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Written by Texas Highways

Whether you crave Vietnamese pho, Texas barbecue, fried chicken, or a Neapolitan pizza, Conservatory steps up to the plate.

Arriving during the dinner rush at Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall, a bustling eatery in downtown Houston, I walked past a wall of colorful pop-art portraits at the entryway, then proceeded down the beautifully ornate stairwell. The scene that greeted me looked like a party in full swing.

Francine Pons, co-owner of Las Colchas, rolls out some fabric in her store.

If you, like me, are not one of the estimated 10 million quilters in the U.S., you may be as surprised as I was by the magnitude of the quilting phenomenon in Texas. Before I went on a months-long quilt quest, the craft seemed to me hair-pullingly repetitive and, well, boring. That’s because I had no idea what it actually was. I’d never owned a nice quilt or thought much about them. But as I started to piece together (forgive me, quilting lends itself to puns) all that this centuries-old art form is, I realized the robust quilting culture in Texas not only inspires and comforts those it touches, but it also tells a story about where we come from.

Some state parks encourage campers to decorate their sites like this one under the pines of Daingerfield State Park.

On a bluff overlooking La Grange, ice skaters swirl on an imaginary pond and penguins check their fishing lines amid a sea of twinkling lights.

Escape the big city to enjoy wines, inventive food, and relaxing lodgings far from the madding crowd.

Escapes have little to do with flashy destinations and full itineraries. For most of us, the point of a getaway crystalizes when simplicity merges with discovery—and that’s what you’ll find when wandering around towns in developing vineyard regions. Two such jewels are Coleman in West Texas, and Muenster, up north in Red River country. Both burgs surprise with wide-open vistas, good things to eat, dreamy accommodations, places to acquire interesting souvenirs, and unassuming charm to spare. And the wines will wow you. Plan on taking several bottles back home.

While Christmas decorations are the main attraction here, the shop also carries items for Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other occasions.

In Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale A Christmas Carol, a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge proclaims, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Shoppers looking to keep the Yuletide spirit in their hearts year-round need look no further than the Christmas Rocks store in Houston.

Holiday-themed festivities on board the North Pole Flyer include visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus, Christmas carols, and unlimited hot chocolate.

North Pole Flyer

Austin Steam Train’s holiday-themed rides start Nov. 25 at the Cedar Park Depot, 401 E. Whitestone Blvd., Ste. C-100, Cedar Park.

Holiday train rides around Texas

1. The popular North Pole Express in Grapevine includes a “We Believe” silver Santa bell (if you’ve watched The Polar Express, you’ll know why the bell is a big deal), a mug of frosty chocolate snow milk, and a family photo with Santa.

2. The Texas State Railroad, out of Palestine, also offers a Polar Express train trip, complete with soundtrack. Guests enjoy Christmas-decorated steam-powered rail cars, and cookies and cocoa delivered by dancing chefs. The train stops at the “North Pole” to let Santa on board, and he hands out sleigh bells to the children.

3. At the Christmas Train at Victory Camp in Alvin, the eight-to 12-minute train ride around the grounds is just part of the holiday festivities. Attendees will be dazzled by more than 300,000 lights and hundreds of Christmas decorations such as a gingerbread village, penguin snow lands, and life-size storybook illustrations within the park. Guests can also enjoy story time with Mrs. Claus and live music, as well as hot cocoa, popcorn, and pizza for purchase. The event runs on select days in December.

"Are we really going to the North Pole, Mommy?”

The spectacular cooks featured in our coverage of Texas holiday meal traditions also shared the secrets of their favorite dishes. Find inspiration in recipes ranging from Lou Lambert’s grilled beef tenderloin to Larry Delgado’s tamale tips and Ross Coleman’s black-eyed peas.

Eve’s Garden Bed and Breakfast in Marathon © E. Dan Klepper

In the coming weeks, families across Texas will gather to puzzle over index-card recipes, stir sticky pots, peer into ovens, and maybe mop up a spill or two. These annual gatherings with family and friends are perhaps the greatest tradition of the holidays—a chance to celebrate the season, reflect on the year past, and look forward to the year ahead. Love fuels this flurry of activity, and our shared heritage of home-cooked comfort provides a rallying point that everyone can embrace: the holiday meal.

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