Weekend Drives: Texas Hill Country

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Oct 14, 2016

When you think of Texas, you think of cowboys and ranches, wide open spaces and rugged terrain. And nowhere in the state epitomizes that culture more than Texas Hill Country. Comprised of 25 counties that stretch from Austin south to San Antonio and then to the west, it’s an area of the Lone Star State that’s as famous for its singer-songwriters as it is for pit barbecue. You’ll find Willie Nelson picking away on his ranch in Spicewood or if you’re lucky you can catch him on one of his unannounced appearances at Gruene Hall.

There’s plenty to do in Hill Country. Outdoor activities, arts, music, history, and nature abound. Certainly there’s much more than one can experience in just a weekend, but it will give you a taste of the area and make you want to come back for more. Whether you start your trip in San Antonio or Austin, you’ll find each city to be unique and memorable. So pull on your boots and grab your Stetson and join us for a weekend in Texas.

Texas is a big state and this drive will take all day, so make sure you have water in the car and a few snacks to eat along the way. Start out in San Antonio and head northwest to Bandera for a stop at the Frontier Times Museum. Admittedly the first part of the drive isn’t spectacular, but once you get out of the city, things open up quite a bit. After taking in a dose of western culture it’s time to get outside and see the second largest granite dome in the country, Enchanted Rock.

After some time hiking, you’ll be hungry, so hop back in the car and head east toward Austin and before you get into town, you’ll hit the best pit barbecue north of the Rio Grande, The Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX. Started in 1967, The Salt Lick has been featured on the Food Channel and numerous culinary magazines. Ribs, brisket, turkey and sausage are all slow cooked over an open pit. The smell alone with have your mouth watering on your walk in from the parking lot. With your hunger craving’s satisfied you can burn off a few calories paddling on the river in New Braunfels. And if you’re feeling up to it, stick around and catch a show at Gruene Hall, or head back into San Antonio and enjoy an evening exploring the Riverwalk, the Pearl District and everything else the city has to offer.

Hotel Emma, San Antonio
A luxurious oasis in the city’s Pearl District, this hotel is actually a renovated brewery. Much of the brewery’s equipment was preserved and used in the restoration. For example, the holding tanks have converted into private rooms in the hotel bar. It’s one of the more unique hotels not just in Texas but all of the country.

The Antlers Hotel, Kingsland
Opened in 1901, this classic Texas retreat sits at the Llano and Colorado Rivers come together to create Lake LBJ. It served as a weekend getaway for residents of Austin until it closed in 1923. For the next 70 years it was a private retreat for the Barrow Family. It was renovated and reopened in 1996 and now the property includes not just the hotel, but several renovated cabins and three restored train cabooses.

Cypress Valley, Spicewood
Have you ever wanted to spend the night in a treehouse? You can in Texas Hill Country. Just west of Austin, Cypress Valley Canopy Tours not only offers amazing zip lining and rope bridge tours of the cypress forest, you can also spend the night in one of their four tree houses. For the less adventurous you can also stay in the 5 bedroom ranch house. But either way you’ll have a night to remember.

In addition to The Salt Lick, there are plenty of other great barbecue and steak houses in Texas Hill Country. But for something a little different, try one or all three of these establishments.

Lost Maples Cafe
384 FM 187 Main Street, Utopia, Texas
Come for the Chicken Fried Steak, but stay for the pie. This is what it’s all about. When we’re road-tripping we never pass on pie. Take your pick of Coconut Meringue, Lemon Meringue, Chocolate meringue, Fudge Pecan, Pecan, Buttermilk, Apple & Cherry

Der Lindenbaum
312 East Main Street, Fredericksburg, Texas
German heritage runs deep in the heart of Texas and nowhere is it more perfectly captured than in the food and architecture of the Der Lindenbaum. Authentic German food including Schnitzels, Sauerbraten and Bratwurst are served with the state’s largest selection of German Beers. Genießen!

River House Tea Room
1617 New Braunfels Street, New Braunfels, Texas
They bill themselves as “Local. Fresh. Southern.” and the River House delivers on that promise. Great ingredients, a talented chef and a strong point of view. Don’t miss the Shrimp and Grits, but just about anything on the menu will satisfy.

As you’d expect there are plenty of outdoor activities in the Hill Country. You can powerboat, sail, fish or kayak on one of the region’s 24 lakes. You can go horseback riding, explore a variety of state and regional parks, go spelunking, enjoy a show at the Austin City Limits theater and more. Here are a few of our favorite things to do there.

Gruene Hall
Built in 1878, this venerable music venue is the oldest continuously operating dance hall in the state of Texas. With live music played every night, its stage has seen a who’s who of music legends (not just country) thrill the crowds. From Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys to John Prine, Todd Rundgren, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristopherson, Leon Russell, Keb Mo and so many others, this modest hall is the home of legends past, present and future.

Ox Ranch
Come on, admit it. You know you’ve always wanted to drive a World War II era tank, and you can at Ox Ranch just two hours west of San Antonio in the town of Uvalde. There are eight tanks on the property including an M4A2E8 Sherman from WWII. You can drive any of them and if you’re really brave you can shoot the main gun and machine guns on each. Good times!

Texas Wine Trail
There are 51 wineries in Texas Hill Country and most all offer tasting and tours. Official wine trail events provide a great way for you to experience a few at a time so you can relax and enjoy the experience. But, while we do hope you enjoy a bit of the grape, remember, don’t overindulge. We want you to get back home safely!

Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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