Texas often gets overlooked for the more weather-friendly, hipster-rich West Coast shores. It’s a state that invokes romantic images of cowboys, longhorns, and BBQ, but no one really thinks of it as a traveler’s dream. However, Texas is full of surprises, as I discovered on my trip to the central part of the state. Whether you’re in search of something outdoorsy to do, interested in the drinking scene, or just want to contribute to keeping Austin nice and weird (as it should be), there’s something for everyone when you embark on a Central Texas Ramble!
Starting Point: San Antonio
San Antonio is a great starting point for your ramble and home to some historic sites that can’t be missed. There are 5 iconic Spanish missions to see in San Antonio, the Alamo, of course, being the most famous among them. Entrance to the Alamo is free, although you may have to wait in line for upwards of fifteen minutes to get inside. The wait is made easier by the placards detailing the site’s history which dot the pathway outside the church entrance.
This Texas city also boasts the largest Mexican market in the U.S., and you’ll want to spend a couple hours wandering the stalls of Market Square (or El Mercado). There are some great Mexican restaurants and food stalls around this area, so if you’re hunting for good Mexican food you can’t go wrong here. You’ll also be treated to outdoor singing performances and see knick-knacks commonly found in Mexico. After visiting, you’ll feel like you took a trip south of the border into another country altogether!
The Riverwalk is one of San Antonio’s more well-known haunts and can be a lot of fun to wander. There are many shops and restaurants lining the paths that border the river and it can be quite a romantic experience to amble along the Riverwalk in the evenings. You can take a boat tour for $10, or simply satisfy yourself with a long stroll. Just beware that restaurants are pricier in this part of town due to its popularity with tourists!
Day Trip: Enchanted Rock and Fredericksburg
There’s no better way to take in the Texas Hill Country views than from the summit of Enchanted Rock. This massive pink granite dome holds a magic all its own and lies just 1 ½ hours from San Antonio, making it the perfect day trip if you’re hoping to get away from the city!
Climbing Enchanted Rock’s dome is something like trekking up the side of an enormous basketball. The trek isn’t tough, even kids can do it so if you’re in relatively decent shape you should be fine. The park also offers options for camping (so you can see the sunrise come up over Enchanted Rock), rock climbing, hiking, and star gazing. I did one of the hikes around the park which took me a couple hours and offered up some beautiful scenery.
Enchanted Rock does get very popular during the holiday season, often forcing park officials to close the park at around noon to avoid overcrowding. Show up early (it opens at 8am) and you should be fine, otherwise risk spending the afternoon in your car waiting for them to reopen. On the way back to San Antonio, be sure to stop in at Fredericksburg, one of Texas’ more well-known German towns. Get a bite at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant before heading back to the big city. This joint offers some traditional German eats, incredible baked goods, and killer grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s not to be missed!
Passing Through: Scenic Routes
You won’t get your fill of Texas Hill Country unless you embark on a scenic drive. There are several really amazing ones, but if you’re headed from San Antonio to Austin you should definitely take a detour through New Braunfels and stop in Lockhart. Sure, the trip may take longer, but you’ll get way more out of it than if you stick to the huge highway running between San Antonio and Austin.
New Braunfels is another one of Texas’ famous former German settlements and boasts plenty of small town charm. There’s museums to visit, outdoor activities galore in the summer, and, if all else fails, you can take a stroll through its lovely town center. It’s the getting there that is what really matters, so take 281 out of San Antonio for a more scenic journey!
Towns don’t get any smaller than Lockhart, Texas. But then, if you’re intentionally heading to this little village, it’s probably because you’re looking to get away from the big city. What’s so special about Lockhart? Well, there are two things. The first is its gorgeous City Hall which gives the town an idyllic feel. The second is the BBQ. Texas is known to be a BBQ state and Lockhart just so happens to be the BBQ capital! Drop in at Black’s BBQ for some melt-in-your-mouth choice meats. If you’re a vegetarian (like me) you can still partake of some delicious eats. There are plenty of true Texas sides like mac & cheese, cornbread, and beans. Oh, and Black’s pecan pie is absolutely to die for!
Ending Point: Austin
There’s no better place to finish up your Central Texas Ramble than in the Texas capital of Austin. ‘Keep Austin Weird’ may be this metropolis’ motto, but there are some, er, ‘normal’ activities to do too. Walk the grounds of the Texas Capitol, then take a jaunt downtown to look in in at the local shops, restaurants, and theaters.
Don’t miss out on eating at P. Terry’s, a chain of burger stands found only in Austin. P. Terry’s is a staple in this city and there’s a reason why: the food is incredible! The restaurant is a firm believer in fresh ingredients and you can definitely taste it in your meal. P. Terry’s veggie burger easily rates as one of the best I’ve ever had, and the fresh-cut fries, lemonade, and chocolate shakes are amazing too. You may just find yourself eating here more than once!
You can also spend some time walking around the University of Texas campus. You’ll find lots of cool hangs nearby such as bubble tea shops, thrift stores, and quirky bars. Be sure to drop in to Buffalo Exchange where you can sell clothes you no longer want and buy lots of nifty secondhand items. And, of course, no trip is complete without having a drink at Austin’s iconic Spider House where you can catch some live music and try local brews!
What are some of your favorite places to visit in central Texas? Share your Central Texas Ramble experience with us!