This trip was sponsored by Texas Tourism as part of their #Texplorer program. All fun had and opinions generated are mine.
I’m embarrassed to say that prior to our ultimate Texas road trip two weeks ago, my travels to and around the Lone Star State were largely centered on long weekends in Austin. And while Austin has always and will continue to be one of my favorite U.S. cities, I can’t believe the magic of small-town Texas we discovered throughout our seven days traversing its diverse and scenic landscape.
Texas is far more than Houston, Austin and Dallas, y’all; in fact, I’d say its true beauty lies in all the small towns that rest in between.
Planning your next weekend getaway to Texas soon? Pull up a chair, grab your notepad and jot down some tips, as I’m giving you the play-by-play of our week-long adventure through the Hill Country, South Texas Plains, and Prairies and Lakes region.
DAY 1: Round Top + Brenham
It’s ironic that we flew into my favorite city, yet only saw it from the descent of the airplane. But we had a car to pick up and an antiques fair to make!
From Austin, it’s just 70 miles from the airport to the town of Round Top (population 90). I had no idea what to expect out of a town this small, but what I wasn’t prepared to find was a jam-packed square brimming with shops and restaurants, cars filling its every parking space.
We started our time in Round Top as anyone should: with a meal at the famed Royers Round Top Café. While SVV had the Grilled Shrimp BLT and I had the Beef Tenderloin Sandwich, pie is the name of the game at Royers, so you must save room for a slice (make that multiple in our case). Bud “The Pieman” Royer didn’t leave us an option when he came around with his walking stick, cracking jokes. Also, it’s kind of adorable that they have “honor coolers” of beer on the front porch for those waiting for a seat at this cozy joint. Can you imagine that flying in your town?
Antiques permeate Round Top, and you can’t throw a rock without hitting an antiques mall or a yard adorned with oddities from near and far. We started our picking at Round Top Antique Mall, whose big fair celebrated its 50th anniversary at the spring show in April, and it’s a good thing we didn’t drive our truck to Texas, as SVV would have no doubt filled it.
What I found most interesting were the roadside warehouses and storage units scattered around Highway 237. We popped in and out of them if an item on the lawn struck our fancy, and this is exactly where I would head if I lived in Texas and had an empty house to furnish.
You can’t, however, leave Round Top without paying a stop to the famed Junk Gypsy shop, which is full of curiosities galore (and oddly, no actual junk!): more home goods, clothing, jewelry, you name it. I’m dying to go back to Round Top and stay at their B&B, Wander Inn.
But we were migrating to Brenham for the evening, where we had a dinner scheduled at Ninety Six West, so we had to get a move on it. Brenham is most famously home to Blue Bell ice cream, a company founded more than a century ago, and how I went there and didn’t have so much as a scoop is beyond me!
Again, I had no preconceived notions of any of the stops we were making on the trip, so when we pulled up to Brenham to find murals adorning many of the old, downtown walls, I was shocked. How could such a small town boast such a vibrant art scene? It was impressive and inspired us to do something similar in our hometown, for sure.
It also had not one, but two beer gardens and a brewery, and while we were both tired after our 4am wake-up and full day, we briefly considered our options: check into the hotel and freshen up or grab a round of beers at Home Sweet Farm Market before dinner? I think you know in which direction we went.
After a few local beers, followed by dinner at Ninety Six West, we did finally check into our darling bed and breakfast, Ant Street Inn. The downside to changing locations every day is that you find a true gem like this one where you just want to kick back and relax for a week. Not today, Brenham, but we’ll be back with a trailer (we’ve already got the Chevy truck!) for a Picker Road Trip in 2019 if my husband has anything to do with it.
DAY 2: New Braunfels + Gruene
We got up early to poke around and photograph the Brenham murals before the town was awake, then it was time to hit the road (again).
Next destination was New Braunfels, just 45 minutes south of Austin and two hours from where we were at the moment. When we arrived, we made straight for Akaushi Yoakum burgers and lunch at Huisache Grill. If you don’t know what the heck those are, they’re one of four breeds in the Wagyu family of marbled meat from Japan, and they are delicious!
After appetizers of fried Brie, burgers and a mixed grill, we went about 15 minutes up the road to a cute biker/cowboy/cruising pitstop built around a historic dance hall built that popped up in the late 1880s.
Gruene Hall epitomizes everything I love about the South: an anything-goes, laid-back approach to life, ridiculously friendly folks—many of them donning boots and cowboy hats, not because they were tourists but because that actually is their daily uniform—live music, dancing and, best of all, $3 local beers.
First built in 1878, Gruene Hall is an absolute legend in the music world, and there were plenty of big acts coming the months following our visit–Lee Ann Womack, LeeAnn Rimes and Maren Morris were just a few I recognized on the roster—but it’s a bit like Broadway in Nashville in that you are pretty much guaranteed live music, any day of the week, and many of the shows (like on Sunday afternoon) are free.
After our two-stepping fun (j/k, SVV would never two-step with me, particularly with a film crew around!), we checked out a few of the stores comprising Gruene Historic District before meeting up with our friends at the Gristmill to end a very Texas day.
DAY 3: Wimberley
I think prior to the trip starting, I was most excited about our day in Wimberley as it began with a hike around Jacob’s Well (which is deserving of its own post, so stay tuned!). My BFF Lemon had told me about Wimberley, as it’s a popular place to vacation in Texas and her parents had a home here when she was a child, and Lemon has a taste for the finer things in life so I knew she wasn’t exaggerating her love for this place.
The town was centered around a small shopping district and draped in small town charm. We arrived, nabbed a table on the patio at Ino’z Brew & Chew, where we filled up on tacos and more local beers.
The water along Cypress Creek, visible from the restaurant, was just as clear as out by Jacob’s Well, so clear that some just can’t resist the urge to dive right in.
One of the shop owners told us about Blue Hole Regional Park on the edge of town, so we swung by there next for a quick stroll and some photos. For those of you traveling through Texas in summer, be sure and put Blue Hole on your itinerary, as there was a rope swing just beckoning to be used, and swimming is allowed in summer months.
That afternoon, we headed into Dripping Springs to check out the distilling and brewing culture; among the city’s spirited residents are Deep Eddy and Dripping Springs Vodka, and we wanted to visit them both. Only, we realized once we were already on the road that many were closed on Mondays. In fact, so many of the breweries we wanted to check out weren’t reopening until Thursday. Boo.
So, we modified the plan, did a quick Google of “what to do in Dripping Springs” and discovered Hamilton Pool was just another 20 minutes further. And having already seen Hamilton Pool crop up on Instagram in the past, I knew that’s how we’d spend our afternoon. But more on that later this week, as it truly is a marvel to see.
After Hamilton Pool, we swung by the Barber Shop in Dripping Springs for a drink before picking up food to go in Wimberley to eat at our hotel.
It’s a shame we arrived at our digs (once again) so late at night, as Hotel Flora and Fauna is a true stunner. Boutique-y in nature with each room a full-on studio that offers both kitchenettes and sitting area—not to mention an incredible courtyard area with a dreamy pool—this Hill Country resort is the type of peaceful retreat that will have you wanting to move far from the bright lights, traffic and late-night noise of the city and start searching for real estate in Wimberley. It’s hard to believe the bustle of Austin is just 40 miles from here!
DAY 4: Fredericksburg
The following morning, we used our breakfast voucher from the hotel to grab some baked goods and coffee at Sugar Shack for the road en route to our next stop.
Fredericksburg, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. You have more than 150 retail stops downtown, and not just full of tourist crap either; legit boutiques and T-shirt print shops and other five-and-dime stores that were beguiling to the uninitiated.
You have wine, oh do you have wine—more than 45 wineries in the surrounding region, in fact! And I love that several of them have tasting rooms right downtown, so you don’t even have to
stumble wander far.
But even better? You have an open-glass policy! That’s right; I can order my glass of wine at Pedernales Cellars’ tasting room, then carry it with me as I saunter around town. It’s genius really!
You’ve also got darling eateries like Vaudeville Bistro, a posh furniture store up top and a tasty restaurant down below.
Basically, I could live in Fredericksburg is what I’m saying.
After we filled our shopping bags and polished off some sandwiches like nobody’s business, we drove out to Grape Creek Vineyards for a tour and a tasting that was a revelation to us both. Who knew that the climate in the hills of Texas could cultivate some of the finest oenological delights?
I thought: “I can’t possibly love the next spot as much as I do this one.” And yet, at the end of the trip, there wasn’t a single stop I’d omit next time.
Since we were already out that way, SVV and I decided against going back to Fredericksburg for happy hour and instead, drove a bit further past the Texas Rangers Heritage Center out to the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park area for some sunset shots.
A river separates the state park from Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, but we arrived a bit too late to go in (it closed at 5:30), so we had to make due with some shots from the perimeter.
We met some cows and steers along the way that didn’t care if we were trying to catch an epic, stereotypical Texas landscape.
Dinner that night was at Cabernet Grill, which was one of the best meals we had all week and has elevated the cuisine in the local area.
I thought nothing could rival Hotel Flora & Fauna, but then we arrived into Hoffman Haus, and I changed my tune. Soaring, wood planked ceilings, a bubbling pool as the centerpiece.. is every small town hotel or inn in Texas just as darling as it gets?
DAY 5: Bandera
Wednesday morning we woke up to a knock on our door and a picnic basket brimming with a gourmet breakfast spread. I’m telling you, Hoffman Haus has nailed the whole hospitality thing.
Day five took us from Fredericksburg to Bandera, but we made one stop first: the tiny town of Luckenbach (population: 3 … felines, that is). This former ghost town was purchased for a song in the 1970s by a trippy man named Honcho Crouch, and it is now a venue for country music acts and a huge destination for the ubiquitous biker clubs in Texas. It was also made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in the song, “Luckenbach, Texas.” Don’t miss this little outpost of sanity.
I got to dust off my cowgirl hat and my skills from my own ranch days and mosey out into the brush!
Later in the afternoon, we headed out to Mayan Dude Ranch, a popular spot for both family vacations and corporate retreats, for a lasso demonstration. Now, I stayed at a dude ranch with my family back when I was a pre-teen, so this wasn’t my first rodeo (ha, had to say it), but I’ve never seen an act quite like Kevin Fitzpatrick, who is a legend in the trick-roping world.
He broke out his ropes, his whips and his sense of humor, and put on a proper show, pulling the audience members into many of his tricks. And at the end, I even stepped in and got lassoed, too!
After our cowboy fun, we went down to Bandera Meat Market to pick up some cuts of steak and a few sausages for the night. Wednesday is “Steak Night” at 11th Street Cowboy Bar; they provide the cooking apparatuses and all the fixings, you BYOM and throw it on their multiple grills, then eat what you cook! The bar also has baked potatoes, salads and Lone Star beer you can buy as accouterments.
After our bellies were full, we sidled up to the tables surrounding the dance floor and watched as some ace two-steppers showed us how it was done in true Texas style, with a live band backing their efforts. Then, it was back to Bandera Bunkhouse on Main for a night of much-needed sleep. This life of a cowgirl is exhausting!
DAY 6: Bandera
Bandera was the only city we stayed in more than one night, so it was nice waking up in the bunkhouse and not immediately having to pack our bags and load up the car. We did, however, have an early-ish start as we were going back to Mayan for a cowboy breakfast.
What’s a cowboy breakfast, you say? Well, it’s pretty self-explanatory: We took a hay ride out to the picnic area where one of the cowboys was frying up some bacon, Country Boy sausage and preparing a proper breakfast spread. During my own stay on a dude ranch, I remember doing this very thing—only, we road horses out to breakfast and back again.
That’s an option for those staying at Mayan, as well, but this 34 year old much preferred the comfort of the hay wagon to that of a horse’s behind!
That afternoon, after rummaging around the antiques stores on Main Street for a spell, we grabbed some BBQ for lunch (couldn’t very well leave Texas without doing so!), then it was back to Mayan for one last visit, this time to see the longhorn, named Redneck (how apropos!) in all his glory.
His handler asked if anyone would like to sit on him—me, me, me! I raised my hand—but when I mounted that big ol’ bull, he handed me his reins, told me to kick him and take off up the hill to the viewing area. I thought he was joking.
Nope, he wanted me to ride the longhorn! And so I did. I’m nothing if not game and good at taking direction. SVV thought it was a little weird to mount a saddle on a steer so one-upped the stakes, mounted him backward and then stood up on Redneck’s back. That boy!
In the evening, we went back to 11th Street Cowboy Bar for a second time, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I adore this place for its authenticity. The bar comes positively alive with itinerant tourists for Cowboy Mardi Gras one weekend each year, and that Thursday night kicked off the festivities with a Canine Costume Contest. You know I don’t miss a chance to mingle with dogs! (Meanwhile back in Tennessee, Ella was thrilled she didn’t accompany us on this trip for a change, as costumes are not her thing and she hates being made a spectacle of.)
On our way back to the bunkhouse, the hunger pangs hit, so we stopped into the Chikin Coop for some bar bites and margaritas before calling it a night.
DAY 7: Boerne + San Antonio
We woke up on our final day in Texas and left early, so we could take the scenic route, pull off to fly the drone over Hill Country (check out the aerial footage in my video above) and—most importantly—get donuts and kolaches from Snowflake Donuts in Boerne to help get us through the travel day.
Bandera is less than an hour to the San Antonio airport, which is just about the easiest airport I’ve ever traveled through (and I travel through quite a few airports annually, friends!). The only thing that bummed me out about this trip is that we didn’t leave anytime to explore San Antonio, a city I’ve long been wanting to visit. But as the saying goes, there’s always next time—not to mention, a direct flight from Nashville on Southwest!
Our Texas Road Trip Route
Planning a Couples’ Weekend Getaway in Texas
Don’t have a full week? No problem. Any of these combinations would make for an awesome couples’ weekend getaway in Texas: You could spend a week antiquing in Round Top while staying in nearby Brenham (bring a truck or fat budget for shipping things home); you could fly into Austin, then make your base in New Braunfels to do both Gruene Hall and Jacob’s Well; you can easily take a whole weekend in Fredericksburg as you wine-taste in Hill Country; or you could do the cowboy thang with a couple days in Bandera. The possibilities are endless, really!
So, that’s it, in a nutshell: our most epic Texas road trip. Is there anything I left off, Texans? Any stops you’d suggest making next time we’re in the region? I’m rather proud of us for how much ground we covered in a relatively short amount of time!