Although it is easy to imagine the cowboys and the taverns in Texas, the state's big cities with their hustle and bustle will not do justice to representing the Texan culture that is so different from the rest of the country. There is no better way to feel the Texas vibe than by visiting these small towns, where the concentration of the Texan way of life is dominant.
Twenty-five miles out of Austin, the town of Dripping Springs is a known mecca for spirits, complete with tastings and brimming with distilleries. The Dripping Springs Vodka, the Treaty Oak Distilling, the Deep Eddy Vodka, and the Frog Pond Distillery all have their own specialties, with the last one offering a porch setting overlooking Hill Country. The Texas Hill Country Olive Co. proposes orchard walking tours, olive mill tours, and olive oil tastings for wine aficionados. For the nature-lovers, the Hamilton Pool Preserve is a natural miracle formed over thousands of years by water erosion and contains a collapsed grotto, canyons, and a 50-foot waterfall.
The hotspot of Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg, was founded in 1846 by Prince Frederick of Prussia. German presence drips from every corner of the quaint town that is also a sister city to Montabaur, Germany. Featured on the National Register of Historic Places in Texas since 1970, the town's collection of historic buildings comes complete with many eclectic shops, antique stores, restaurants, and museums, including the Pioneer Museum and the National Museum of the Pacific War. One of the most notable landmarks of the region, the Enchanted Rock, is less than 20 miles to the north, composed of a large, pink, granite pluton formation that emanates mystery.
The town of Canyon boasts the second largest canyon in the country, known as the "Grand Canyon" of Texas. At the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, one can hike, bike, and ride horses, while historians will love exploring the largest history museum in the state, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. One can also wander the Historic Downtown Square to reminisce about the architecture and visit the many specialty shops in the charming buildings for something to come home with.
Granbury's iconic historical square contains shops, restaurants, and bars, among which the Hood County Courthouse with its hand-wound clock dating back to the 1800s comprises the main landmark. A perfect place to discover the American old west and outlaw history, there are numerous 19th-century houses to explore, such as the Daniel-Harris Home and the Ashton House. The town is also famous as a fleeing place for John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The burial ground of Jesse James is also located here. The Granbury Opera house, the Revolver Brewing, and the Dinosaur World, complete with authentic fossils in the life-sized replicas, will be appreciated by respective fanatics.
Set centrally in the Texas Hill Country, Hunt is a beautiful conglomeration of limestone peaks and home to beautiful lakes, rivers, and rolling hills. The Guadalupe River comes with an array of private camps built in the 1920s within beautiful natural scenery and the converging point of north and south river forks. The Rodeo and Dance Hall in Crider and the Kerr Wildlife Management Area are worth visiting for some fun and learning, respectively, while camping out with a fire, one will absorb the Texas-in-the-night atmosphere.
The Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera, is popular among tourists for its dude ranches, where one can practice being a cowboy among other pastimes. There is a cowboy breakfast on the range included in a hunt for fossils and arrowheads at the Dixie Dude Ranch, where one can also learn horseback riding followed by an evening campfire sing-along. The Mayan Dude Ranch offers trail rides and dance lessons, while the Silver Spur Ranch is where to get close with animals and stargaze at night. One can also do their own exploring of the more than 5,000 acres of plateaus and canyons at the Hill Country State Natural Area, while for a good foot-stompin' time, there is the 11th Street Cowboy Bar.
Jefferson is an all-Texas town in the east for relaxing and discovery, and with over 70 historic landmarks and buildings, including the imposing Old Post Office, Excelsior House, and the Jefferson Carnegie Library to explore. One can take a leisurely cruise up the Big Cypress Bayou, a thriving river port of the 1800s, or take the famous carriage ride among the many historic churches to soak up the atmosphere. With much left to discover, the Caddo State Park comprises a perfect day out, or in, at the Jefferson Historical Society Museum, while The Grove explores why Jefferson is titled as "The Most Haunted Small Town in Texas."
Marble Falls sits in an idyllic location of five picturesque lakes and the countryside that harvests grapes for some of the best wineries in Texas. Centrally-located, Marble Falls was founded in the late 19th century and is now home to the famous Blue Bonnet Cafe chain in Texas, serving the state's best pies. The vast and diverse area is wonderful for exploration and sightseeing, while the Lake LBJ Marina is perfect for cooling off at the water park or soaking up the rays in a beautiful outdoor setting. The waters of the Krause Springs call out to swimmers during summer, as does the Lake Marble Falls, which also offers excellent fishing. To hike, bike, or camp, one should head to the Pace Bend Park, while the adrenaline junkies can explore the rugged terrain and waterfalls at the nearby Hidden Falls Adventure Park via an ATV or 4X4.
Marfa, a far West Texas town, is tucked between the Davis Mountains and the Big Bend, as the known filming location for "Giant." Coming with a lot of natural exploration and sightseeing opportunities, including the mysterious Marfa Lights, one cannot miss the tiny Prada Marfa sculpture just outside the town. The artists revel in visiting the world-known contemporary art museum, the Chinati Foundation that was created by a minimalist artist, Donald Judd, and the Ayn Foundation with works by Andy Warhol. The Holocaust and Historic Model Ship Museum are somber and eye-opening, while the more adventurous can fly over the Marfa Plateau in a Marfa Glider. Upon downing a Texas-sized burrito at Marfa Burrito, Cobra Rock and Skóra Marfa boutiques are awaiting with hand-crafted artisan goods.
Nacogdoches is the state's oldest city and a Spanish settlement in the past, with the attempt by the missionaries to convert American Indians resulting in a blending of the cultures, visible on the streets today. To discover the town's history, one must visit the Stone Fort and the Old Stone Fort Museum, while the outdoorsy types would enjoy the Ruby Mize Azalea Garden, the Oak Grove Cemetery, and the hiking trails that were once trade routes. In town, one can wander the red brick streets, chatting-up with friendly locals and discovering the incredible architecture of the Historic Town Center.
Set in-between Houston and Austin, the beloved Round Top is a known art and culture mecca of the region, with the bi-annual antique show, an incredible art scene throughout the town, and the world's smallest Catholic Church. With some 100 people permanently residing on its 600-acre grounds, they manage to provide enough entertainment for the fleet of tourists each year. There are summer performances at the Festival Hill music institute with musicians from across the country and Shakespeare at Windedale during spring and summer. One must stop at the renowned, for its drool-worthy pies, the Royers Café before heading to the Henkel Square Market's historic district. It also features various shops among the historic buildings from the mid-1800s that sell fine art, jewelry, clothing, and marvelous artwork. The Rummel Square offers great galleries, shopping, and dining.
Set in-between Austin and San Antonio, the town of Wimberley is a true natural paradise. The wondrous Jacob's Well Natural Area is a quintessential swimming hole formed by an artesian spring and an underground cave system. The Blue Hole Regional Park also offers great swimming, along with trails, picnic spots, and an amphitheater. The best way to observe the town's culture is to visit the center for some boutique shopping, restaurants, art galleries, and live music. The Devil's Backbone is a scenic highway that road junkies adore, running through Wimberley and the surrounding towns. Upon climbing the 218 steps to the top of Old Baldy (Prayer Mountain), one will be awed by the spectacular panoramic views above Wimberley over the Hill Country.
Whether one likes nature, historical architecture, cowboys, or good-old-stomping fun and drinking, these towns brim with the best of what Texas has got. One cannot go wrong visiting any of these towns to feel the true Texan within them coming out.