the travel bug at an early age and has lived and explored countries around the world. She has worked as a travel agent for 30 years and is a Certified Travel Counselor. Because of her love of history, Janie appreciates the opportunity she has had to see many of the world's historic places. She even lives in a historic house built by her ancestors in the 1860s and 1890s.
Profile Image of Bruce Martin
Bruce Martin View biography
Bruce Martin is a native Texan who has lived in San Antonio for more than 30 years. A master naturalist, he leads informative and entertaining explorations throughout San Antonio’s downtown, historic districts, and natural areas as well as the nearby Texas Hill Country. A keen observer of the built environment, he shares his appreciation for San Antonio’s architectural details and public artwork. Bruce tries not to take himself too seriously. He and his wife Barbara live in a 1937 white stucco house.
Profile Image of Mary Muenster
Mary Muenster View biography
Mary Muenster is a native Texan who has lived in San Antonio since 1992. After working for Pan American World Airways as an International Flight Attendant, she moved to San Antonio to teach at one of the city’s top public high schools where she also served as the Social Studies Department Chair. Mary's passion for geography — physical and cultural — expanded beyond classroom walls and is what attracted her to settle down in the Alamo City. She has visited more than 50 countries on six continents.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The Alamo Remembered, Tejano Accounts & Perspectives
by Timothy M. Matovina
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Widely praised and enormously popular, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is a work of biography like few others. With uncanny insight and a richly engrossing style, the author renders LBJ in all his vibrant, conflicted humanity.
From a Limestone Ledge: Some Essays and Other Ruminations about Country Life in Texas
by John Graves
Some of the most sensible, genial prose west of the Mississippi. A kind of sequel to Hard Scrabble-recounting more about his twenty years of quiet combat with the forces of nature.
Friedrichsburg: Colony of the German Furstenverein
by Friedrich Armand Strubberg and James C. Kearney
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
by S. C. Gwynne
S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.
Gone to Texas, a History of the Lone Star State
by Randolph Campbell
Gone to Texas engagingly tells the story of the Lone Star State, from the arrival of humans in the Panhandle more than 10,000 years ago to the opening of the twenty-first century. Focusing on the state's successive waves of immigrants, the book offers an inclusive view of the vast array of Texans who, often in conflict with each other and always in a struggle with the land, created a history and an idea of Texas.
Big, Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas
by Harrigan, Stephen
Written by a great story teller, this readable, monumental work is exactly what the title implies: a comprehensive history of Texas complete with wonderful historic photographs and a focus on the stories of individual people. Not for the fainthearted, the time invested in reading this is well-spent. Actually, the book is so readable that devouring it is a pleasure. It has been described as “a must read for Texas aficionados.”
As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda
by Gail Collins
Gail Collins, the best-selling author and columnist for the New York Times, visited Texas and discovered that in Texas, where Bush, Cheney, Rove, & Perry had created a conservative political agenda that is now sweeping the country and defining our national identity. Through its vigorous support of banking deregulation, lax environmental standards, and draconian tax cuts, through its fierce championing of states rights, gun ownership, and, of course, sexual abstinence, Texas, with Governor Rick Perry’s presidential ambitions, has become the bellwether of a far-reaching national movement that continues to have profound social and economic consequences for us all. Like it or not, as Texas goes, so goes the nation.
Gates of the Alamo (historically accurate novel)
by Stephen Harrigan
The Gates of the Alamo enfolds us in history and, through its remarkable and passionate storytelling, allows us to participate at last in an American legend. Filled with dramatic scenes, and abounding in fictional and historical personalities-among them James Bowie, David Crockett, William Travis, and General Santa Anna--Harrigan describes the battle from both sides.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
by Louis Torres
Texas, My Texas: Musings of the Rambling Boy
by Lonn Taylor
In a collection of essays about Texas gathered from his West Texas newspaper column, Lonn Taylor traverses the very best of Texas geography, Texas history, and Texas personalities. In a state so famous for its pride, Taylor manages to write a very honest, witty, and wise book about Texas past and Texas present.
Crown Jewel of Texas, the Story of the San Antonio River
by Lewis Fisher
San Antonio: Outpost of Empires
by Lewis F. Fisher
San Antonio: Outpost of Empires is a vivid, honest portrait in words and pictures of San Antonio's evolution over the course of nearly three centuries, from the days of the colonists of New Spain to the defense of the Alamo to the inrush of a "jumble of races" to the rapid growth of the modern era.
Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth
by Burrough, Brian, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford
Reviled by some and applauded by others, this controversial popular history focuses on factors related to the history of the Alamo. A saucy, journalistic-style read, it provides a perspective on how Texans think, information about the current redesign of Alamo Plaza, and a great bibliography for further study.
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6 days
5 nights
11 meals
5 B 3 L 3 D
Check-in, Registration, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
San Antonio, Texas
Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m. Remember to bring your nametag (sent previously).

Afternoon: Program Registration: 3:00 p.m. After you have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table in our reserved meeting room to register with the program staff, get any updated information, and confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please locate your Group Leader and let them know you have arrived. Orientation: 4:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. We will review COVID-19 protocols and will adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines and requirements throughout the program. Our Group Leader will also present an introduction of San Antonio, explaining how the River Walk was developed and offering a short explanation about how various cultures converged on the area to make it the unique place that it is today. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Each evening from 5:30-7:00 p.m., the hotel hosts a complimentary “kickback” reception on the second floor with food and drink. Everyone is invited.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll have a catered welcome dinner.

Evening: Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

Texas History, River Walk, Alamo & Downtown, Barge Ride
San Antonio, Texas
Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk

Activity note: Walking up/down steps to reach the River Walk, walking up to 3 miles throughout the day over paved and uneven terrain; standing up to 2 hours at a time.

Breakfast: Breakfast buffet at the hotel.

Morning: We’ll be joined by a college professor who will explain why Texas is the most universally famous place in America in a two-hour lecture focusing on the sweeping events and fascinating characters that make this the amazing place it is. John Steinbeck once wrote, “I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion.” Next, we’ll embark on a field trip by foot with a local expert to explore some of San Antonio’s most iconic sites. We’ll also learn about the development of the River Walk and its impact on the transformation of the area. We will visit the historic Menger hotel, across the plaza from the Alamo. The Menger, the oldest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi, was established in 1859 and set the standard of luxury for its day. Historic events that took place here include Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders cavalry brigade recruitment. Our expert will take us inside for a peek at the elaborately appointed lobbies and the Menger bar, to see memorabilia from TR's time.

Lunch: We’ll stop at a nearby restaurant.

Afternoon: After lunch, we will continue our walking exploration of historic San Antonio. The Spanish colonial mission we know as the Alamo was established in 1718, and moved to its current location in 1724. Its history is fascinating and complex. After its gallant defense by 182 Texans against General Santa Anna’s army in 1836, “Remember the Alamo!” became a rallying cry for Texas independence. We'll hear the story of the Alamo, then visit the Shrine, view artifacts, and watch a short movie. Our local expert will take us to other sites of interest in the area. At San Fernando Cathedral we will step back in time to the 18th century Spanish colonial era. The cathedral was built from 1738-50 by settlers from the Canary Islands who had been granted land by Spain’s King Philip V. The cathedral is the oldest religious community in Texas and is still an active parish of the Archdiocese of San Antonio Santa Anna raised the red flag of “no quarter” from the church tower during the siege of the Alamo. One of the most interesting of the cathedral’s holdings is what purports to be the final resting place of Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie. We will gain an appreciation for the efforts of the historical conservation society in preserving the city’s past while encouraging new development. From here, we will have some free time to explore the area independently or return to the hotel on foot along the river.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: Step outside the hotel to the River Walk — the heart of the city — for a private, narrated barge ride on the San Antonio River. Situated 20 feet below street level and just steps from the famed Alamo, we’ll see how stone pathways connect shops, restaurants, hotels, and museums with a blend of architecture that reflects the development of this centuries-old metropolis. The barge pilot will tell us about the history of the area and the structures we pass as we float along the river amid thousands of holiday lights that sparkle all along the way.

LBJ Lecture, Mexican Market, Tamale Demo, Light Show
San Antonio, Texas
Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk

Activity note: Walking up to 2 miles over the course of the day; city streets and sidewalks, level terrain; walking up/down steps to reach the River Walk.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: In preparation for our field trip to the LBJ Ranch tomorrow, we’ll be joined by a university professor who is a specialist in late 20th century American history for a presentation on former President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration. President Johnson’s vision for a more just and honorable country contributed to the passage of the most important civil rights legislation in the 20th century. We’ll hear how Texans celebrated this legacy on the 50th anniversary of this watershed legislation passed during the mid-1960s. We will then depart on foot for Historic Market Square, which is the largest Mexican Marketplace in the U.S. This three-block area consists of more than 100 locally owned shops and stalls. We’ll have some time to explore the market independently following lunch.

Lunch: At a popular restaurant in Market Square, we'll enjoy a plated lunch. In our private room we will also have the opportunity to observe a demonstration of the regional holiday tradition of tamale-making. We'll learn about local food, culture, and the significance of this culinary tradition.

Afternoon: Free time. After lunch and our tamale demonstration, you make choose to explore Market Square or walk back to the hotel on your own. This period of time has been set aside for your personal independent exploration to see and do what interests you most. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Dinner: On your own.

Evening: The Group Leader will accompany those who would like to walk across the plaza adjacent to the hotel to San Fernando Cathedral for an outdoor light show by French artist Xavier De Richemont. This 24-minute show tells the story of San Antonio from its beginnings to present day.

Fredericksburg, LBJ Ranch, Holiday Lights
San Antonio, Texas
Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 70 miles, approximately 1.5 hours. Walking up to a mile, standing up to 2 hours at a time. Extent and duration of walking and other activities during free time according to personal choice.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We will board a motorcoach at the hotel for a full day exploring Texas hill country. We will ride to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and the quaint Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, with stops along the way.

Lunch: At a spot along the way (depending on weather), we’ll have box lunches.

Afternoon: After lunch we will explore the Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park that contains a visitor center, reconstructed boyhood home, cemetery, and the Johnson residence, known as the Texas White House. National Park Rangers will be on hand and tell us more about Lyndon, Lady Bird, and their Texas home.. Next, we’ll ride into the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg for a self-directed exploration to see and do what interests each of us most. This small city founded by German settlers in 1846 is on the National Register of Historic Places. You may be interested in visiting the National Museum of the Pacific War, located in the historic hotel run by the family of Admiral Chester Nimitz (reservations recommended), or you may wish to learn about the early history of the area at the Pioneer Museum Complex or the Vereins-Kirche (Society Church), the oldest public building in town. Our Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions and give directions.

Dinner: On the drive back to San Antonio, we’ll stop for a barbecue dinner with live music and see the town square with holiday lights.

Evening: Holiday lights are a tradition in Hill Country. As we return to San Antonio, we’ll have opportunities to see how small towns celebrate by decorating the courthouse square and other public spaces.

Spanish Missions, Pearl, Historic District, Farewell Dinner
San Antonio, Texas
Drury Plaza Hotel San Antonio Riverwalk

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 10 miles, approximately 1 hour (depending on traffic). Walking up to 2 miles over the course of the day, standing up to an hour at a time; city streets and sidewalks, level terrain.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet.

Morning: We’ll set off on a field trip to the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. We’ll explore some of the missions that make up the historic park and learn about early settlement and efforts of the Spanish to convert local people to the Roman Catholic Church and an agricultural lifestyle. We’ll see how the Spanish used “acequia” (irrigation systems) to develop self-sustaining agricultural communities along the San Antonio River. Next, we will ride to the historic Pearl district. This 23 acre property was the site of the original Pearl Brewing Company founded in 1883, and has been transformed over recent decades into a popular community and business hub. The site now includes a food hall, a brewery, a hotel, concert space, shops, a Culinary Institute of America campus, and residences. Our Group Leader will give us an introduction to the Pearl and then we'll have some time to explore on our own.

Lunch: On your own at the Pearl.

Afternoon: After lunch we'll ride to the King William Historic District, where we’ll hear interesting stories of immigrants and others who were instrumental in the economic development of the city. We’ll see mansions and cottages of varied architectural styles built by successful families after the Civil War and walk along the San Antonio River and adjacent farm lands that were originally part of the Alamo complex in mission days. Next, we'll ride back to the hotel for some time to relax and rest before dinner.

Dinner: We’ll walk a few blocks to a popular local restaurant for our Farewell Dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
San Antonio, Texas

Activity note: Hotel check-out 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: Hotel buffet. This concludes our program.

Morning: If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

Important registration tip:
If you want to attend the live lecture, please do not wait until the last minute to enroll.
If you enroll after a lecture is complete, we’ll send you a recording of the event.