After exploring San Antonio, get out of town — by taking a little side trip or scenic drive into nearby Texas Hill Country. In the mid-1800s, land grants drew settlers to these hills, and today, little German and Alsatian cities there are home to bed and breakfasts, inns, wineries, lavender farms, mom-and-pop shops, art galleries and restaurants. Cedar and cypress trees shade high, craggy hills; caves and rivers cut through the canyons; and real-life cowboys can be found.
Boerne Convention & Visitors Bureau
A close San Antonio neighbor, Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”), lies 30 miles northwest of downtown, drawing art and antique lovers alike. The “Hauptstrasse” (Main Street) is lined with gift shops, antique markets, art galleries, coffee shops, bakeries, beer gardens and wine bars. A river edges the small town of limestone buildings, and tree-filled parks and hiking trails in the area attract nature enthusiasts, as do 2 fine Texas caves, the Cave Without a Name and Cascade Caverns. Boerne is a great shopping town, but many stores there are closed Sundays and Mondays. The Second Saturday Art and Wine events each month are always sure to please.
Kenny Braun / Texas Tourism
Called the “cowboy capital of the world,” Bandera is a tiny Texas outpost on the edge of an enormous state natural area (think big state park), about 50 miles from downtown San Antonio. Known for its guest (“dude”) ranches, bed and breakfasts, inns and a couple of noteworthy Texas honky-tonks, including the quirky 11th Street Cowboy Bar, Bandera is the Texas we’ve been looking for all along.
Stephen Saks/ Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images
Along the Medina River, just 20 miles west of San Antonio, lies Castroville, the “Little Alsace of Texas.” French and German settlers from the Alsace and Baden regions settled here in the 1840s, and today, the red rooftops, white buildings and European architecture reflect the area’s proud history and culture. The town’s biggest draw? Haby’s Alsatian bakery, a tradition since 1974. Try the honey buns, frosted cookies and knotted breads.
Kenny Braun/ Texas Tourism
About an hour or so from San Antonio, in the heart of the region, is Fredericksburg, arguably Texas’ favorite Hill Country town. This popular old German settlement is where Texans head for weekend getaways. Known for its many “Sunday Haus” guesthouse lodgings, German restaurants and Main Street shopping, Fredericksburg is also home to the stellar National Museum of the Pacific War, wineries, wildflower farms, spas, restaurants, German biergartens, music events and more. While there, visit Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, which features a pink granite dome the size of a small mountain. Just a few miles outside of town is legendary Luckenbach, TX, made famous by its namesake Willie Nelson song.
At the elbow of Hill Country, just up Interstate 35’s “Golden Corridor” about half an hour from downtown, the bustling city of New Braunfels draws guests who come for summer water fun. They can ride inner tubes down the Comal and Guadalupe rivers or spend the day at Schlitterbahn, an enormous waterpark. Adjacent to New Braunfels (and actually considered part of it) is a former ghost town turned tourist destination — the little Gruene Historic District (pronounced “Green”). There, visitors will find Texas’ oldest dance hall, along with restaurants, shops, a winery and even an old-time soda fountain and general store.