Weekend break near Austin, TX?
February 14, 2013 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I will be visiting Austin, Texas for work in April. I'm thinking of taking a weekend break before I return to Europe. I'm looking for suggestions for somewhere relaxing to spend a few days near the city, preferably Texan in flavour.
posted by Grinder to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Hill Country is Texas's Bed and Breakfast, antiquing, and gentle quirkiness center. "Hill Country" is your search term, but your results will be in places like Gruene, Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, and lots of little towns and ranches in the vicinity, and most won't be more than an hour-ish out of Austin, if that. You could also go to San Antonio, which is pretty darn Texan.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:10 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Barton Creek resort is very relaxing.
posted by Houstonian at 7:14 AM on February 14, 2013

It would be helpful if you defined what "Texan in flavour" means to you.
posted by Houstonian at 7:18 AM on February 14, 2013

Houstonian: I've never been to Texas before, so I have no clear idea! I'd rather let Texans define the term...
posted by Grinder at 7:24 AM on February 14, 2013

Peach cobbler in Fredericksburg is transcendent. Also, Enchanted Rock.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:15 AM on February 14, 2013

I'm not sure if you are looking only for hotel/lodging recommendations, or also ideas about things to do in that area for a weekend. I'll toss out a few ideas to get it started, along with what I think makes it either "Texan in flavour" or what non-Texans sometimes think is especially Texan.

You could stay at the Driskill hotel. This is a nice and historic hotel, and it plays up the "Texan" angle with its decor -- especially see in the bar, etc. The lobby has the head of a longhorn steer mounted on the wall and the furniture is leather with metal stars, and there's a scattering of cactus plants. Why, is that a pair of pistols hanging in a niche? Why I believe it is!

Please also notice the hotel's address on a map. It's at the corner of Brazos and E. 7th Street, which means it's one block away from Sixth Street. What people mean by "Sixth Street" is not the whole thing, but is the part from Interstate 35 to Lavaca St. It's one of those streets that is pretty much all bars, nightclubs, live music, and other fun places to be in the evening.

In the daytime, you might as well see the State Capitol building and the library because Austin is truly a pretty small city. Oh, but, you will need a car. I very much enjoy the LBJ Presidential Library, but maybe that's just me. LBJ was a Texan, though. You'll be there in the spring, so I think it's also worth going to the Lady Bird Johnson wildflower center -- again, maybe that's just me, though. As you drive our roads, though, you'll see miles and miles of bluebonnets and paintbrushes, and this was due to Lady Bird's efforts. For generations now, Texans have stopped on the sides of our roads and plopped their kids in the bluebonnets to take their picture. It's definitely part of our culture. It's what we do, but maybe it's not what most people think of when they think "Texan".

BBQ. Austin and that area is definitely BBQ country. Here in Texas, that means beef and hickory, not pork and vinegar like in the southeast. I think it's possible to find better BBQ than where I'm going to recommend, but hear me out... I recommend the Salt Lick. It's a little outside of Austin, and it is probably exactly what you think it would be. Smoky, outdoor seating available, huge portions of beef. And although I think you can get better, I'll tell you it's pretty darn good -- and very popular in Austin. It regularly wins awards. Cash only, BYOB (bring your own beer). They'll sell you a bottle of their BBQ sauce to take back with you, if you want.

I may be missing the mark here, though. Texas is also about beaches and fishing and oil and cattle and German beer and crazy politicians and country/blues music and honky tonks and Dr. Pepper and immigrants from literally everywhere and pine trees and green deserts and space travel and Tex-Mex food and borders and a lot more. Mostly it's also just regular people doing regular things like you might do anywhere. If you think of something that would really tickle you to see, you should tell us.

For example, I knew a woman who grew up in another country watching the TV show Dallas. She really believed it was an accurate depiction of Texas. So, it was interesting for her to see the ranch that they showed at the beginning of that show. People sometimes have very specific ideas of "Texan" and whatever it is, it can probably be found (but maybe not in the quantity that they think).
posted by Houstonian at 8:32 AM on February 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

I would do some googling, as I don't know which weekend is free for you, but I think it would be worth the effort and fun to go to a rodeo. If you're willing to drive a bit, I'm sure there's one happening the weekend you are free.

I went to one last year and I HAD SO MUCH FUN! I'm a yankee girl, but I loved living in Austin, and I'm hoping to move back there. When I told the people I worked with that I was going to the rodeo, all the Texans were "yeah, and?" though my fellow transplants understood my excitement.

Also, I now have the distinction of being able to say "this ain't my first rodeo." anytime I go to a rodeo for the rest of my life!
posted by raccoon409 at 9:43 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two Houston artists rehabbed an old dance hall, Sengelmann Hall, in central Texas that is located nicely in BBQ country. You can two-step, polka, and eat the best BBQ in the state as well as Texas-Czech fare at the dance hall! Bring your hat and boots.
posted by *s at 9:59 AM on February 14, 2013

Check out some of the great swimming holes around Austin. I especially recommend Krause Springs.

And City Market in Luling, Texas is just about the best bbq anywhere on earth.
posted by brookeb at 11:15 AM on February 14, 2013

BBQ to me means LOCKHART, 30 miles south, memeail me for THE BEST.....
posted by raildr at 11:15 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought of a few more recommendations. About food, which is a very Texan thing to think about! Maybe outside Texas, people don't think of these as Texan, but for Texans these foods are part of who we are -- every Texan is familiar with them. So, these aren't touristy recommendations, but maybe you can fit these in while going around and doing other more-touristy things.
- Kolaches. I recently learned that our kolaches are not what other people are eating... such a horrible tragedy. So, same Czech word, but totally different food. We have places dedicated to just kolaches, and also you can get them at donut shops. They are kinda like a tiny hot dog wrapped in an almost-sweet dough which is also stuffed with cheese and sometimes (when you are lucky) pickled jalapeno. To find a place, just look on Google Maps for 'kolache austin' -- I get 4 pages of results, so there's one near you, wherever you are in Austin. (If you're here for business, and there's a meeting where maybe donuts might be brought in, you'll probably have kolaches too.)
- Whataburger. It's not strictly Texan anymore because they've opened places in other states, but really this is a Texan thing and it's hugely popular. Maybe every Texan has eaten here, many times. To be clear, this is a fast-food hamburger joint. With really good burgers. Piled high with really fresh lettuce, tomato, and onion. Texans eat them with mustard. They make the burgers as you order it, though, so get it the way you want. Again, just google for a location -- there are maybe hundreds in Texas. Almost all of them have an orange-and-white striped roof.
- Blue Bell ice cream. Made in Brenham, Texas and massively eaten here not as something especially Texan but just as the best ice cream available. It used to be sold only in Texas, and within the past 10-20 years or so they started selling it to other nearby states. Also shipped to the International Space Station. So, Texas, Southern states, and space only. Their tag line is "We eat all we can, and we sell the rest." You won't find better ice cream anywhere. You can definitely find the pint-size containers in grocery stores, but also in gas stations/convenience stores. Just ask around -- it's sold everywhere. There are no bad flavors.
- Tex-Mex. Like BBQ, everyone has strong opinions about the best place. For you, I think you want one that is very tasty and representative of our food. So, I've linked to Chuy's -- they have several locations in Austin. I see that the menu they have on their website is without prices -- this is not a terribly pricey Tex-Mex place. About $10 per person, but naturally more if you have margaritas, which actually I think you should, or you can get a beergarita if that's not made it to your corner of the world yet. Yes, it comes out with a bottle of beer inside your margarita glass.
posted by Houstonian at 11:33 AM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I live in Austin, but am not a Texan -- there are lots of things to do that are VERY Austin, that I don't think are very Texan. I'm happy to recommend some Austin stuff -- memail me.

The most Texan thing I've done is the LBJ library and the trip down to Lockhart. Better BBQ than the Salt Lick (although there is good BBQ in Austin -- it just doesn't feel "Texan"), and the drive takes you through rural areas, and you see Longhorns on the side of the road, and it is all around delicious.

If you do go to the Salt Lick though, take some tours of some local vineyards while you are at it, or just do some wine tasting at the Salt Lick. I was very surprised by the variety of Texas wine.
posted by hrj at 1:07 PM on February 14, 2013

LBJ Library is a lot of fun, but I also especially enjoyed going to see the old LBJ homestead. It's near Johnson City, southwest of Austin and east of Fredericksburg. You can have a leisurely drive through the sites and listen to an accompanying CD produced by the state park service (thoughtfully available in a postbox for you to borrow on your tour).

Between Houston and Austin, you'll find Washington County and Brenham. Home to Blue Bell ice cream, the Antique Rose Emporium, a lavender farm, plenty of great antique stores, and a lot of Texas history, including the town of Independence, the former capital of the Texas republic. I don't see how you could get more Texan than that.

The Star of the Republic Museum was fascinating to my husband and I, Yankees from way back - it's a whole other history we never learned about in our schools. It's also about a 45 minute drive from the Showboat Drive-In movie theatre. You can also check out the tiny, intriguing Navasota Blues Museum.

Fredericksburg is also a hoot - the Pacific War museum isn't relaxing, other than its twin memorial gardens, but it is amazing. Just be aware that Fredericksburg closes up shop promptly at 6 pm and there's not so much to do except window shop...unless you like books. If you love books and it's after 6, go straight to Berkman Books. A nice, nice shop with a friendly cat and a lot of wonderful Texana books to buy. David Berkman, one of the owners, was kind enough to help me find several of the "must-have" Texan books previously listed by Texas Monthly in a well-known article. To me, that was wonderfully relaxing.
posted by mitschlag at 3:12 PM on February 14, 2013

Go to the Gruene Hall in Gruene (pronounced just like green) on Saturday night. It is about an hour from Austin. It's the most "Texan" thing you could possibly do. Second best would be to stay in downtown San Antonio and stay at the historic Crockett Hotel or the Menger Hotel (watch out for ghosts), both just steps away from the Alamo and the San Antonio Riverwalk. I love The Menger Hotel with its rich history. You'll be right in the middle of San Antonio with lots to do and see. There are trolleys that will take you to Market Square, which is a Mexican market with shops, stalls, and restaurants.
posted by tamitang at 5:54 PM on February 14, 2013

Thanks to everyone for the extensive answers, lots of good ideas.
posted by Grinder at 12:28 AM on February 15, 2013

I second Enchanted Rock and the nearby town of Fredricksburg. Also Hamilton Pond is nearby - super!
posted by cellura p at 1:28 PM on February 16, 2013

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