The Texas Hill Country is a favorite getaway for good reason: gorgeous outdoors, great food, elegant B&Bs, and local charm. But there’s far more to see and do than the same frequently mentioned cities. Consider this your primer to the Texas Hill Country that tourists haven’t yet discovered.
The Hill Country covers 25 counties and over 10,000 square miles in South Texas and Central Texas. Fly into San Antonio or Austin and rent a car, either for day trips from either city or for longer stays in local B&Bs.
Shopping & Eating: Boerne, Texas
What happens when German immigrants, Tex-Mex influences, and contemporary Hill Country artisans come together? Boerne, Texas. Pronounced “Bernie,” the city is a quick 40-minute drive outside of San Antonio in the heart of German Texas. Classic massive limestone brick storefronts line its wide Hauptstrasse (Main Street), where you’ll find some of the best day tripping and gift shopping in the state. Breakfast in town at Bear Moon Bakery with beloved German pastries and pigs-in-a-blanket or the Texas-sized breakfast buffet. You can wander out the door and straight onto the historic shopping district along Main Street. Blocks of antiques stores sit side by side with contemporary boutiques, offering clothing, elegant home goods, craft and quilting supplies, Texas silver and jewelry, Mexican furniture, and more.
Pro Tip: Don’t leave town without grabbing lunch from either the original Bumdoodler’s, Hill Country’s favorite sandwich shop, or Mague’s Café, the go-to place for grab-and-go breakfast tacos starting at $1.25 each. (Yes, breakfast tacos are a meal any time of the day in Texas.)
Wild West Lifestyle: Bandera, Texas
Can’t get enough spaghetti westerns in your Netflix queue? Drive to Bandera -- aka the Cowboy Capital of the World -- where western storefronts and traditional limestone will have you searching for the nearest saloon. Visit the Frontier Times Museum ($5) for a peek into the curious world of cowboy life on which Bandera was built, then get your own cowboy on at one of the handful of dude ranches that offer nightly lodging. At the Double U Barr Ranch, for example, you’ll enjoy a rustic-feeling stay on a working ranch complete with longhorns, cattle, a creek for fishing, and a Big Texas Breakfast. The cabin and guest suite are each $125 per night for double occupancy.
Pro Tip: What would a trip to the Cowboy Capital be without getting to drink with actual cowboys? Not much, say the locals -- which is why you should join them at the 11st Street Cowboy Bar, known as the Biggest Little Bar in Texas. This beloved honky tonk is the best place to see locals play guitar and dance as they stop in for a cold beer after work.
Outdoor Adventures: Los Maples State Park & Garner State Park
Civilization is all well and good, but you haven’t truly seen the Hill Country until you get into the great outdoors. Our picks: Los Maples State Park, northwest of Bandera, or Garner State Park on the Frio River. Unlike highly advertised Hill Country places, both parks boast breathtaking natural views and outdoor activities you can enjoy without bumping into scores of tourists. At just over 2,000 acres, quiet Los Maples State Park ($6) is perfect for contemplative hikes through groves of rare big tooth maple trees. In Gardner State Park ($7), you can indulge in hanging out on a river, a favorite Texan past-time. Choose from swimming, tubing, canoeing, or fishing -- or enjoy miles of hiking paths, a miniature golf course, and lodging like screened shelters, campsites, and cabins.
Pro Tip: These parks do attract more visitors during some months of the year than others. In Los Maples, fiery fall foliage brings locals from miles away. At Gardner, the crowds come on the summer nights when the concession building turns into a jukebox dance floor, a tradition celebrated since the 1940s by generations of Texans. At both times, you’ll want to plan ahead, as parking is limited.
Relaxation and Refinement: Wimberley, Texas
If you’re yearning for an elegant getaway deep in the heart of Texas, Wimberly -- set at the intersection of the Blanco River and Cypress Creek -- is the haven where locals love to vacation as well as retire. Here, experience the best of Southern hospitality at local B&Bs like Blair House Inn, where a stay includes impeccable food, a wine nightcap, local art, your own fireplace, and a warm welcome from the family owners. Lodging varies from private cabins to a main lodge, from $160 per night, and the Blair House Inn chef cooks a Saturday night pre-fixe dinner open to the public for $70 per person. Elsewhere in town, don’t miss the many local artists’ offerings; Wimberley Glass Works, where you can watch live glassblowing demonstrations for no charge, is a highlight. There’s also Wimberley Lions Market Days, the second-largest market in Texas, where 475 booths pitch up downtown on the first Saturday of the month from March through December.
Pro Tip: Nothing beats sitting on the river and sipping wine you’ve selected from your local winery. Visit Wimberley Valley Winery for a tasting ($7 for any five wines) or to tour -- then bring home a bottle (or three).