Cities and towns in central Texas are ideal for family vacations due to the abundance of outdoor attractions and water-based recreation.
What started in the 1800s as a quiet town full of German-speaking settlers has evolved into the bed-and-breakfast headquarters of Texas. Fredericksburg accommodations range from typical B&Bs in resident’s houses to log cabins to sprawling apartments above the shops in downtown Fredericksburg. The town is still fairly quiet, and a few residents still speak German. But you’re more likely to find a wine bar than anyone wearing lederhosen.
2. New Braunfels
The massive waterpark known as Schlitterbahn is the main attraction in New Braunfels, but there are also plenty of tubing opportunities in the rivers in the area. Grab lunch at the historic Grist Mill, and then enjoy live music at the oldest dance hall in Texas: Gruene Hall. Another cool place to go in the heat of the summer is Natural Bridge Caverns. A short hike through the caves reveals amazing rock formations and weird creatures.
3. San Marcos
For more watery entertainment, head to the Aquarena Center in San Marcos. The delicate spring-fed environment has been wonderfully maintained by Texas State University. Glass-bottom boats cruise the river and allow a peak at the thriving life underwater. The downtown square is ideal for a spontaneous weekend trip, with several family-friendly restaurants and a beautifully restored courthouse. Ready for a little more adventure? You can also take a whitewater kayaking class in San Marcos. Or you can get a little back-to-school shopping taken care of at the San Marcos outlet stores.
If you’re wondering what happened to the hippies in Austin, well, many of them moved to Wimberley. This little artists’ colony boasts some quirky little shops selling handmade crafts, paintings and other artwork. The small downtown area also has several locally owned restaurants and bakeries. Two pristine spring-fed swimming holes await at Jacob’s Well and Blue Hole.
You probably already know about Austin’s live music scene and its famous downtown bat bridge, but Austin also has a wealth of things to do with kids. If your vacation has started to drain your wallet a little faster than expected, check out a few free kids’ activities. An excellent place to let the kids burn off some steam is the elevated boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake. They won’t be able to roam too far since the boardwalk has high rails and is surrounded by water.
6. Round Rock
A few miles north of Austin, Round Rock is home to the Round Rock Express minor league baseball team. The team’s home field, the Dell Diamond, is designed with families in mind. There’s even a huge lawn area behind the outfield where you can sit on blankets and have a picnic during the game. The amazing Inner Space Cavern is just a short drive away. The caves were actually discovered during the construction of Interstate 35. Need some bargain hiking shoes or swim trunks? Stop in at Round Rock Premium Outlets while you’re in the neighborhood.
The Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort is one of the best spa resorts in central Texas. Situated amid towering pine trees, the resort offers activities ranging from golf to river kayaking. A wildfire in 2011 devastated nearby Bastrop State Park and much of the surrounding area, but the resort property still has a healthy pine forest. When you’re driving in, make sure you don’t fall prey to Bastrop’s sneaky automated traffic light cameras.
The kid-friendly Lakeway Resort and Spa overlooks Lake Travis and features a two-story waterslide for kids along with a swim-up bar to ease the parents’ nerves. The city is just a short drive away from the Oasis Restaurant, which offers amazing sunset views. If you and your beloved happen to be planning the Big Event, you may want to take a side trip to see some of the gorgeous wedding venues on Lake Travis.
9. Johnson City
Named after a cousin of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Johnson City is home to Pedernales Falls State Park. The park’s centerpiece is a series of low, stair-step waterfalls that cascade over huge limestone boulders. For the history buffs in the family, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is 20 miles to the east in Stonewall.
Barbecue is the main attraction in this small town. The top three contenders for best barbecue in town are Kreuz Market, Black’s BBQ and Smitty’s Market. While you’re walking off the meal, check out the three-story Caldwell County Courthouse, one of the most beautifully restored courthouses in Texas. For those who want to avoid Austin traffic while attending races or other events at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) stadium, you may want to consider staying in Lockhart. It’s a quick 20-minute drive south of the racetrack.