Too many Austinites know Bastrop only as a town they pass through on the way to and from Houston. A three-day visit will reveal the historic city’s charms and quirks.
Day 1 - Pecan Street Inn
Check in at the Pecan Street Inn (1010 Pecan Street, 512-321-3315), a stately Victorian home that is recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. Surrounded by pecan trees and lush landscaping, the inn is only two blocks from the Colorado River and downtown Bastrop. Five rooms are available, and each one has a different mix of gorgeous old antiques and modern amenities.
If you arrive in the afternoon, you can relax for a while in a rocking chair on the sprawling porch and allow your brain to ease into a quieter, small-town mode. Or you can walk about two blocks down Spring Street and take a walk along the Colorado River. The trail along the river winds through Fisherman’s Park (1200 Willow Street). The park has a boat and canoe launch site, a splash pad and several picnic tables.
When you’re ready for dinner, there are several excellent restaurants within walking distance. If you have a craving for a big, juicy steak, head to Piney Creek Chop House (703 Chestnut Street, 512-321-2135). Start off with one of the restaurant’s signature martinis, such as the lemon drop or the decadent chocolate martini. The Angus dry-aged steaks are simply seasoned with kosher salt, pepper, and butter, but the flavor rivals the best steakhouses in Houston and Dallas. Regular customers also rave about the mash potatoes and the crab macaroni and cheese.
Try the bread pudding for dessert.
After dinner, enjoy a stroll along Bastrop’s Historic Main Street District. Many of the beautifully restored two-story buildings along Main Street were built in the 1800s and were once home to blacksmiths, banks, and even a jail. The catwalk connecting the old courthouse and jail was once used to transport prisoners back and forth, to avoid having to walk them down the street. Now, Main Street is dotted with locally owned shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
Day 2 - Bastrop State Park and Opera House
Enjoy a hearty homemade breakfast in the Pecan Street Inn’s dining room. Many of the breakfast dishes take advantage of the inn’s bountiful supply of pecans. In addition to pecan waffles and pecan-stuffed French toast, the inn offers fresh baked goods and omelets. Everything is served on fine china, with crystal glasses and silver, helping to get your day off to a classy start.
After breakfast, take a short two-mile drive to Bastrop State Park (100 Park Rd 1-A, 512-321-2101) for a morning hike and swim. The worst wildfire in Texas history struck the area in 2011, and subsequent floods did even more damage to the park. It’s a testament to the resilience of nature, as well as the park’s devoted staff and volunteers, that the park is slowly coming back to life. Thousands of pine seedlings have been planted, and new facilities are under construction. What made the fire even more heartbreaking was that this region was home to the Lost Pines, a massive forest of pine trees in a part of the state where pine trees don’t normally grow.
Though pine trees are common in east Texas, the Lost Pines had been the only major pine forest in central Texas since the Ice Age.
Check in at the visitor center to see if there are any guided hikes led by park rangers on the day’s schedule. Nature buffs will appreciate learning about the science behind helping the park recover from the fire. Fortunately, the park’s rustic cabins, which were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, survived the fire. You may want to check those out for a future visit.
The trails range from one to seven miles, and some wind past the park’s small lake, scenic overlooks and creeks. After a good workout, the large pool near the park headquarters will be a welcome sight. Take a plunge and enjoy the sounds of nature (and a few kids) in the morning.
For lunch, one of the most popular restaurants in the region, Roadhouse (2804 Texas 21, 512-321-1803), is located a short drive from the park entrance. Burgers and meal-sized salads are the stars of the show here. The jalapeno cream cheeseburger is an amazingly delicious invention. You’ll probably need a nap afterward; in fact, you may want to ask someone else to drive the rest of the way back to the inn. The grilled chicken salad might be a more responsible choice if you’re the designated driver.
Back in downtown Bastrop, if you’re not quite ready for that nap yet, check out the small but impressive Museum & Visitor Center of the Bastrop County Historical Society (904 Main Street, 512-303-0057). Large dioramas and other displays help tell the story of early Bastrop, from its settlement in the early 1800s through World War II.
And since you’re already in the neighborhood, why not stop in at Simply Sweet (1010 Main Street, 512-321-0112)? The bakery’s specialty is cupcakes (including cheesecake cupcakes!), but Amy’s Ice Creams are also available. The charming storefront, originally built in 1882, is easy to spot due to the huge arched doorways and the ornately decorated railing on the second-floor balcony.
Once the sugar buzz wears off, you’ll almost certainly be ready for some downtime back at Pecan Street Inn. It might be a good time to check in with your hosts, Bill and Shawn Pletsch. They’re always happy to offer ideas for fun things to do around town. While the town isn’t known for its nightlife, you might find a few options for an evening on the town. The Bastrop Opera House (711 Spring Street, 512-321-6283) is a small community theater that presents locally produced plays and sometimes hosts touring shows.
When suppertime rolls around, if you’re looking for a laid-back atmosphere with a view of the river, live music and pizza, there’s only one option: Neighbor’s Kitchen & Yard (601 Chestnut Street, 512-988-7036). Plus, it’s less than a half mile from Pecan Street Inn, so you can walk to the restaurant and enjoy a beer or three with your pizza. Pies range from the relatively light Margherita pizza, with basil and olive oil, to the Grease Bucket, topped with two kinds of bacon, sausage and pepperoni.
Many of the bands are up-and-coming performers from Austin, but the venue also hosts a few touring acts. Much of the seating is outdoors, but there is also ample indoor seating in a funky rustic building.
Day 3 - Texas Reptile Zoo
Don’t forget to savor your final breakfast on fine china at the Pecan Street Inn. Of course, if you stayed up a little too late, your hosts will bring a continental breakfast to your room. But go with the full dining room experience on your last day, if possible.
For your final destination, if you’re not squeamish about snakes, the Texas Reptile Zoo (1945 FM 20, one mile south of Highway 71 on FM 20) makes for an interesting side trip. The small zoo actually began as a thesis project, which explains the facility’s emphasis on education. The staff has created naturalistic settings for many of the reptiles that mimic their native habitats. Animals on display include snakes, crocodiles, rock monitors, tortoises, and lizards. Many of the reptiles were rescued from owners who couldn’t or wouldn’t properly care for them.
The zoo is also a behavioral research facility. By observing the animals in small, controlled environments, the researchers can learn about their feeding and mating behaviors and develop new approaches to helping the wild populations.
Though reptiles aren’t always active, the staff schedules regular feeding demonstrations to engage and entertain visitors.