Texas has more road lane miles than any other state in the US (boasting over 700,000) across the Lonestar state. That being said, there is an inexhaustible variety of towns, routes, and choices to embark on. Living in Austin, some of the more famous spots are a little too far for a day or weekend trip (ie. Big Bend, Marfa, Corpus Christi, Galveston, and more that are on my Texas bucket-list). But, if you only have a few precious days, or even a Sunday to explore, check out one of these below as they’re all within 3 hours of downtown Austin.
1. Lockhart: Texas BBQ and Antiques
Despite being only 30 minutes south of Austin, driving into Lockhart feels like driving back to old-time Texas. Lockhart is home to three of the state’s best barbecue joints: Blacks BBQ, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s market. All offering a slightly different flavor and ambiance.
If you’re feeling frisky, try the BBQ challenge and nosh at all three joints in one day…Challenge accepted? I’ve never had the guts to do it yet, but never say never. And, don’t worry, in between courses you can burn off some cals by antique hunting among the many shops. Or, if you’re into shooting off some steam, try your hand at the Lone Star Gun Range!
2. Gruene: A Bonafide Texas time
Gruene is one of those feel-good, Sunday stroll type of towns. The historic district is home to one of the oldest dance halls in Texas, the Gruene water tower, and other authentic historical buildings from the early 1900s. As you wander through the shops you will find all Texas everything from T-shirts to wall hangings and furniture. As is customary of all Texas towns, there are also at least 5 Antique Shops to browse through.
3. Luling: Home to watermelon, BBQ, and today’s special
Luling is a tiny Texas town between San Antonio and Houston. It’s once bustling streets (due to the discovery and boom of the oil industry) are now filled with antique shops and dusty window sills. The ‘best’ barbecue in Texas is always debated, but Luling’s City Market is one of the most infamous – serving 3 meat choices, and 3 only. The line winds through the restaurant and out the door on the weekends, so prepare to wait, but I promise it’s worth it. Aside from BBQ, Luling is known for having the sweetest, juiciest watermelon. Head to Zedler Mill to crack open a watermelon bigger than your head on the banks of the San Marcos river! There’s also an Oil Museum if you’re into that.
4. Fredericksburg: Stop for the peaches, stay for the wine tasting
About 80 miles west of Austin, 2-hour drive
A perfect hill-country destination with peaches for days in the summertime. There is still plenty to do all year round from climbing the ancient Enchanted Rock, sipping a brew at the Fredericksburg brewery, wine tasting, or even berry picking in the stunning rolling hills. Hwy 290 turns into Texas Wine Road, and boasts over 15 wineries each with a unique ambiance, cheese plate, and vista.
Boozy-tip: if you’re looking for a cocktail, head to Jobell Cafe and Bistro and sip on their patio.
5. Shiner: Home to the oldest Brewery in Texas
Shiner lies about 90 miles southeast of Austin and is home to the Spoetzle Brewery where every bottle of Shiner beer (a Texas staple) is bottled. You can only tour the brewery Mon-Fri, but don’t fret, you can still sample the beer on the weekends for free.
Head to Antiques, Art & Beer to choose from >165 types of beers as you browse through this eclectic, interesting shop! Even if you’re not one for antiques, it is definitely an experience.
6. Gonzales: The Come & Take It Town
Gonzales, Texas was the first site of the Texas Revolution and is proudly home to the ‘Come & Take It’ cannon. Although I wouldn’t expect too much action in this sleepy town nowadays. We went on a Sunday and almost everything was closed–but, it was fun to roam around the eerily quiet streets, glance at all the old antiques, and we even stumble upon a cat farm.
We stopped to eat at an authentic Tex-Mex lunch at Rodeo, a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place with paper signs on the walls, an endless supply of steaming tortilla chips, Mexican popsicles, and queso all for under $10.
There is something to be said about the open road, about the freedom to let your hair flow wild from the Texas wind as you pass by everything from Grandma’s Donut Shops and all you can eat BBQ joints, to open fields full of cows and watermelon-shaped water towers. If you’re looking for weird, out of the ordinary, or just a simple drive out of town, you can truly find it all along the roads and inside the Texas towns along the way.