The North Pole's most famous resident descends from his workshop to share the lights, fun, and food of the holiday with revelers at Santa's Wonderland. For 15 years, the larger-than-life Christmas experience has dazzled visitors with sparkling, colorful light displays that stretch more than 37 acres, following a path traversable by car, horse and carriage, or hay ride. Said to be one of the largest Christmas attractions in Texas, this yuletide haven has been delighting families for more than a decade. After gazing upon the 2.5 million twinkling L.E.D. bulbs, visitors can head over to Santa's Town to enjoy a bite of barbecue and continue the festivities. Trumpeted by the owners as a "Texas Christmas Village," the community invites guests to shop at an old Western ghost town and little ones to hop aboard a kids' train before meeting Santa and one of his reindeer. Marshall Frostbite, the park's smiling officer, encourages visitors to watch a nightly holiday movie on a large screen, run their fingers through the fur of the barn animals in the petting zoo, and try their hand at riding a mechanical bull.
When Enchanted Manor Winery's chief mead-maker handcrafts his honey brew, he follows a recipe from a 17th-century cookbook from the court of King Charles I. These medieval techniques inspire the winery's special mead for the annual Texas Renaissance Festival, which is brewed from Texas wildflower honey and sipped from knightly knee cops. Enchanted Manor also whips up modern meads flavored with orange blossom and oak, mixed with pear wine, or brewed from the honey of the guajillo flower.
In addition to its signature meads, Enchanted Manor Winery whips up small batches of wines from grapes, peaches, and other fruits, and augments their stock with bottles from nearby wineries. Enchanted Manor also hosts special events such as sangria nights, mead tastings, and wine classes.
Bo Poole's family farm is a working farm—complete with harvests of sweet corn, eggplant, and purple-hull peas—but it is also a family destination for autumnal fun. The farm's country store also allows visitors to stock up on honey harvested onsite, pumpkin-cake mixes, and corncobs that may be taken home and popped or planted in hopes of sprouting a popcorn bush. Along with developing P-6 Farms' yearly harvest, Bo develops the public's agricultural know-how with an annual fall festival filled with family-friendly activities. Tractor-drawn hayrides give passengers a first-hand look at farm life, and the 8-acre corn maze allows them to get up close and personal with America's most celebrated crop as they navigate twists and turns in search of the exit. Other autumnal amusements include a life-size human spider, target-shooting with a kid-friendly water canon, and a pumpkin patch.
Around harvest time on Rising Star Vineyards' verdant acres, vines of chardonnay, merlot, and other Old-World grapes hang heavy, ready for their transformation into the small-batch wines the vineyard is famous for. As detailed in the Abilene Reporter-News, the grapes are trellised several feet off the ground, which owner Michael Oubre says “produces superior fruit” for their distinctive blends of Old-World flavor and Texan style. Their Salado cheesery and tasting room serves salads and sandwiches on locally baked bread for lunch, while vending cheese and other sundries exclusively made by Texas producers. In addition to cheese plates featuring fresh chevre from Bonney Goat Cheeses and Watonga flavored cheddars, the shop serves frozen wine margaritas to sip as talismans against the Samarian curses of the hot sun. The winery also holds regular wine-education and tasting classes, from a basic Wine 101 session to a food-and-wine-pairing session.
Located on a 90-acre site on the campus of Texas A&M University, the Bush Presidential Library and Museum entertains and educates with interactive exhibits and an exhaustive collection of artifacts. Opening September 1, the new Headed to the White House exhibit charts the presidential-election process from primaries to inauguration with hands-on activities, role-playing opportunities, and animatronic babies to kiss. Visitors can try running their own campaign, create their own election news story, or tour exhibits and sculptures including Life and Times of George Bush, and The Day the Wall Came Down.
More than 500 animals inhabit the grounds at Capital of Texas Zoo, a haven for wildlife education and a breeding ground for more than 14 endangered species. The zoo's residents include zebras, ringtail lemurs, and a rare white tiger, not to be confused with a ghost tiger. Other appearances from the animal kingdom include peacocks, kangaroos, turtles, and lions.
Educational animal shows highlight a specific member of the zoo, such as the Wings show, which stars eurasian eagle owl Hedwig, who has made appearances on Late Show with David Letterman and in the movie Furry Vengeance. The zoo also takes to the road with traveling animal shows that involve a cast of six exotic reptiles, mammals, and birds, which makes appearances at birthday parties, schools, or events. With lessons catered to the age of the audience, the animals teach children to respect other living things and remind adults why they can’t keep falcons as pets.
After 22 years in the air force, Water 2 Wine–founder John McFadden established his first custom winery in San Antonio seven years ago. Already the business has spread as far as Milwaukee to the north and Denver to the west, bringing the country's vinophiles more than 100 wines, each of which are fermented on site and available for tastings every day. Those who want to get more involved in the crafting process may sign up to make their own wine and steep themselves in each step of the operation, from selecting the grape varieties, beginning the fermentation process, withstanding a wait of about 45 days, and finally christening their creation by smashing a tiny boat against the bottle. All custom-made wines are plastered with personalized labels made from one of Water 2 Wine’s templates or images that customers design from the ground up.