A broad look at the gorgeous Hill Country.
The Hill Country is the part of Texas I think everyone comes to see. The rolling hills, the breathtaking rock, blue skies, clear rivers, and blanketing bluebonnets are enough to make anyone want to drop everything and move here. Hell, I did. I moved here to go to college, but when I would question my choice of university and start looking somewhere else, the Hill Country kept me from leaving. In today’s post, I’m going to highlight just a few of my favorite places in the Texas Hill Country, but it is not, by any means, an exhaustive list.
Austin is known for so many things: the Capitol, Sixth Street, UT, Austin City Limits, South by Southwest, Circuit of the Americas, and more that I’m probably forgetting. So many people come here, too, because of how “weird” it is by reputation.
Me at Jo’s Coffee on SoCo.
There’s more to Austin, though, than Sixth and Keepin’ it Weird. In fact, those are personally my least favorite things about it.
If you were to come to Austin, here’s where I’d send you:
Nutty Brown Cafe
I love the Nut so much. It’s easily my favorite music venue, and I’m sure they have great food, too (disclosure: I haven’t actually eaten there). I have been a couple of times for musical performances, once for the We Are Blood charity concert featuring Wade Bowen, Stoney Larue, and others and again for the Randy Rogers Band. It’s located west of Austin on Highway 290 going towards Dripping Springs. You can’t miss the neon cowboy out front! The amphitheater is located behind the restaurant. It has a large standing area that faces the stage and surrounding all of that is a lovely (and welcome in the summer time) grove of trees, tables and chairs of a wooden deck, a gorgeous bar, and sometimes a food truck or two. It’s so intimate, comfortable, welcoming, and fun. They usually feature country artists, both higher profile (like Jake Owen) and beloved Texas Country artists.
Pictures I took from the We Are Blood benefit concert, featuring Wade Bowen and Stoney Larue.
Lick Ice Creams
For most people, it’s all about Amy’s. I like Amy’s a lot, but I love Lick. Lick is located on Lamar Boulevard in downtown, and it features a rather unique variety of ice creams. Their ice creams are made mostly with products grown or raised here in Texas and is all natural. In addition (this is my favorite part), the flavors are… different. They’re a little weird, but they are damn good. Some flavors I have gotten have been Pink Peppercorn Lemon Twist, Grapefruit with Champagne Marshmallow, Goat’s Milk with Honey and Thyme, Fromage and Fig, and one with dewberries (I can’t remember the name…). They have their year-round, standard (which aren’t so “standard”) flavors and another set of seasonal flavors, which of course incorporate seasonal ingredients, like the dewberries in the spring. If this doesn’t quite sound your speed, I suggest Holla! Mode which is Thai Style ice cream. If you aren’t familiar with Thai style, then you better get there. It’s so cool. The ice cream makers (usually in a food truck) will mix up your liquidy ingredients and right before you, pour the mixture onto a cold table and start chopping, scraping, and mixing your ice cream until it’s frozen. Then they roll it on up into swirls and stack the swirls up in your bowl.
Lick Ice Creams
Holla! Mode ice cream on Barton Springs Road with some pictures from the Greenbelt and Mount Bonnell.
This is for the history buffs out there. Lucky for you, if you go anywhere in Texas, you’ll be surrounded by decades of history. After all, we had our own Revolution and were our own country once. Anyway, the Texas State Capitol, is one of the most beautiful buildings in Texas, from the grounds to the Goddess of Liberty on top. They do free tours every half hour or you can do a self-guided tour. Keep an eye out for blond squirrels, as well!
If you are an outdoor enthusiast and Lady Bird Lake just doesn’t cut it, take a hike through the Greenbelt. The two entrances I recommend are at Zilker Park (if you’re facing the entrance to Barton Springs, walk to the right-or westward- until you hit the entrance of the trail) or at Loop 360 and Mopac (it’s at the southbound feeder road onto Mopac from 360, where it crosses over Mopac. Instead of going on the ramp to get on southbound Mopac, stay right and go straight. You’ll see cars parked on the side of the road right there.) The Greenbelt’s trails range from easy meandering trails to more difficult ones with rocks and slippery dirt. There’s rock climbing and of course, Barton Creek, with plenty of places to cool off or splash around. Beware the slippery rocks, however.
Salt Lick (Driftwood)
When it comes to supper time, go big or go home. One of my favorite places that I don’t go to enough is The Salt Lick Barbecue in Driftwood, southwest of Austin. Totally worth the drive. The place is usually hoppin’- a sign of its deliciousness- and has its own vineyard as well as live music outside on the lighted deck. The best part- the food comes out right away. That’s because in the middle of this joint is a massive pit that cooks the barbecue all day long, so as soon as you order, all someone has to do is go cut it and pull it off the pit. And you get so much food.
This town was my first taste of the Hill Country as a kid. We used to go here when we took my sister to camp. There is so much to do, and it never gets old. You could go back again and again and still have just as much fun.
You can’t go to Fredericksburg and not climb up Enchanted Rock. Basically, it’s a big ass “mountain” of limestone. It’s truly awesome. As you drive closer to it and see it start to rise above the horizon, you really get to develop this appreciation and awe for nature. You won’t feel the same when you’re climbing up its steep sides! Not really. Even when you’re sweating and out of breath, you will still (hopefully) be mesmerized.
Ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain out here. Luckenbach is a little bitty town outside of Fredericksburg, and it’s a must. They have the general store, which features weird stuff from the past, t-shirts, and of course, Waylon Jennings’ music. Of course, there’s the dance hall. It isn’t very big, but the hardwood floor and lack of air conditioning put a smile on my face and take me back to what it must have been like decades ago before people lost their minds. There’s live music played in Luckenbach almost every day of the week, too, and they’ve got good food out there to go with it.
Market Days and Downtown Shopping
I won’t go into the market as much, since I have another post about it.
Downtown, though, is so damn cute. There are shops that go on forever on both sides of the road: boutiques, B&B’s, restaurants, antique shops, and my favorite, Rustlin’ Robs- endless honey butters, jellies, salsas, pickled things, peanut butters, and more, all with free samples. It’s heaven.
German restaurants: Der Lindenbaum and Auslander
Fredericksburg and the surrounding area were heavily settled by German immigrants, and they embrace the culture. Even the street (strasse) names in downtown are in German. The first restaurant listed, Der Lindenbaum on Main Street, is my favorite of the two because it is much more authentic, quaint, quiet, and, well, German. I’m no German expert, but I have been to Germany and ate its food for days, so I like to think I have a little bit of credibility here. Plus, the last time I ate there, my waitress was from Munich. The other restaurant, the Auslander, also on Main Street, is more tourist-y, but I enjoy it all the same. They oftentimes have a live band performing in the bar, and they feature less traditional (but altogether tasty) German cuisine.
The Frio River is certainly one of my happy places. It runs through southwest/ southwest central Texas (this state is so big I don’t even know how to categorize places), west of San Antonio. It’s a huge vacation place for Gulf-Coasters like myself. I go every year. We get a big house in Concan, Utopia, or somewhere else close to the river and just set out everyday and float. One year we were actually on the Sabinal river, and we got to kayak there as well as float the Frio. The water’s cold, the sun is hot, the grass green, the rocks are big, and the hills are tall. It’s heavenly.
There are so many places I could point you, too. Here’s a brief list of some towns I suggest looking into…
Bandera is not too far east of Utopia, mentioned above. I love Bandera for its cowboy style and cute shops. The Hill Country State Natural Area is one of the best hiking spots (I think) in Texas, and the O.S.T. Restaurant is delicious and hardy, especially for breakfast. It’s not only got great food, but everyone is super nice and friendly and John Wayne is everywhere.
Boerne is another cute little town north of San Antonio. It has a gorgeous, old-fashioned downtown with plenty of shops, including an awesome frozen yogurt place. If you do go to the area, see if you can check into the Ye Kendall Inn– it’s supposedly haunted. I stayed once and didn’t sleep a wink because I was so afraid I’d see someone staring back at me in the mirror that was not me. Nothing happened, but I was not comfortable! If you’re in Boerne, venture to some other nearby towns just to really embrace the Hill Country spirit: Sisterdale, Kendalia, Blanco, Bergheim… there are several dance halls around here, so check those out too!
My very colorful and delicious frozen yogurt bowl.
Wimberly is southwest of Austin, directly west of San Marcos. It, like all the others, is great for shopping and dining. What the others don’t have is one of Texas’ best kept secrets: Jacob’s Well. Jacob’s Well is a natural swimming hole in Cypress Creek. It’s wonderful to see, just to imagine how nature can do such cool things. If you want to take a dip, though, you have to make a reservation. If not, head over to San Marcos and float the San Marcos River.
Hell, drive down Interstate-35 aways to New Braunfels and you can float the Comal or Guadalupe Rivers. While you’re in New Braunfels, I suggest eating at Clear Springs Restaurant, doing some shopping and dancing in Gruene (home of Texas’ oldest dance hall), and going swimming at Canyon Lake.
I say this for one reason- Cooper’s Barbecue. I drove an hour on my birthday and five and a half hours on my boyfriend’s birthday just for this barbecue because it is that good.
Okay.. Alamo, Riverwalk… San Antonio has endless things to do. I have not been enough (or at least not that recently) to really give an honest “report” of things in San Antonio, but I love the city all the same. My favorite things are the Alamo, the Riverwalk, and the wax museum (because I’m a nerd).
Oh yes, and of course… the endless wineries and distilleries all over the state. Drive down any highway up there long enough and you will come across a vineyard.
I feel like there is something I’m forgetting here… maybe because Texas is just so pretty and fun and big that I can’t possibly capture everything about the Hill Country in one post, but I certainly tried. I hope this can act as a decent guide for someone wanting to get a little adventure in!
Stay adventuring, my friends. Appreciate the little things, eat all the barbecue, buy the junk you don’t need, and smell the bluebonnets. Many blessings!