Day Trips & Beyond: December Travel Roundup

Central Texas holiday lights, digital Dealey Plaza, and more

In the last month of a tough year, take a trip online to presidential sites or visit the Christmas lights.

Elm, Main, and Commerce streets come together at Dealey Plaza, the site of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. The former Texas School Book Depository is the orange building in the center of the photograph. A new website explores the history and legacy of the park that is known as the “Front Door of Dallas.” (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

A new online guide offers a virtual tour of the Kennedy assassination site. This year was the 57th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. In recognition of that sad day, the Sixth Floor Museum released a new web-based experience exploring the history of Dealey Plaza and the events of Nov. 22, 1963.

The digital guide comes in four parts and includes a narrated walking tour of the site, interactive maps, and histories of the park and the assassination. Using photographs, oral histories, and film – including hard-to-watch film footage captured by Abraham Zapruder – the guide gives the visitor a comprehensive view of the place and time.

All aspects of Dealey Plaza and the assassination are covered in the multimedia presentation. It doesn’t shy away from conspiracy theories and right-wing organizations that were hostile to the president. It even goes into the racial protests of the summer of 2020 and how they connect to the bigger picture.

Among the overlooked aspects of Dealey Plaza is the history behind “The Front Door of Dallas.” This was the location of John Neely Bryan’s settlement in 1841 on the banks of the Trinity River. A hundred years later the river was rerouted half a mile to the west in order to build the three-road underpass at the bottom of the hill.

The online guide is a fascinating look at one of Texas’ most historic sites.

The Sixth Floor Museum occupies the top two floors of the former Texas School Depository Building at 411 Elm St. in Dallas. Lee Harvey Oswald is believed to have fired the fatal shots from a corner window of the building overlooking Dealey Plaza. Exhibits in the museum’s galleries explore the events of that fateful day in November and the aftermath. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm.

President Lyndon Johnson’s home on the Pedernales River is currently closed for repairs, but visitors can take an online tour of the first-floor living quarters. (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Take a (virtual) tour of the Texas White House. The Johnson home on the LBJ Ranch outside of Stonewall is smaller than you might expect and definitely less opulent than you would imagine the home of an ex-president to be. The wood-paneled walls and well-lit sitting rooms speak volumes of the décor of the 1960s.

Since 2018 the two-story house, parts of which are more than a century old, has been closed to the public due to structural issues. As an alternative the National Park Service has added a virtual tour of the house to the historical park’s website.

Produced by Austin 360 Photography, the tour takes visitors through the first-floor rooms from Johnson’s office to his bedroom and bathroom (note the telephone next to the john). The interpretive tags and audio descriptions are sparse, but insightful into the Johnsons’ life. The free tour is compatible with computers, phones, and VR headsets.

Johnson purchased the house from his aunt in 1951. Over the next two decades he and Lady Bird expanded and modernized the ranch house overlooking the Pedernales River. While he was president, Johnson often brought dignitaries and staff to his Texas home.

While the house is currently closed to the public, parts of the ranch are still open for a self-driving tour if you plan to visit in person. Obtain a free driving pass at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitors Center before entering the ranch. Visitors are able to tour the ranch with stops at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the exhibits in the former airplane hangar. Guided tours of the grounds are offered between 11am and 4pm.

Part of the National Museum of Funeral History's "Jazz Funerals of New Orleans" exhibit (Photo via Facebook, National Museum of Funeral History)

Join the second line. The National Museum of Funeral History in Houston has added “Jazz Funerals of New Orleans,” a new permanent exhibit about one of the Crescent City’s more iconic and colorful traditions.

In a jazz funeral, the casket is followed by a procession led by a brass band playing a unique and often lively brand of funeral music. Onlookers and loved ones are encouraged to join in behind the band and are referred to as the “second line.” The exhibit follows nearly 200 years of the tradition in the New Orleans African-American community.

In North Houston off I-45, the National Museum of Funeral History takes a dignified and realistic view of the customs and rituals of death. Other permanent exhibits include fantasy coffins from Ghana, the traditions of Día de los Muertos, historic hearses, presidential funerals, and funeral traditions in Japan. The museum opens daily and admission begins at $10 for adults. Face coverings are required and social distancing protocols are in place. For more information, call 281/876-3063.

Travel Notes:

Trout fishing in Texas is a favorite winter sport as the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department stocks local streams and waterways. Places around Austin where the rainbow trout will have their winter home include Blanco State Park in Blanco, Blue Hole Park Lake in Georgetown, Buescher State Park in Smithville, McKinney Falls State Park, Bullfrog Pond and Kingfisher Lake in Austin, and Shirley McDonald Park Pond in Round Rock. Anglers over 17 years old need a state fishing license unless they’re fishing from the bank in a state park. The annual stocking of the fish begins in early December and goes through February.

After rearranging Dickens on the Strand in Galveston to be Dickens on the Squares, organizers have decided to give up on the idea of a holiday festival completely for this year. The island city is already planning for next year’s festival on Dec. 3-5, 2021.

Deck the Halls: Christmas Lights Around Central Texas

Walkway of Lights, Marble Falls (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many holiday lighting displays have moved to drive-through viewing only. Here is a list of some of the trails of lights in the area.

Winter Lightfest, Abilene

• Walk-through
• $5-10
• Fri.-Sat. through Dec. 13, nightly Dec. 18-23 and 26, 6-10pm

River of Lights, Bastrop

• Walk-through
• Free
• Nightly through Jan. 1, 6-10pm

Nature in Lights, Belton

• Drive-through
• $20-$80
• Nightly through Jan. 3, 5:30-11pm

Christmas in the Park, Cuero

• Walk-through
• By donation
• Nightly through Jan. 1, 6-10pm

12 Days of Christmas at Night, Dallas

• Walk-through
• $12-$17
• Through Dec. 31; Sun.-Wed. 6-9pm, Thu.-Sat. 6-10pm

Lights Spectacular, Johnson City

• Walk/drive-through
• Free
• Nightly through Jan. 3, 6pm-midnight

Lighting of the Square, Georgetown

• Walk/drive-through
• Nightly through Jan. 2

Christmas on the Creek, Lampasas

• Walk-through
• By donation
• Nightly through Jan. 1

Walkway of Lights, Marble Falls

• Walk-through
• By donation
• Nightly through Jan. 2, 6-10pm

Santa’s Ranch, New Braunfels

• Drive-through
• $35 per car
• Through Jan. 3; Sun.-Thu. 6-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 6-11pm

Holiday Lights on the River Walk, San Antonio

• Walk-through
• Free
• Through Jan. 4, dusk to dawn

Lights of West, West

• Drive-through
• $35 per car (8 passengers)
• Through Jan. 2; Sun.-Thu. 6-10pm, Fri.-Sat. 6-11pm

Trail of Lights, Buda

• Drive-through
• Free
• Dec. 5-6, 10-13, 17-20, 6-10pm

BuzzFest: A Winter Light Festival, Bee Cave

• Walk-through
• Free
• Thu.-Sat., Dec. 17-19, 6-10pm

Christmas at the Caverns, San Antonio

• Walk-through
• $14.99-$19.99
• Dec. 5-6, 12-13, 19-23, 6-9pm

In search of more virtual or IRL travel ideas? Visit our Out of Town listings. More light displays are found on our Holiday Lights page.
Gerald McLeod has been traveling around Texas and beyond for his "Day Trips" column for more than 25 years. Keep up to date with his journeys on his archive page and follow him on Facebook.

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Day Trips, holiday lights, Dealey Plaza, Sixth Floor Museum, Texas White House, LBJ Ranch, National Museum of Funeral History, Houston, trout fishing, Galveston, Dickens on the Squares, Dickens on the Strand

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