The Texas Hill Country
The hill country in Texas is my favorite place in the world. This piece of heaven includes Austin and San Antonio and everywhere in between. The rugged landscape is made up of rolling hills, cactus and rivers made for tubing. It’s home to some seriously cute towns, wine country, historic dance halls where you can still catch some of the best Texas musicians and some of the best BBQ out there. Here are my favorite places to visit and things to do in the Texas Hill Country for a weekend away or more.
My hill country weekends always start the same way, with a day in Austin. It’s a great jumping off point for the hill country and has become quite the tourist destination in recent years. Austin is my favorite city, end of story. It’s the live music capital of the world with over 270 music venues! There’s even a live music tour available that will help you see legit bands like a local. Austin is also very active, with running trails lining Lady Bird Lake, Barton Springs, and Zilker Park just for starters. Lady Bird is always filled with kayaks and paddle boards, rent one with a free lesson here. If you time it right and you can watch the bats from the water.
One of my favorite things to do has always been to go shopping in the boutiques along South Congress and end the day with tacos, margaritas and live music at Guero’s Taco Bar. There’s a great food tour that actually hits up my favorite spots, I’m literally drooling just thinking of Torchy’s queso, for prices check here.
Where to stay in Austin
My favorite Austin hotel is without a doubt the Driskill. I have never been lucky enough to actually stay there, but I visit the bar every time I’m in town. It’s gorgeous and they make the city’s official cocktail: the batini! The location doesn’t hurt either, right at the corner of 6th Street and Congress. Another hotel I always visit for the bar but haven’t stayed in (sensing a theme here?) is the South Congress Hotel on you guessed it, South Congress. It’s new and stylish and located conveniently within walking distance from great restaurants and bars. Visiting in summer? They have a rooftop pool that’s perfect for those sweltering Texas summer days.
Eat BBQ at Salt Lick in Driftwood
Forty miles from Austin in the tiny blink and you’ll miss it town of Driftwood you’ll find The Salt Lick. They cook their meat by searing it and then slow-cooking it, the same way the owner’s great-grandmother did when she first moved to Texas in 1867. In 1956, Thurman Roberts started the Salt Lick with his wife Hisako. They were determined to stay in Driftwood and compiled a list of 54 things they could do to make it happen. The restaurant was 14th on the list.
We had an early lunch at Salt Lick on our way to spend the weekend in Fredericksburg. Arriving at 11 when they opened and there was already a line of people waiting to be seated! They only accept cash but they have an ATM on site (lucky for me, it’s not exactly close to any bank!). If you don’t have a car to make the drive yourself, there is a shuttle that will bring you to Salt Lick and to two nearby wineries with enough time for tastings.
Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach
Luckenbach, the tiny town where everybody’s somebody. After our heavy lunch at Driftwood, we drove to Luckenbach. The small town is now technically a district and is just a 15-minute drive from Fredericksburg. With a beer and a Dr. Pepper (I really miss those living abroad!), we enjoyed the live music outside, behind the historic post office. Check their schedule here to make sure you catch a good show.
Wine Tasting in Fredericksburg
We ended our perfect Saturday in the Hill Country by heading over to Becker Vineyards. Fredericksburg is actually home to Texas’ wine country and it’s surprisingly good! Becker’s wines are award winning and I recommend adding them to your hill country wine tour. Another must is Pedernales Cellars, end the day with a glass of wine on their deck overlooking the endless rolling hills and live oaks. Hungry? Make your way to downtown Fredericksburg for some German fare at the Aulsander Biergarten.
Climb Enchanted Rock
We spent the night in Fredericksburg and woke up early to start the day climbing the large granite mountain, Enchanted Rock. I’d gone with my parents when I was a little kid but had been back. It’s an easy walk up, it took us about 45 to get to the top. It’s not technically challenging, you’re literally walking uphill on a giant rock, but we (ok, I) did run out of breath a few times. The views from the top of the endless hill country landscape are fantastic. You can also camp in the park and there are other hiking trails. I’ve never done it but I hear great things!
Go to a show at Gruene Hall
Gruene Hall in Gruene, Texas is just outside of New Braunfels. It was built in 1878 and claims to be the oldest continually run dance hall in the state. Nothing beats a live show at Gruene Hall. It’s hosted the greats including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, King George Strait, Lyle Lovett, and many, many others. If they’re Texas music royalty, they’ve played here. Eat dinner before the show next door at the Gristmill, overlooking the Guadalupe River. If you’re staying the night at one of the many adorable bed & breakfasts in town, and it’s a hot summer day, tube the river or spend the day at Schlitterbahn (the best water park to ever exist).
Eat BBQ in Lockhart
Lockhart BBQ is infamous, if you’re looking to try the best BBQ in Texas you should absolutely dedicate a day to pigging out in Lockhart. There are four famous BBQ joints in town. If you come with enough friends you can probably hit up all four by ordering a bit of everything and sharing, maybe skip the sides. Unfortunately, with only two of us, we were full after two, but I can swear to you, I have never had better BBQ than in Lockhart.
Go to Stonehenge in Ingram
When I found out there are replicas of Stonehenge and Easter Island heads in the middle of the Texas hill country, obviously, I had to go! It was too weird to miss. Stonehenge II was built as an art project by Al Sheppard when his friend and neighbor, Doug Hill, gave him a large slab of limestone that was leftover from building his patio in 1989. Standing the slab up like a column sparked an idea… He financed the project and Hill built it. A replica of Stonehenge was built out of metal mesh and steel frameworks covered in plaster and graphite. It stood proudly in Sheppard’s pasture, and soon a couple Easter Island heads were added to the display after a vacation to the South Pacific islands. They were saved from destruction after his land was sold by the Hill Country Arts Foundation.
If you can make it to San Antonio, do it. It’s my husband’s favorite city in Texas and it’s easy to see why. It’s famous for the Alamo but it isn’t the only mission in town. Together they make up the only UNESCO Heritage Site in Texas, check prices to tour them all here. After your tour of the missions take a stroll down the river walk and have a margarita (or two). The Iron Cactus and Boudro’s both make great margaritas (I’m partial to the frozen prickly pear marg at Boudro’s myself).
Where to stay in San Antonio
There’s no shortage of stunning, antique-filled and possible haunted hotels in San Antonio. We stayed in the St. Anthony once and really enjoyed it. It was only minutes from the Riverwalk. Another great option, just next door to the Alamo, is the Menger Hotel, built in 1859 right where the battle of the Alama happened. It’s filled with history, make sure to have a drink in the bar!
Weekend Hill Country Getaway
If you can spend at least a weekend (or more) exploring the Hill Country you won’t have any shortage of places to visit. Plan your own road trip from Austin to San Antonio! If you only have a day to spare (perhaps as a day trip from Austin), consider either heading to Lockhart and Gruene or spend the day in Fredericksburg and Lockhart, see the map below.