The Texas Hill Country is a rustic, hilly region in Central and South Texas. Many of its granite and limestone hills rise 400 to 500 feet above the neighboring valleys and plains. Its highest peaks reach between 2,300 to 2,400 feet. The heart of the region stretches out west from Austin and is comprised of small, historic towns, many with German names. German influence is everywhere: in the food, the architecture, the culture. It lingers in the state even today. So too do the Texan, Mexican and Spanish traditions which give this locality a lot of its spicy zest. The landscape is threaded with two lane highways, meandering crystal-clear water rivers, and creeks bounded by limestone canyons. The Hill Country is ruggedly handsome with Texas-sized ranches with longhorn cattle and goats grazing in rocky cactus strewn fields. The Hill Country is sometimes described the border between the American Southeast and Southwest. No other region in the world is quite like it, and to this day it retains its hardy western cowboy roots.
Food and drink are king in this region of Texas. Numerous wineries and vineyards fill the acreage which sweeps from Austin west to Fredericksburg and New Braunfels. Many of these wineries yield their reds and whites from grapes grown in Texas and feature their own unique flavor. You can sample these wines at each winery’s tasting room and go on a tour of each vineyard to learn how the wine is produced. The Germans brought their love of beer to Texas. A great number of craft brewers dot the area and world-class whiskey brewers offer samples and tastings.
Some of the best Texas barbecue is made in the Hill Country. Texas-style brisket is well known all over the world. Lockhart and Austin barbecue are particularly noted for experimenting with new and unique twists on old favorites, using new ingredients in sauces and combining Mexican and Asian style ingredients for sides and garnishes.
The Hill Country offers something for everyone. Many parks with clear water lakes and rivers are great for outdoor activities and hiking. Unique shopping and dining abound in the towns and small cities. A variety of Old West historical sites and 19th Century buildings can be seen to throughout the area. Or if you just want to chill out from urban living this is definitely the spot. There are an infinite number of remote and romantic retreats in the region from tree houses, glamping tents, yurts and waterfront cabins and homes which will make your experience especially memorable. Here are a few of my favorite Hill Country towns.
The German influence abounds in Fredericksburg. Founded in 1846 by German immigrants it is an alluring town rich in history. The city draws visitors enticed by the area’s natural splendors, charming downtown, and its array of vineyards and wineries. The Fredericksburg wine road (Highway 290) boasts 22 award-winning wineries. Wandering downtown on the main street, treat yourself to a wine tasting, or shop for a one-of-a-kind gift at a wide selection of boutique shops. There is an eclectic choice of tasty eateries here, many housed in historic buildings. Don’t miss Wildseed Farms, the wildflower and herb farm which houses a wine tasting room and beer garden. You can also explore artifacts at the National Museum of the Pacific War, go hiking at nearby Enchanted Rock. There are plenty of intimate bed & breakfast establishments located within walking distance of the Historic main street.
Kerrville is one of the oldest settlements in Texas with evidence of humans for over 10,000 years. Today, it is best known for its western history and cultural events, such as the State Arts & Crafts festival and the Kerrville Folk festival. There is a diverse variety of shopping and dining experiences here too. Nestled in the hills of Texas Hill Country, it is also known for its scenic parks that stretch out along the Guadalupe River,which meanders directly through the town.
Boerne has a historically appealing Main Street, “The Hill Country Mile,” with more than 80 unique shops and boutiques. Many are lodged in vintage buildings. Shoppers can stroll contentedly from one shop to another for unique crafted gifts, antiques or pieces of art. Along the way, stop at a quirky bar or grill for a drink or for some local Hill Country cuisine. Boerne is deep in the heart of the Hill Country, sitting alongside Cibolo Creek.
Gruene pronounced (“Green”) is a charming town listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is actually located within the town of New Braunfels along the Guadalupe River. It is an idyllic tiny town, settled by German farmers in the 1840s. Its flourishing historic district offers a glimpse of Texas history. One of the most striking of the vintage buildings is on the main street. Gruene Hall is one of the oldest open-air dance halls in Texas. Willie Nelson and George Strait have performed there in years gone by. Also close by is the Gruene Family Home, now known as the Gruene Mansion Inn, a delightful Victorian-style B&B that dates back to 1872. Visitors are drawn to Gruene for its array of distinctive shopping, dining, and recreation opportunities.
Highway 16 rises through the Hill Country for 30 miles between Kerrville and Medina and is one of the most scenic drives in Texas. In Medina don’t miss the Apple Store Bakery and Cafe. Texas Monthly Magazine rated it one of its top forty best “small town cafes” in Texas. Continuing Highway 16 takes you to Bandera, a small rustic and once-remote town founded by Polish Immigrants. It often referred to as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Rodeos are held weekly during summer as well as gunfight re-enactments in the town’s charming downtown. There are plenty of Dude Ranches in which to stay nearby if you want that unique Texas experience There is also a bounty of Texas pioneer history at the Frontier Times Museum, whose 40,000-piece collection includes unusual artifacts like a Texas map made from rattlesnake rattles and rawhide lariats from the town’s untamed past as well as a Natural History Museum. Bandera is home to one of the oldest churches in Texas – St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, built in 1887. The Hill Country State Natural Area is a 20-minute drive away, and is packed with trails for hiking, horseback riding, and biking.
Wimberly is a scenic town surrounded by natural wonders. Rivers and creeks have dramatically sculpted the limestone beds which course through the landscape. Wimberly’s winding streets with shady oaks, junipers and cedar, are fashioned around the Blanco River which runs through the town. Those who want to get out in nature can visit the famous Blue Hole Regional Park, with water a hypnotic shade of blue, or Jacob’s Well for plunge into cool clear water. Or take a drive to Devil’s Backbone. For those that prefer to stay in the village there are plenty of galleries. One of the more notable in the area is hand-blown glass from Wimberley Glass Works. Local restaurants feature farm-to-table Hill Country cuisine. In this region you can experience some of the freshest and tastiest goat cheese in the country. If you enjoy beef, it doesn’t get fresher than this.
The Hill Country is bursting with fascinating limestone caves and caverns to tour, but Natural Bridge Caverns is easily accessible and one of the largest and most impressive natural formations in the country. If you have children or love natural wonders do not miss this stop. It is located in the northern reaches of rural San Antonio.
Lost Maples State Natural Area stretches along the tranquil Sabinal River in the town of Vanderpool. It is a superb year-round destination for hiking, but best known for its striking fall colors each autumn. You can catch the changing colors ranging from late October-November each year. Watch the foliage report for updates on the best time to visit. There is a cozy river retreat a mile away from the park with splendid river views. Check “A Room with a View” for a review of this property. Also do not miss the nearby towns of Leaky and Concan. Leakey has some unique cowboy bars, a historic inn as well as being the gateways for floating down the Frio river. Concan has Garner State Park which is idyllic.
There are many more Hill Country cities and towns yet to visit. Seguin is a great place to stop for lunch the Power Plant restaurant is a dramatic setting for a drink or a meal and Lockhart is a beautifully restored town; its barbecue is legendary. Austin needs a full article on its own and is not to be missed. Not only is it the State Capitol, but the “live Music Capitol of the World”.