School is officially out for the summer and you know what that means – time for family outings and vacations! Even though I was homeschooled for most of my life and we were able to travel any time of year, I still always looked forward to summertime and the things we would do as a family then. Though we took a lot of great trips elsewhere, many times my family opted to stay within our home state of Texas. It’s the second largest state in the US, with terrain that varies from beaches to lush forests to rocky, mountain-like hills to desert plains and more, so there is so much to do and see here. Even though I’ve lived here my whole life, there is still so much I haven’t seen yet! So Texas is a great travel destination for both “outsiders” and Texas natives alike!
Something that I’ve come to greatly appreciate lately is the beauty of small town America. There are countless little towns across this country that were once the backbone of society but are now slowly dying away, and that makes me so sad. However, there are many communities that are finding a way to revitalize themselves and put their town on the map again. I just LOVE that concept of breathing new life into your home town and making it beautiful again, and when pondering what travel ideas I could share today, I thought why not share my favorite Texas small towns?
So if you're a Texan looking for a fun day or weekend trip, or someone from out of state looking for a low-key vacation spot, keep reading for my small town tourist recommendations!
In April of this year, my mom, little sister, and I took a weekend trip to Brenham and its surrounding area to celebrate my sister’s 20th birthday. We drove out late on a Friday night and stayed in a hotel a short ride away from Brenham, then spent all of Saturday exploring this charming town. Brenham is most known for being the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream (AKA: the best ice cream ever – change my mind!), but it also has many adorable boutiques, a gorgeous home decor and furniture store, an antique mall, and several restaurants. We had SO much fun exploring this picturesque little town! My favorite places we found were the bookstore, a Christian-run clothing boutique that had the cutest stuff, and this amazing sandwich shop called Must Be Heaven that’s been open since 1982. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was charming. Be sure to get a slice of their peach praline pie with some Blue Bell vanilla ice cream – you will thank me later!
One of the BEST areas of Texas to visit is the Hill Country. The mountain-like terrain will make you feel like you’re in an old-fashioned Western, and it’s chock full of small towns to visit (or larger cities that are also awesome like San Marcos, New Braunfels, and Austin). One of my family’s favorite small towns to visit in this region is Fredericksburg. Founded by German immigrants in the mid 1800s, Fredericksburg is still a great place to find German cuisine, and it also has a great downtown area filled with other restaurants and shops. Our favorite shop there is called Smitten—it’s so cute! Another can’t-miss thing in Fredericksburg is Enchanted Rock State Park. It’s a massive domed mountain of granite you can hike over, though it’s worth a trip just to look at it from the ground below. I have not done the hike yet, but my parents and sister did a couple years ago and they said it was fun but more difficult than anticipated, so just be prepared!
Bellville has a small downtown area with shops (be sure to check out the Bellville meat market), but the real gem of this town is Newman’s Castle. Yes, you read that right – a castle in the heart of Texas! Built by history lover Mr. Newman, who gives all the tours of his home personally, this modern replica of a medieval castle is surrounded by a large moat and boasts a working 3,000 lb drawbridge and portcullis, a chapel, a dungeon, five turrets, a courtyard and central keep. Grab up a wooden sword and have a battle on the wall overlooking the moat or take a turn raising and lowering the drawbridge on a massive, human-size, wooden “hamster wheel”--whatever you do on your tour of this spectacular place is sure to become a forever memory. The day my family and I went (along with my husband who’d just started dating me), it was very cloudy and started drizzling rain while we were climbing up the tower stairs and exploring the castle walls, so it only added to the atmosphere. It really felt like we were back in time! So much fun!
Gruene is another favorite Hill Country destination of ours! It consists of fifteen acres of carefully preserved historical buildings, many of which now house shops and restaurants. If you go there, you cannot pass up at stop at Fickle Pickles for a jar of some of the best pickles you’ll ever eat! You also don’t want to miss the Gruene Antique Company and the Gruene General Store. Finish off your day with dinner at either the Gristmill River Restaurant or the Gruene River Grill, both of which are delicious restaurants in beautiful historic structures overlooking the Guadalupe River!
Wimberley is very small and doesn’t get as much traffic as other more popular Hill Country towns, but it still has a cute downtown area. When my family went there several years ago, we found the most amazing restaurant called The Leaning Pear. The building is very modern with huge windows and a deck overlooking the beautiful scenery outside, blending the outdoors and indoors together to create an unforgettable atmosphere. The food was delicious and anytime I think of that day in Wimberley, I can’t help but think of The Leaning Pear and want to go back.
The most famous attraction in Wimberley is Jacob’s Well - a breathtaking natural spring with a round drop off that looks like a well (hence the name) and leads to underwater caves. The well looks like it goes on forever, but divers have measured it to be 120 ft deep, which still sounds deep enough to be terrifying to me!
Jefferson is a must visit destination for antique shop lovers! In addition to their fantastic shopping options, there are a lot of historic homes, outdoor activities, two nearby lakes, and two drive thru safaris. Jefferson is also populated with a plethora of quaint bed and breakfast hotels, making this small town an ideal destination for couples in need of a weekend getaway. My parents spent their anniversary here one year and loved it! They highly recommend The House of the Seasons B&B!
This is a small town that is beginning to experience a rebirth in its culture and tourism. Some friends of ours have been pastoring there for a little over a year, and when we went to visit them for their one year pastoral anniversary in February, we were able to get a tour of their town and just fell in love with it. The downtown area is being cleaned up and revitalized, and there are several cute little shops, other businesses, and restaurants that are worth a visit. We ate breakfast at Joe Pines Coffee shop and loved it so much! The atmosphere was so cozy and inviting, the pastries we ordered were delicious, and the coffee (according to those in my family that drink coffee) was excellent. They also have a pay-it-forward system, which was so cool! For instance, if you visit and tell the cashier you are connected to the Pentecostals of Marshall church, and if there is money currently in their pay-it-forward account, then your coffee is paid for!
Another can’t miss stop in Marshall is The Weisman Center. This was one of the most beautiful antique malls I’ve ever been to – and one of the largest, considering it’s three stories! The building was constructed in the late 1800s and was a department store for over a hundred years before it closed down. Several years ago, the building was restored and reopened as an antique mall, and it’s now thriving again. The architecture of this building, especially the woodwork and ceiling was just breathtaking!
Marshall is also only a twenty minute drive from Jefferson, so you could easily go to both in one weekend.
So there's my list of small town travel recommendations! Yet I know it's only scratching the surface of all the little gems hidden amongst the backroads and rural areas of Texas - and beyond. Maybe I'll have some more to share with you some day!