Head for the Hills in Texas
Texas Hill Country diversions include horseback riding and also visiting historical attractions that tell the story of Texas' pioneers.*
By Sharry Buckner
The Texas Hill Country is a land of delightful small towns and friendly folks. It also boasts panoramic scenery, cool rivers, down-home cooking and starry nights.
But there’s something else: an almost surreal quality that has made these hills perpetually endearing to generations of Texans. To get out and enjoy the region, you might consider this drive tour; it's 213 miles roundtrip from San Antonio.
San Antonio to Boerne (30 Miles) and Boerne to Bandera (25 Miles)
Depart San Antonio on Interstate 10 and head northwest. Take the TX 46 exit to Boerne (888-842-8080 or www.visitboerne.org). Pronounced Bernie, this inviting small town has a nostalgic ambience – a gazebo in the park, a historic Main Street and a creek brimming with hungry ducks.
From town, take Farm Road 474 seven miles to Kreutzberg Road. Turn right and follow signs another five miles to one of Texas’ best-kept secrets, Cave Without a Name (888-TEX-CAVE or www.cavewithoutaname.com), 325 Kreutzberg Rd.
There is no neon or kitsch here. Tours are available, but the owner tries to preserve the natural, still-living cavern. (See photo at left.*)
At lunchtime, head back to Boerne. Bear Moon Bakery (830-816-2327), 401 S. Main St., is a popular eatery serving soups, salads, sandwiches and luscious pastries.
Alternatively, you might try El Rio (830-249-9555), 518 River Rd. (on TX Hwy 46); it's a family-owned café across from Cibolo Creek that offers excellent Mexican food. The creamy, garlicky spinach enchiladas are the best on the planet.
Art galleries, boutiques, and antique and gift shops line Boerne's Main Street. Of special note are A Little Nature Store (830-249-2281), 106 E. Theissen St. at Main Street, Tall Pony Ice Cream Parlor (830-249-2009), 259 S. Main St., and a needlework shop cleverly named Ewe and Eye (830-249-2083), 512 River Rd.
Leaving Boerne, take TX Hwy 46 west until it ends at TX Hwy 16. Turn right onto TX Hwy 16 and continue to Bandera, aptly named the Cowboy Capital of the World (800-364-3833 or www.banderacowboycapital.com).
Bandera’s friendly, Western lifestyle appeals to visitors from around the world. If you're seeking anything “cowboy,” it’s here, from dance halls to dude ranches, from pick-up trucks to western-wear shops.
Many come to stay at one of the area’s dude ranches, such as the popular Hicks family’s Mayan Ranch (830-796-3312 or www.mayanranch.com).
Room rates begin at $125 per adult nightly. Included are three meals daily, horseback rides, use of the tennis courts, and all ranch activities and entertainment.
Kids and adults alike love the western "feel" of Bandera. One place to stay is Mayan Ranch; its comfortable cabin accommodations are shown above.*
Backroads Reservation Service (866-796-0660 or www.backroadstexas.net) represents many quality B&Bs, guest houses and cabins. Rates range from $85 to $200 per night.
Old Town Square (830-796-4100 or www.banderasquare.com/townsquarehotel.html), 703 Main St., is above a restaurant and cantina in the middle of the action. It offers rooms with a distinctive Western flavor from $65 per night.
A luxury casita bedroom at Old Town Square; the building's new cantina is also shown.*
When chow time rolls around, there’s the Old Spanish Trail (830-796-3836), 305 Main St. This local hang-out serves down-home cooking at reasonable prices. Eat in the John Wayne room, a wall-to-wall tribute to the Duke.
Other good choices are Busbee’s BarBQue (830-796-3153), 319 Main St., and China Bowl (830-796-8494), 1203 Pecan St., across from the courthouse.
Horseback riding is a draw at Hill Country State Natural Area.*
Outdoor lovers may explore nature on horseback at the Hill Country State Natural Area (830-796-4413 or www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/hill_country).
It's a good idea to bring bottled water as there is no potable water on-site. Nearby ranches also offer horseback equipment rentals and tours through the 5,369-acre preserve.
Back in Bandera, shops along Main Street and the side streets sell Western wear, turquoise jewelry, leather goods, cypress wood work, antiques, gifts and souvenirs.
Country music, honky-tonks and dance halls are an integral part of Bandera’s culture and history. Live dances are held most Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights throughout the year.
Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar (830-796-8826), 308 Main St., is Bandera’s most legendary watering hole. Several others vie for the fun; most offer live music on weekends, some during the week.
And don't forget to ask if there’s a rodeo in town. Open rodeos are held twice weekly during the summer.
Bandera to Medina (15 miles); Medina to Kerrville (25 miles); and Kerrville to Fredericksburg (25 miles)
Bandera’s Main Street (TX Hwy 16) leads to Medina, the “Apple Capital of Texas.” Stop in the Cider Mill & Country Store (800-449-0882 or www.lovecreekorchards.com) on the right side of the street in this tiny town.
Browse the amazing selection of apple products, from strudel to apple jalepeno jelly to delicious apple ice cream.
Continue on TX Hwy 16 to Kerrville (800-221-7958 or www.kerrvilletexascvb.com). On this pastoral drive, the gentle curves get sharper, rolling hills get steeper, valleys get deeper and ridge-top vistas are spectacular. The alluring Guadalupe River runs through Kerrville. It draws visitors and locals alike to its Cypress-lined shores.
The Museum of Western Art (830-896-2553 or www.museumofwesternart.org), 1550 Bandera Hwy. (TX Hwy 173), is home to the Cowboy Artists of America and a renowned Western art library.
At the headquarters of nationally acclaimed jewelry craftsman James Avery (830-895-1122 or www.jamesavery.com), three and a half miles north of I-10 on Harper Road, visitors can watch jewelry being made in the workshop.
At lunchtime, Francisco’s (830-257-2995), 201 Earl Garrett St., located in a downtown historic building, serves fresh, innovative Tex-Mex cuisine. Joe’s Jefferson Street Café (830-257-2929), 1001 Jefferson St., offers Texas-style American food.
The Lakehouse (830-895-3188 or www.hillcountrycookin.com), 1655 Junction Hwy. (TX 27), which is shown at right*, doles out fried catfish and other comfort foods in a scenic setting overlooking the Guadalupe River.
Before the sun sets, it’s time to head up the road. Follow TX 16 to Fredericksburg (888-997-3600 or www.fredericksburg-texas.com), 302 E. Austin St. This small town passionately celebrates its German heritage. A large part of downtown comprises a designated Historic District. The town's European charm, old customs and countless festivals draw multitudes of tourists.
The reservations service Gastehaus Schmidt (866-427-8374 or www.fbglodging.com), 231 W. Main St., represents more than 100 B&Bs, guest houses and country inns, matching guests with appropriate lodging. Rates begin at $85 per night.
Fredericksburg Inn & Suites (830-997-0202 or www.fredericksburg-inn.com), 201 S. Washington St., is a traditional motel one block off Main Street. It offers exceptionally nice rooms and amenities beginning at $79 per night.
The Fredericksburg Inn features an attractive outdoor pool area.*
Veterans or history buffs should consider splurging on a memorable one-of-a-kind hospitality experience. The Hangar Hotel (830-997-9990 or www.hangarhotel.com), 155 Airport Rd., is uniquely designed with an exterior that replicates a WWII hangar from the 1940s. (See photo at right.*)
The interior is upscale luxury. The classic 1940s Diner and Officers’ Club adds to the nostalgic atmosphere.
It’s easy to spend a whole morning at the National Museum of the Pacific War (830-997-8600 or www.nimitz-museum.org), 328 E. Main St.
Originally the Admiral Chester Nimitz Museum honoring Fredericksburg’s native son, it has grown to a six-acre site featuring multiple exhibits. But you'll still find much on Nimitz, incuding artifacts, documents and other memorabilia commemorating Nimitz's distinguished U.S. Navy career (see photo at left*).
Shoppers will notice the seemingly endless number of inviting galleries, boutiques, antique and craft shops, and eateries along Main Street. Dooley’s 5-10-25 Store (830-997-3458), 131 E. Main St., an old-fashioned “dime store,” brings back fond memories to many.
The Pioneer Museum Complex (830-990-8441 or www.pioneermuseum.com), 309 W. Main St., presents the heritage of hearty Texas pioneers.
Visitors who want to learn about the hearty pioneers who settled Texas might check out the Pioneer Museum Complex in Fredericksburg.*
At lunchtime, Fredericksburg Brewing Co. (830-997-1646 or www.yourbrewery.com), 245 E. Main St.; Peach Tree Tearoom & Gift Shop (830-997-9527 or www.peach-tree.com), 210 S. Adams St.); or Engel's Deli (830-997-3176), 318 E. Main St., are all good choices.
Visitors of all ages will enjoy Wildseed Farms (800-848-0078 or www.wildseedfarms.com), U.S. 290 East, the largest working wildflower farm in the U.S. Stroll amid 200 acres of multi-colored blooms, a Live Butterfly Haus, nursery, walking trails, market center and refreshment area. The complex is on the north side of the highway seven miles east of Fredericksburg.
There are ample choices for dinner in Fredericksburg. Der Lindenbaum (830-997-9126 or www.derlindenbaum.com), 312 E. Main St., serves authentic German food. See photo at left.*
Navajo Grill (830-990-8289 or www.navajogrill.com), 803 E. Main St., features upscale cuisine and prices, as does The Nest (830-990-8383 or www.thenestrestaurant.com), 607 S. Washington St. (U.S. 87).
For cheap eats or take-out, nearly all the popular fast-food chain restaurants have a location in Fredericksburg.
Fredericksburg to Johnson City (30 miles) and Johnson City to San Antonio (63 miles)
Leave Fredericksburg heading east on U.S. 290. Five miles outside town, you can take a scenic four-mile side trip south on FM (Farm-to-Market) Road 1376 to Luckenbach (830-997-3224 or www.luckenbachtexas.com), made famous by Waylon and Willie in a 1977 hit song.
Sixteen miles from Fredericksburg on U.S. 290, the Visitor’s Center at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park (830-644-2252 or www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/lyndon_b_johnson) contains memorabilia from President Johnson’s boyhood to his presidential years. It serves as the starting point for LBJ Ranch tours.
Wildflowers bloom at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park.*
Next to the Visitor’s Center is the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead, a living history museum. Rural life in the early 1900s is portrayed by costumed interpreters.
In Johnson City (830-868-7684 or www.lbjcountry.com), 803 U.S. 281, is Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park (830-644-2252 or www.nps.gov/lyjo). It consists of LBJ’s boyhood home and Johnson Settlement, where his grandparents settled in the 1860s.
To complete the trip, return to San Antonio via U.S. 281 south from Johnson City.
Don't Miss - the Pink Granite Dome
Looking for something unusual? Then head for the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (325-247-3903 or www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/enchanted_rock), Ranch Road 965, 20 miles north of Fredericksburg.
Once mystically significant to Indian tribes, a massive, solid pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the ground. (See photo at right).*
The dome covers 640 acres. Many park goers enjoy climbing to the top. The climb is considered "moderate" for those in good shape.
Views from the top are extraordinary. When the park reaches parking capacity, the area closes. So call ahead to assess the crowd.
Sharry Buckner, a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), contributes to Texas Highways and Texas Hill Country. She has also written five guidebooks about Texas travel. Buckner also writes about her RV adventures traveling across the U.S. and Canada.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Bandera, TX, Convention and Visitors Bureau, various hotels, restaurants and other tourism entities mentioned in the above piece. All rights reserved. Please do not copy nor link to these photos. Thanks.