Deep in the heart of Texas there is a region known for rolling hills, world class wineries, classic barbecue, and two iconic cities that are so welcoming, yet so different. Texas Hill Country has a little something for everyone, no matter how discerning a taste you might have. San Antonio is a growing metropolis this is rich with history dating back to the Mexican War and the Battle of Alamo with legendary names as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Austin is a modern up-and-coming city that has become a favorite destination for young professionals in the tech industry. In between the two is a vast collection of winding roads that cut through the rugged, hilly terrain, joining all the small towns that have their own individual personality.
My journey begins on the River Walk in San Antonio. In the middle of the downtown area of the city, below the street level, dozens of bars, restaurants, and shops have set up their businesses along the San Antonio River, which winds through the middle of the city. After checking into my hotel, I ventured down to the riverfront to enjoy the warm weather and take in some of the local fare. There were people on both sides of the river, filing up most of the outdoor tables enjoying happy hour. After meandering a while, I found a table outside of one of the bars and ordered myself a margarita. One thing I will warn you up front is you better come ready to spend some money, because the food and drink is not cheap! Realizing that my one drink was going to cost me $12, I thought it be best to move along. Unfortunately, almost all of the other establishments on the river price their menus at about the same price point. I finally surrendered and went back to the hotel for some dinner and called it a night. For such a great setting, it ends up a little disappointing due to the fleecing of your wallet.
After leaving San Antonio, I head northwest toward the town of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg is a town that sits on the western edge of Hill Country and is the largest town other than San Antonio and Austin. The nerve center of the town is Main Street, which has a six block stretch lined with clothing stores, candy shops, art galleries, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. There are two things that really stand out for me when I think of the town. The first thing is the strong German influence the town has. Many of the breweries, restaurants, and stores tap into the roots of the initial settlers that were of German heritage. The other thing that is a must see in town is the museum/memorial dedicated to the veterans of the World War II Pacific Theater.
Immediately, you are drawn to the large courtyard that is surrounded by hundreds of plaques honoring the different units, ships, and individual sailors that served and in some cases, perished during the war. After spending some time going through and reading the stories of these heroes, I went into the museum dedicated to Admiral Chester A. Nimitz. Nimitz was the Supreme Commander of the Pacific Theater during the war and was born and raised in Fredericksburg. The museum tells a great story of a great man. Anyone who is a history buff, like myself, will really enjoy learning more about one of the most important leaders of World War II.
Leaving Fredericksburg, I start to wind through the country side and come across more small towns, each with something different to offer. Luckenbach (yes, that same Luckenbach Waylon Jennings made famous) is more of a music venue than it is a town. The old “post office” gives a nostalgic feel taking back to a simpler time.
I stopped in Blanco for a flight of beers at Real Ale Brewery and later for lunch at Old 300 BBQ. I have to admit that Old 300 had the best barbecue during my trip and the peach cobbler is an absolute must. Trust me! I finally make my way to Austin and start to prepare myself for the experience that is 6th Street.
If there is one thing that Austin does better than anything else, it is live music. I know there are places like Nashville that have live music in almost every bar every night, but most of the time, those bars are playing country music. In Austin, not only does every bar have live music every night, there is almost every kind of music you could want. In the course of three blocks, I went from a hard rock bar, to a blues bar, to a jazz bar, and finally a bar with a young man that if you closed your eyes, you would swear that Eric Church was on stage. It wasn’t even a weekend and the streets were packed with people bar hopping, singing, and dancing. Quite possibly, the best night life scene I have been a part of. For a simple dinner, check out Eureka. Their sweet spot is burger and beer and they do both things very well.
My final day in Hill Country was similar to day before. I spent the daylight hours cruising through the hills. I went off the beaten a little bit driving through Balcones Canyonlands National Refuge.
After miles of switchbacks and single-lane bridges I came out the other side and started working my way back through the small towns of Bertram, Burnett, Llano, and Marble Falls. I ended up back in Fredericksburg and started to head back to Austin when I was surprised with the stretch of road heading toward Johnson City. The road between these two towns is littered with wineries and peach stands. Most people think of Georgia when they think of peaches, and rightly so. However, Hill Country Peaches are some of the most flavorful in the world, and if you time your trip right, you will be in for a treat. Unfortunately, it’s the middle of winter so, there are not many peaches to be had. I guess I will have to settle for some peach wine. Not a bad consolation prize! The amount of different wineries that you can pop into for a tasting or to purchase a bottle is almost overwhelming. I don’t have the most sensitive pallet when it comes to wine so I did not venture to far down that path, but I do think it’s a great thing that the many options are there.
As I head back to Austin and finish off my trip, I feel as though that I need to visit Hill Country during the other seasons. Something tells me that the character of this place changes with the season. There are many huge public swimming holes and outdoor concert venues that are quiet now, but I’m sure are full of life with the coming of warm weather.