Austin and the Surrounding Texas Hill Country
Reprinted from The Commoner Photos © The Commoner
Austin is the state capital of Texas. It is also the live music capital of the world, a center for film, home to the University of Texas, and the venue for the Formula 1’s Circuit of the Americas raceway. The city’ parks and lakes are popular for hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and other outdoor pursuits as well as a ballet, world-class museums, and unique shopping experiences.
If you’re looking to experience Texas on a deeper level, you should visit the historic towns scattered around Austin, in the Texas Hill Country. Here you’ll discover over two dozen vineyards and a nice laid-back lifestyle, plus historical value
Historic Small-Town Retreats
Gruene, TX Though closer to San Antonio, the small town of Gruene is less than an hour drive southward from central Austin. It is a former German farming settlement, turned ghost town, turned artsy, revitalized community which now heavily relies on tourism. It’s history as a significant cotton-producing area resulted in most of the town being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
The nearby Guadalupe River offers fly fishing in the southernmost trout stream in the Northern Hemisphere. Show off your best two-step at Gruene Hall, the state’s oldest dance hall. Enjoy wine tasting at The Grapevine, in their outdoor garden. Or shop for antiques while walking through this rustic town, dominated by an iconic water tower.
Georgetown, TX Located thirty minutes north of Austin, Georgetown is a great family getaway. The damming of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River has created beautiful Lake Georgetown, which is surrounded by walking paths and parks. But for a more serene swimming experience, residents head to Blue Hole Park, which is a scenic lagoon bordered by limestone bluffs along the South Fork of the San Gabriel River.
Georgetown’s Victorian-styled Town Square is a great place to linger. The restored courthouse at the crossroads of the Chisholm and Hill Country Trails is home to the Palace Theatre, which provides entertainment and education within the performing arts.
Fredericksburg, TX is one hour and forty minutes west of Austin. Just north of the town is the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Fredericksburg is home to over 20 wineries offering wine tastings, barrel room tours, great views, and authentic German cuisine.
Main Street features over 150 shops and boutiques, as well as art galleries, such as Gallery 330. Gallery 330 represents both established and emerging regional and national artists in a variety of styles and mediums. The National Museum of the Pacific War is also located here, featuring interactive exhibits.
“All the World is Welcome Here”
Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973), 36th President of the United States
New Braunfels, TX Founded in 1845 by German settlers, it is a small town with a rich history. It is adjacent to Gruene and an hour drive from Austin. Go for a swim, kayak, or raft on the Comal or Guadalupe Rivers. Beat your handicap at Landa Park Golf Course, a PGA-rated 18-hole course which is located in beautiful Landa Park.
Wimberley, TX A forty-five-minute drive southwest of Austin will get you to the swimming-hole rich, tree-shaded, town of Wimberley. It was originally a mill town producing lumber, molasses, and cotton, Wimberley is now a hub for Hill Country arts, boutiques, and outdoor adventures. Most adventuring types will head to Jacob’s Well Natural Area, or hike the scenic Cypress Creek Trail, or climb over 200 steps to the summit of Mount Baldy to enjoy panoramic views of the Hill Country. It is a idyllic location full of artisan shops and spring-fed waters, bent on preserving its small town appeal.
Experiential Tourism in Austin and the Texas Hill Country
Gardens, Sculpture, & Wildflowers If you are interested in exploring the area’s outdoor areas, you won’t need to travel outside of the city. The Zilker Botanical Garden is located on 30 acres adjacent to the Colorado River and is populated with theme gardens interconnected by streams, waterfalls, and Koi-filled ponds. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden exhibits sculptures by the 20th century American artist Charles Umlauf, whose realistic works capture a broad spectrum of the human condition. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a diverse collection of wildflowers and other native Texas plants.
Live Music Austin’s music roots run-deep and no trip would be complete without sampling some live music. On any given evening, nearly 200 venues feature live music of all types – jazz, blues, country, Tejano, classical, folk, and rock. Festivals such as SXSW, ACL Festival, and Blues on the Green attract thousands of music buffs and bands, while keeping Austin at the top of the worldwide music scene.
Arts and Culture Explore the museums, ballets, theaters, and symphonies that thrive in this city. The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin is one of the foremost university art museums in the country and has the largest and most comprehensive collection of art in Central Texas. The Harry Ransom Center holds the earliest known surviving photograph and one of five Gutenberg Bibles in the US. The Contemporary Austin art museum sits on twelve acres of beautiful parkland overlooking Lake Austin and features contemporary art through exhibitions, commissions, education, and the collection. The Mexic-Arte Museum, the official Mexican and Mexican-American Fine Arts Museum, is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latin American art and culture.
Adventure Austin’s rolling hills and meandering waterways create the perfect playground for exciting adventure opportunities. Locals and visitors alike can be found hiking and biking around Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. The Barton Springs Greenbelt is another opportunity to hike and climb, with over seven miles of natural surface trails. Be sure to climb Mount Bonnell, the highest peak within the Austin City Limits and beautiful views of downtown and Lake Austin.
Shopping and Entertainment Downtown Austin is a bustling area of commerce, cuisine, cocktails, and the Capitol – a melting pot of finance and fun, as well as philanthropic conservation. The arts scene is alive and well with galleries and museums at nearly every corner. Second Street is a hotbed for shopping, between Congress Avenue and San Antonio Streets. The area is home to local and national brands, ranging from beauty, body, and abode, as well as restaurants and pubs.
The Warehouse District is an interesting area. As the name implies, many of this neighborhood’s bars and restaurants are housed in renovated warehouses. This vibrant scene draws a diverse crowd thanks to its range of live entertainment, restaurants, LGBT scene, and unique shops.
Arguably the fastest growing neighborhood in Austin, the eclectic Eastside is where old meets new. Discover rich history and culture, eateries and boutiques. The nearby Rainey Street Historical District features renovated houses turned into bungalow bars and more opportunities for entertainment.
Austin has so many things to see and do. It’s in your best interest to spend a week or more here to take full advantage of all the city and the surrounding areas.