Photo courtesy of Cinnamon Shore

School might be back in session for the kids, but there's still plenty of fun to be had all across Texas in September. Can't decide where to take a quick vacation, road trip, or staycation? Here are 11 events, exhibits, special celebrations, and hotel happenings around the state to help plan a getaway for Labor Day or any September weekend excursion.

Along the Gulf Coast

A luxurious Port Aransas vacation community is providing a few special discounts in time for Labor Day and beyond. For the long holiday weekend, Cinnamon Shore is offering reduced pricing for a three-night minimum stay, with four homes left for the weekend at various price points. Don’t forget to check their Labor Day Weekend Fun schedule highlighting special family-friendly events like movies under the stars and community cookouts, or live music and yoga classes for the adults. From September 5-October 4, guests can also enjoy 50 percent off their third night at one of the Cinnamon Shore rental properties after booking a minimum two-night stay using their code Fall2023. Rates for a one-bedroom home range from $940 to $1,600, and five to eight-bedroom homes range from $4,050 to $7,550.

For a more comprehensive look at all of the seaside options along the Texas coast for Labor Day weekend, from Galveston to South Padre Island (including Cinnamon Shore), check out these Gulf Coast getaways.

In East Texas

Cavalry Court, a retro-inspired boutique hotel in College Station, has all of the amenities for a perfect weekend mini-vacation to bring in the fall season: a resort-style pool with private cabanas, live music, its signature Canteen Bar and Grill, and an outdoor pavilion. The hotel is also situated less than 10 miles from the famed Messina Hof Estate Winery for any further exploration of the city. Rates begin at $149 per night.

If East Texas’ Piney Woods region is calling your name, this resort community is the place to be: High Hill boasts luxurious experiences with rental properties sprawling over 200 acres of land. Take your pick among a bungalow suite, private bungalow, or a multi-bedroom vacation home. Also available are on-site vineyards, a relaxing spa, and Côte, a high quality farm-to-table restaurant. Starting rates are $295 for a double queen room and $275 for a king room.

In West Texas

One of the best steakhouses in Texas is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a new historic art installation. The award-winning Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, a small town about half an hour southwest of Abilene, will celebrate this landmark anniversary with a new outdoor exhibit that showcase the history of the town and the restaurant through photography, while also serving as a "love letter" to the American West. The collection will include several photos of Buffalo Gap from Lisa and Tom Perini's private collection. The exhibit, on display September 28-October 28, will be open to the public, and restaurant reservations can be made on their website.

In Austin

ThePecan Street Festival, a twice-yearly arts festival, is returning to downtown Austin on September 16-17. Over 300 local artisans and vendors will be selling their handmade art, crafts, clothing, and more in booths lined along 6th Street between Brazos Street and I-35 for the weekend. Live performances by local musicians are also scheduled throughout the weekend. The festival is free.

A fascinating new exhibition of beautifully aged books on display at The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin is a bibliophile’s dream. "The Long Lives of Very Old Books" shares the histories of 15th through 17th century books through their physical attributes and treatment within the hands of time. Both prominent titles and esoteric finds are put under the spotlight. The exhibition is on display until December 30. Admission is free.

In the Hill Country

San Antonio’s Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa has a special Labor Day event lineup for families looking for a weekend escape. On Saturday, September 2, the resort will host a Texas-themed barbecue and country music. On Sunday, September 3, guests can enjoy a Fiesta-themed buffet with mariachi music. Besides excellent guest service and luxurious experiences, this newly renovated, award-winning resort has also prioritized its convenient location to several San Antonio attractions, such as SeaWorld and the downtown Riverwalk. Rates begin at $394 per night.

If bringing in the fall months with a glass of wine in hand is your preference, consider visiting Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, a winery less than half an hour from Fredericksburg. Three special events will help patrons embrace the month of September: a six-winery tasting tour, dubbed The Heroic Hye Wine Hunt, on September 2; and the release of a 2020 GSM Mélange wine on September 8. Plus, visitors can celebrate International Port Wine Day with a tasting of the Texas Ruby port-style dessert wine on September 10. Tickets for the wine hunt are $30, and reservations for tastings can be made via Tock or by emailing tastingroom@pedernalescellars.com.

For six weekends beginning September 23 until October 29, the family-friendly Dripping Springs Pumpkin Festival is returning to its home grounds at the Dr. Pound Historical Farmstead for its third and final year before moving to a new location. Each weekend has its own festive theme and special events, and costume-wearing is encouraged. Of course, no pumpkin fest is complete without its signature pumpkin patch. Tickets are $15, and admission is free for children under 3 years old and for seniors aged 65 and up.

In North Texas

Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine is celebrating the return of fall with extra special pumpkin spice themed suites that will make travelers forget all about the summer heat. From September 28-October 31, guests can relish in a scenic autumn scape outfitted with perfectly curated pumpkin pillows, faux-fall florals, wreaths, and much more. The Pumpkin Spice Suite sleeps a maximum of four, and rates start at $399 per night.

Fort Worth is celebrating its long history with aviation with a brand new exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. "Cowtown Takes Flight" features a collection of photographs and artifacts that focus on people from several pivotal eras, like a pilot, record setter, and others. The exhibit is included with the price of admission, which is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors aged 66 and up, $12 for children between aged 3-11, and free for children under 2 years old.

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Dallas Zoo hires new female director formerly of Zoo Knoxville

Animal News

The Dallas Zoo has appointed a new executive director, replacing former Gregg Hudson who passed away in spring 2023.

According to a statement from the zoo, Lisa New has been named the new Chief Executive Officer, following a national executive search. New comes from Zoo Knoxville, where she was president and CEO for the past 10 years.

As the release notes, she will be the Dallas Zoo's first female head.

“Our search committee felt we had an enormous task in front of us back in May when we began a national search for the Dallas Zoo’s next leader," says Chair of the Dallas Zoo Board of Directors Dawn Moore in a statement. "Lisa quickly rose to the top of our list given her impressive career accomplishments that represent everything we were seeking in our new CEO. We found ourselves with the opportunity to bring in a well-respected and recognized leader with the ideal mix of skills to propel our Dallas Zoo to the next level, and we jumped at the chance. We can’t wait to see what Lisa and our talented Dallas Zoo team will achieve!”

New graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1995, which is where she says she discovered an interest in wildlife biology, including internships researching spinner dolphins and humpback whales.

Like many zoo employees, she started as a volunteer at Zoo Knoxville, and was eventually hired. During her tenure, she hand-raised two chimpanzees, Mugsy and Lu and then shifted her focus to great apes "and how they might thrive under our care."

Continuing her rise from volunteer to employee, she became the fifth director of Zoo Knoxville in 2013.

New helped oversee the relocation of Jana, an aging African elephant in declining health, to the Elephant Sanctuary in May 2023. Unfortunately, Jana died in October. Zoo Knoxville is also relocating two other aging elephants, Edie and a male named Tonka, to the same sanctuary.

Zoo Knoxville is a 53-acre zoo east of downtown Knoxville which is home to approximately 800 animals. By comparison, the Dallas Zoo claims to have more than 2,000 animals. Zoo Knoxville's operating model is similar to the Dallas Zoo in that it's funded by taxpayers but run by a non-profit contracted by the city of Knoxville.

While Zoo Knoxville has not suffered the string of careless animal deaths that has beleaguered the Dallas Zoo, they did experience one mass death of 34 reptiles in 2017, who were mysteriously killed by an unexplained "toxic agent." The death toll included snakes and other reptiles, including several endangered species.

“It is a great honor and responsibility to be entrusted with the legacy that is Dallas Zoo,” New says. “During my initial meetings with the search committee, it quickly became apparent that the Dallas team and I shared the same values. That is, a strong commitment to the wellbeing of our animals, our staff, and our guests to foster a culture that engages our community and protects wildlife. Several years ago, my friend and mentor, the late Gregg Hudson, inspired me to align my passion, profession, vocation and mission; if you are good at it, if the world needs it, and you get paid for it, that’s not a livelihood, that is your purpose. It has guided me ever since, and I am excited to begin this chapter with an iconic institution that has a long history of setting the standard that others follow.”

Get immersed in Hallmark Channel Christmas at Texas hotel holiday suite

like a hallmark movie

It's that time of year again, when the airwaves are flooded with that holiday staple known as the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

Legions of fans know the plots by heart. Big-city gal returns to her small town, finds love and saves Christmas. Or the family business. Or a lost kitten. Two colleagues who can't stand each other discover they have more in common than ever imagined and find love. And save Christmas. Or the family business. Or a lost kitten. Three generations of family at loggerheads re-connect after finding themselves stranded in a cozy cabin in the woods. And save Christmas. Or the family business. Or a lost kitten.

Hilton-Americas Houston

Photo by Christy Radecic

Stay inside a Hallmark holiday movie.

Now, fans who love the genre for its uplifting messages and smiles-through-tears can experience the movies in a whole new way. The Hilton Americas-Houston is offering a limited-time Hallmark Channel “Countdown to Christmas” Holiday Suite by Hilton, available starting November 1 and running through January 1, 2024. The hotel is one of only three Hilton properties across the country to offer this one-of-a-kind festive dreamscape.

In H-Town, guests can book the Hilton Americas-Houston's "Haul Out the Holly" suite, which offers a cascade of seasonal cheer, and is based on the all-new, original Hallmark holiday movie of the same name. Look for jaw-dropping holiday designs and light treatments throughout the suite, including enchanting light pillows, a light-up holiday village that will dazzle the world’s biggest Christmas enthusiasts, a custom holiday light decorating station, a gingerbread bar, and more.

Expect special surprise-and-delight moments like a festive oversized game, a custom Hallmark Channel light-up marquee, and even a twinkling Christmas light ceiling. This exceptional stay will allow guests to embrace the essence of the sequel film, starring beloved Hallmark star Lacey Chabert and centering on the iconic residents and ongoing HOA decorating competitions – and infamous citations – of the ever-festive Evergreen Lane.

"We're thrilled to partner with Hallmark for a collaboration that embodies the joy of the holiday season and brings to life the light and warmth of hospitality we show our guests every day,” said Matt Schuyler, chief brand officer, Hilton in a press release announcing the initiative. “This is a great representation of Hilton’s commitment to delivering immersive and unforgettable experiences during every stay. Our collaboration with Hallmark allows us to leverage timeless storytelling to bring an added level of excitement during the holidays.”

The "Haul Out the Holly" suite, like its counterparts the “Hallmark’s Holiday Sweetest Suite” at the Hilton New York Times Square and the “Santa Summit” at the Hilton Chicago, includes a custom-decorated Christmas tree and complimentary hot cocoa station.

To keep the holiday cheer going all season long, each of these special guest suites also include Hallmark Channel-branded takeaways that guests can enjoy with their loved ones during or after their holiday stay. Think Hallmark Channel Wine, Bissinger’s cocoa mix and hot cocoa bombs, Republic of Tea products, wine glasses, mugs, and more.

Rates start at $1,050 per night. Reservations can be made online.

These are the 6 best food and drink events in Dallas this week

This Week in Gluttony

Recover from the Thanksgiving food coma with a visit to a vegan eatery. Then prepare for more holiday entertaining with a classes on making chocolate and tamales. This weekend, there'll be a chili cookoff and a cocktail competition.

Tuesday, November 28

Explore Plant-Based Eating at My Thai & Vegan
Explore the plant-based menu at this Las Colinas Thai restaurant with a group of like-minded folks. Menu items include fried coconut tofu, spring rolls, Thai mango wraps, and tofu satay. There will be prizes and an opportunity to share tips with the group. Beer and wine are available for purchase, as are non-vegan items. Hosts for the evening are Mollie Mossman CPA and Dr. Dän Lee Dimke, co-directors of Future-World Institute. The event is free, and starts at 6:30 pm. First 30 attendees get a $10 gift certificate good for items on the menu that evening. Pre-registration is required.

Wednesday, November 29

Holiday Chocolate Workshop at Ellie’s
Hall Arts Hotel restaurant will host a chocolate truffle class featuring chocolatier Zach Townsend of dallaschocolateclasses.com. The $75 per person price includes the class, wine, charcuterie, and valet parking. Class begins at 6:30 pm.

Friday December 1

Make Your Own Tamale Workshop
If you've ever wanted to learn how to make the perfect tamale, now is your chance. This is a time to not only have an amazing meal, but a time to spend time together talking and enjoying others' company. In this class you will learn how to prepare your own tamales at home. The class will share the ins and outs of creating wonderful masa, flavorful fillings and perfectly steamed tamales, covering two fillings and accompanying sauces. The class is $70, and takes place at the Culinary Community Kitchen, at 4401 N. Belt Line Rd. in Mesquite. 7-9 pm. Reserve online.

Friday, December 1-Sunday December 3

Alexander Mansion Holiday Home Tour & Bistro
Peek inside the historic Alexander Mansion at 4607 Ross Ave, with docent-led tours. Groups leave approximately every half hour, from 10 am-4 pm. $15. No reservations required for the tour. A separate bistro lunch catered by Chocolate Angel featuring chicken salad, pasta salad, pretzel salad, scones, and iced tea hosts one seating at 12 pm each day. $40, includes the brunch and tour. Reservation deadline for brunch is Monday, November 27.

Saturday, December 2

Two Mules Cantina Chili Cook-Off
First annual chili cook-off at Texican Court hotel by Valencia Hotel Group in Las Colinas features chili made by chefs on-site as well as from sister properties in Austin, College Station, and Lubbock. Get ready for an evening of tastings and toasts, with tokens you can use to vote for your favorite chili in the competition. It's from 5-7 pm, and tickets are $10, although they're doing some giveaways on Facebook.

Sunday, December 3

Repeal Day & Mixology Match-Up at Celestial Beerworks
Celebrate the end of Prohibition, called Repeal Day, with a cocktail competition. Guests can pay $15 to enter their best beverage made using at least one Celestial Beerworks ingredient. (A surprise variety will be provided on the day of the event.) Contestants should bring any other components needed, including mixers, fruit, liqueurs, and garnishes. The wining drink will be used to make an official Celestial Beerworks canned beverage, and the winner will get to collab with the Celestial team on name and label design. The celebration will run from 2–7 pm, and the competition will begin at 4:30 pm with a winner announced at 6:30 pm.