San Antonio’s geographic location in south-central Texas provides easy access to rolling hills, pristine streams, tranquil lakes and the multifaceted Texas coast. No matter which direction you choose to drive, you’re not far from adventure.
When German pioneers settled the area in the mid-1800s, many of them built small “Sunday houses” in town in addition to their primary residences on nearby farms. Since traveling by horse-and-buggy was slow and arduous, it was a hassle to ride into town and back just to attend church on Sundays. These smaller houses allowed them to make a weekend of it. They’d arrive in town on Saturday, run a few errands, stay overnight, and then head back to the farm after church. Many of these Sunday houses have been turned into lodging, and have played a key role in Fredericksburg becoming such a popular weekend destination. Amid these historic bed-and-breakfasts, you’ll also find trendy restaurants, wine bars, music venues, and theaters. About 20 miles north of Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a great spot for a morning hike. Climbing the dome-shaped hunk of pink granite is only mildly strenuous, and you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree view of the Texas Hill Country.
Another town with a strong German heritage, New Braunfels is best known as the home of the Schlitterbahn Waterpark. Many of the park’s rides are fueled by cool, all-natural river water that is pumped right back into the river after flowing through the park. The park includes slow-moving waterways for tubing as well as opportunities for high adventure, such as the Boogie Bahn surfing ride. For a mellower experience, head to the nearby Gruene Historic District and shop for antiques, souvenirs, and handcrafted gifts. When you’re ready for lunch, you’ll be within walking distance of the Gristmill Restaurant. The rustic building is perched on the banks of the Guadalupe River and features several levels of seating overlooking the beautiful scenery. If you plan to stick around into the evening, you can catch both local and high-profile country music acts at Gruene Hall. A few miles west of New Braunfels, Natural Bridge Caverns is an excellent low-key adventure on a hot day. It’s always about 70 degrees underground.
Water recreation is also a key attraction in San Marcos, but the emphasis here is on the rivers themselves instead of waterparks. Several outfitters in and around the town offer two- to four-hour tubing excursions. Most have shuttle buses to pick you up and drop you off along the river. The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment (formerly known as Aquarena Springs) has glass-bottomed boats that cruise though the pristine Spring Lake. Expert guides will explain the plant life, turtles, fish and other flora and fauna that make up this delicate ecosystem. Bargain shoppers will enjoy the area’s two major outlet malls: San Marcos Premium Outlets and Tanger Outlets. In the evenings, you can sit back with a beer and enjoy live music from local and regional bands at Cheatham Street Warehouse.
About two hours south of San Antonio, Corpus Christi has beaches in addition to many of the other amenities you might expect from a mid-sized city. The Texas State Aquarium has massive indoor and outdoor tanks that feature a huge variety of species, including, sharks, tarpon and stingrays. It also focuses many of its exhibits on species and habitats from the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, which lies off the coast of southern Mexico and Central America. In the Stingray Lagoon, kids can even touch the stingrays. For a dose of military history, head to the USS Lexington, a massive aircraft carrier docked within walking distance of the aquarium. It has a flight simulator, nautical artifacts and even an on-board restaurant. When you’re ready for a swim, Malaquite Beach features a visitor center and miles of unspoiled beaches. Even though Hurricane Harvey hit the region in August 2017, Corpus Christi dodged the worst of the storm. Nearby cities Port Aransas and Rockport were more heavily damaged and are still in the process of rebuilding.
The most popular state park in Texas, Garner has been a favorite summer destination for some families for generations. Situated on the Frio River, the park has excellent swimming, biking, kayaking and fishing opportunities. Featuring higher hills and deeper, more dramatic canyons than the rest of the Hill Country, Garner State Park is a photographer’s dream. Though they can be difficult to spot, the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo often nest in heavily wooded areas. There’s also a tubing outfitter on-site as well as a putt-putt golf course. If you stay into the evening during the summer, you can experience the park’s most cherished tradition: a nightly dance for all ages at the central pavilion. A short drive from the park, Frio Bat Flight offers an amazing bat-viewing opportunity. At sunset, about ten million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from Frio Cave. As the bats fly out in search of bugs to eat, red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons swoop in and try to pick off a few bats to eat. It may be a little too brutal for young kids, but adult nature buffs will enjoy this fast-moving natural spectacle.
For two weeks in May and June every year, the Kerrville Folk Festival attracts world-class songwriters and some of the most loyal fans imaginable. The regular attendees refer to themselves affectionately as “Kerrverts,” and some of them arrive on the festival grounds days before the festival to set up their own little villages within the campground. After the on-stage performances every night, professional and amateur musicians alike sing around campfires, often until dawn. The rest of the year, Kerrville is a sleepy town with plenty of antique shops, locally owned restaurants, and a few art galleries. The Museum of Western Art exhibits a wide array of paintings and sculptures depicting cowboys, ranching and frontier life. Beautifully situated on a hilltop, Kerrville Hills Winery offers daily tastings and winery tours.
If you’re looking for a small-town getaway near San Antonio that’s not overrun by tourists in summer, Wimberley is always a good option. The “downtown” area is so small you can explore all of it in about 30 minutes. If you have kids in tow, make sure and stop at the Emily Ann Theatre & Gardens. The community theater presents plays for both kids and adults, ranging from "Princess and the Pea" to "Pride and Prejudice." Even when there’s not a performance going on, the 12-acre property offers plenty of adventure for the little ones. Wayne’s Meadow is home to ten kid-friendly gardens, including a life-size chess set and a butterfly garden. For an all-natural and refreshing swimming experience, Blue Hole is a nearby spring-fed swimming hole complete with a rope swing. Bring a picnic lunch, and enjoy a relaxing afternoon on the lush grass along the banks of the creek. Open only during summer, Jacob's Well is another one-of-a-kind swimming hole in Wimberley, and it's part of an extensive cave system connected to the Edwards Aquifer. The cool water bubbles up from underground to create this all-natural swimming spot. You can work up a sweat before your swim on the park's extensive network of nature trails.
The Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne (pronounced Bernie) is an ideal spot for a brisk morning hike. Several miles of nature trails wind through a variety of landscapes, including meadows, dense woods, and rolling hills. The half-mile Marshland Trail is an easy walk along a boardwalk that offers abundant opportunities to see wildlife in the sky and water. You’ll see turtles, ducks and maybe even a stunning kingfisher diving for its prey. Despite its lackluster moniker, the Cave Without a Name is one of the most gorgeous natural features in Texas. The rippled walls and ceiling almost seem to be in motion. Concerts are sometimes held in the cave, which offers remarkable acoustics. To combine an afternoon snack with a little shopping, check out Carousel Antiques & Fickle Pickles. While these are pricey pickles, regular customers swear by these tart treats. Some have a little extra zing, with flavors ranging from garlic to jalapeno. The selection of antiques is fairly small, but it adds an interesting twist to your pickle shopping.
For a rousing start to your day in Helotes, head to Helotes Hill Country Ziplines. The nine lines range in height from 100 feet to a stomach-turning 1,000 feet. On the fastest ones, you’ll be soaring up to 35 mph. After such an exhilarating experience, you may need a glass of wine. Helotes Creek Winery is a charming little winemaker located along a narrow country road. You won’t find any snootiness here—just tasty reds, whites, cheese plates and the occasional cranapple wine slushie. The winery even has a ladies’ night on Wednesdays. For your evening entertainment, Floore’s Country Store is a one-of-a-kind music venue housed in an old dance hall. The name seems to imply that it used to be a store, but it’s been a dance hall and honky-tonk since it opened in 1942. The name is simply another example of Texas eccentricity at its finest. Willie Nelson once played here regularly and still stops by every now and then. The music schedule mostly consists of up-and-coming country singers with a few national acts sprinkled in.
The childhood home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Johnson City is also one of the most beautiful small towns in Texas. It’s situated amid rolling hills and verdant pastures dotted with sprawling old oak trees. Free tours of LBJ’s boyhood home start every half hour on the house’s front porch. Look up and you’ll see that the ceiling of the front porch is painted sky blue. This was done often in early Texas houses because it was believed that wasps wouldn’t build nests on a blue ceiling because, well, it looked like the sky. In March 1937, it was on this very porch that Lyndon Baines Johnson announced his first run for Congress. The modest home was restored and furnished to be historically accurate for the mid-1920s period.
The LBJ Ranch is just a few miles down the road. You can now get a driving permit and tour parts of the ranch without supervision; However, an expert guide will help you appreciate the ranch’s role in history. Make sure you stop and check out LBJ’s famous floating car. LBJ used to toy with reporters by touring the ranch in the car and then—without warning—driving the car directly into a lake. No matter what you think of his policies, LBJ was undoubtedly one of the nation’s most interesting presidents.