The US state of Texas is home to many wonderful small towns-set in the vicinity of big cities. Brimming with Southern hospitality, comfort food, and influences from Mexico, one will get an authentic Texan experience during a weekend getaway.
The "Cowboy Capital of the World" marks the place of the last cattle drives in the late 1800s in Texas. Today, people visit Bandera for the dude ranches to live like a cowboy for a day. The Dixie Dude Ranch is best for family-oriented fun, including riding lessons, hunting for fossils and arrowheads, as well as marshmallow-roasting by a campfire to a sing-along, and enjoying a cowboy breakfast on the range. The Silver Spur Ranch is great for stargazing, while the Mayan Dude Ranch offers animal interactions, trail rides, and dancing lessons. Aside from the art of cow-handling, one can explore over 5,000 acres of the Hill Country State Natural Area, as well as kayak along the Medina River. The thought-provoking Frontier Times Museum teaches about history through odd-curiosity tales and artifacts. The 11th Street CowboyBar, known as "the biggest little bar in Texas," brings everyone together for some good ol' foot-stompin', great grub, and drinks.
Just a quick drive from Austin, Dripping Springs is a wonderful weekend getaway from the hustle and fumes of the city into a calm natural world. Many also come to the known town-mecca of spirits, tastings, and distilleries for even more relaxation. The Dripping Springs Vodka produces small batches of vodka and gin, while the Treaty Oak Distilling is heaven for whiskey lovers. The Frog Pond Distillery comes with a porch to sip on a gin or vodka cocktail with a view of Hill County. The Texas Hill Country Olive Co. is a great place for a day worth of family-friendly fun, such as orchard and olive mill tours, souvenir shopping, and olive oil tastings. The Hamilton Pool Preserve is a natural wonder formed over thousands of years through water erosion, with a collapsed grotto, canyons, and a 50-foot waterfall. Back in town, one will find plenty of boutique shopping, live music entertainment, and eating establishments to suit any taste.
Established in 1846 by Baron Otfried Hans Freiherr von Meusebach from Germany and settled by German immigrants, Fredericksburg is a real treasure cove for the cultured. Among the 700-some historic structures lining the marvel-worthy streets, there are churches, the White Elephant Saloon landmark, and the grand Nimitz Hotel. Erected in 1852 by Charles Henry Nimitz to resemble a steamboat, it is now home to the National Museum of the Pacific War. The 3.5-acre Pioneer Museum houses artifacts from the first German settlers, while Fort Martin Scott is the first of its kind on the state's western frontier. After perusing the town full of shops, one can head to the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site on the outskirts or the town of Luckenbach from Willie Nelson song, 13 miles to the south.
Set 40 miles south of Austin, Gruene, pronounced as "Green," is a state-designated historical town for a real weekend getaway into the past. Set in glorious history, the Gruene Mansion Inn was formerly resided by the town's founder, while the Gruene Hall is the state's oldest dance hall that hosted Willie Nelson and George Strait. Along with countless shops, boutiques, and eateries behind the old building facades, one is likely to run into vendors selling homemade crafts and antiques during the Gruene Market Days, every third weekend of each month from February to November. The Guadalupe River is great for tubing, while the nearby town of New Braunfels comes with Canyon Lake for more water fun. A trip to Gruene would not be complete without paying a visit to one of the many wineries and the wondrous Natural Bridge Caverns in the vicinity.
Jefferson comes brimming with cool antique treasures, including tons of shops and over 70 historic landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places. There are also allegedly-haunted buildings, including two hotels, with the Excelsior House Hotel inviting guests for a real eye-opening experience. While eye-feasting on the churches and other sites, one must check out the notable Jefferson Carnegie Library, funded by the American industrialist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. The gorgeous magnolia tree near the Jefferson Historical Society Museum was planted as a seedling by the former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. She got it from a tree on the White House lawn, which was planted when President Andrew Jackson was in office. One can stock up on some old-fashioned candy or down a root beer float at the Jefferson General Store (the 1860s) before heading to paddle through the bayous at the Caddo Lake State Park, 20 minutes away.
Set at the border with Mexico on the banks of the Rio Grande River, the town is steeped with traditions and culture from the neighboring country. Comprising a rich historical past, Laredo belonged to France, Spain, and Mexico, as well as existed independently for a few months under the Republic of the Rio Grande in 1840. Today Laredo is home to many people of two nationalities, offering peace and respite in the small-town atmosphere, along with an easy commute to work. Collaborations with local artists, restaurant owners, and community leaders highlight the rifle Mexican culture through interesting attractions and a great food scene. One must catch the CaminArte art walk first Friday of each month in the downtown core for the extraordinary presentations of Mexican history and present-day influence through visual and performance art.
A dream come true for the beach-goers, the small town is home to 18 miles of sands bounding waters. Set on Mustang Island off the Gulf Coast, anglers flee to the locale for great game fishing ops from the surf and the fishing pier. There are also off-shore excursions for scenic catching, as well as a summertime fishing tournament. Aside from surfing, kayaking, and kite-boarding, one can partake in real boat construction with the Farley Boat Works. Nature lovers will rejoice in bird-watching for the hundreds of species in the area along the six sites of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Known for a thriving art scene, there are countless studios and galleries to see works and in-process creations, while the Port Aransas Art Center and the Port Aransas Community Theater offer a deeper look into the area's talent. The lively water-bound nightlife includes regular live performances at numerous bars and restaurants.
The tiny town is an antiquing paradise between Austin and Houston for a weekend getaway into a whole other atmosphere. People come to the Henkel Square Market in the historic district to mingle, and people watching while browsing for a unique household item or a souvenir. The marvelous historic buildings from the mid-1800s house various shops selling jewelry, clothing, and beautiful artwork. For a quick bite, the Royers Pie Haven serves some of the state's top pies, including the sinfully-good "Texas Trash." Rummel Square comes with more places to shop, dine, and see art, along with the Round Top Area Historical Society. The Shakespeare at Winedale is a definite place "to be" for the regular Shakespearean plays during spring and summer, while the biannual epic antique fair is scheduled for the last week of October this year.
A definite must-stop on a road-trip north of Austin, Salado is a small town full of artists and artisans, countless boutiques, and galleries. Set as a rustic, quiet park at the north end of Main Street, the sculpture garden is great for relaxing and wandering among some 30 large sculptures by renowned artists. The picture-worthy stone remains of the once prominent Salado College are housed at the other end of the street, with a plethora of shops and cafés in-between. To stay, there's the wonderfully-renovated Shady Villa Hotel from 1861 and the historically-listed Salado bed and breakfast, known for homemade brekky foods. To partake in the local culture, one can take a "Blow Your Own" class at the Salado Glassworks or visit the Chupacabra Craft Beer for the 60 Texas craft beers and live music. The town straddles Salado Creek to offer outdoors from the doorstep, while the Good Water Trail runs for 26 miles around the nearby Lake Georgetown.
Set less than an hour away from Austin and San Antonio; the water-bound college town is home to Texas State University and full of unique experiences. One can watch the Unicycle Football game during the season, where players balance on one-wheeled bikes or take the quintessential outdoor tour in a glowing, glass-bottomed kayak. The town is especially delightful to visit during summer for the long-ringing youthful vibe and student-geared attractions without the influx of the crowd. One can also kayak or inner-tube at their own pace down the lazy San Marcos river, go for a swim, or bask on the banks in the remaining rays of the summer's sun. Renowned for the huge and varied music scene, one will find many venues with nightly performances of everything from country to indie punk.
One of Texas's most scenic roads winding along the edge of Big Bend Ranch State Park leads into the Terlingua ghost town. The lack of connection in-town aids in seclusion to get away from everything and everyone for the weekend. Those who romanticize "nature in the raw" will find themselves in a weekend getaway like no other, with the complementing Posada Milagro guesthouses offering a unique stay. Located on a hillside, one will have un-obscured views of the Big Bend and Mexico mountains, while the premises come with large stone showers, an outdoor kitchen, and a great patio for stargazing. The on-site Espresso Y Poco Mas is frequented by the locals for Wi-Fi, as well as superb homemade breakfast and lunch. For dinner, there's the Starlite Theatre Restaurant from the 1930s, built for employees of the old Chisos Mining company, who eventually abandoned the town. One can order a prickly pear margarita and an antelope burger to the accompaniment of live music on the porch and breathtaking views of the hovering dark mountains upon sunset.
These small towns come with big-time attractions, authentic vibes, and unique experiences for one unforgettable weekend in Texas. With the great outdoors at the doorstep, one will be able to escape into the mountains, and national parks for recreation, in a heartbeat.