By: Nicholas DeRenzo | From: AFAR

There’s a shift in the air that seems to happen every November as cities around the country begin to snap into holiday mode: Festive lights are (untangled and) hung with care, skating rinks start to appear in parks and plazas, and carols and standards take over radio stations.

Across the United States, each city has its own unique ways of ringing in the holidays, from tamale-making in Texas to quirky spins on The Nutcracker in New York. Just in time for the holiday travel rush, these eight cities invite you to get into the local spirit.

2. Celebrate a Feliz Navidad in San Antonio

The San Antonio River Walk runs through the heart of Alamo City, and it looks especially spectacular when strung with 100,000 lights. Festivities kick off on November 23 this year with the Ford Holiday River Parade, which sees 28 floats gliding through the water, decked out with Mexican folk dancers and themed decor—including one covered in oversized Mexican pastries like conchas and bigotes.

Throughout the festive season, south-of-the-border inspirations continue with events like the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias (December 1), in which the banks of the river are lined with traditional lanterns made from candles in paper bags, and Las Nuevas Tamaleras (November 30 to December 3), a holiday comedy about a trio of women throwing their first tamalada, or tamale-making gathering. Speaking of which, you’ll definitely want to pick up one of the seasonal specialties before checking out the lights displays around town (remember the Alamo!). They’re delicious and they make for great hand-warmers.


Where to stay:

One of the coolest stays in the Lone Star State is Hotel Havana, which occupies a 1914 Mediterranean Revival building on a quieter section of the River Walk. Their onsite boutique is also ideal for picking up last-minute holiday gifts, like wool-stuffed animals from Chiapas, Mexico or cactus soaps from the Chicana-owned brand Nopalera.