Situated about 30 miles north of Austin, Georgetown is a low-key getaway with a surprisingly diverse mix of things to do. The quaint downtown square is anchored by the Williamson County Courthouse and surrounded by restaurants, art galleries, shops and wine tasting rooms. Beyond downtown, you’ll find a wealth of natural attractions, antique shops and wineries. If you enjoy visiting small towns without sacrificing big-city amenities, consider staying at the luxurious 211-room Sheraton Georgetown. The hotel borders Rivery Park and is only two miles from the downtown square. For more of a bed-and-breakfast experience, check out the Sweet Lemon Inn, which is located within walking distance of the square. Once you’re checked in and settled, it’s time to explore Georgetown.
San Gabriel Park is located near the point where the north and south forks of the San Gabriel River converge to form a single waterway. The 1.6-mile hike-and-bike trail meanders along the river, and some segments are shaded by 200-year-old oak trees. For long-distance runners, the route also connects with several miles of trails at Rivery Park. It’s common to find tall white birds known as great egrets hunting for fish in the shallows of the San Gabriel River. You may also spot a few humans fishing along the banks. You can always find a shady spot to sit in the park in the spring and summer because grapevine arbors are installed as “roofs” over several picnic benches. The hardy muscadine vines are thick enough to block much of the sunlight, and they provide an exotic-looking backdrop for photos.
After working up a healthy appetite, head to Blue Corn Harvest for breakfast or brunch. The casual eatery enthusiastically supports local farmers and vendors. Sources for the restaurant’s meat and produce include Tecolote Organic Farm, Texas Meat Purveyors and Brazos Valley Cheese. The green pork and eggs will satisfy even the hungriest hiker. It’s basically a big bowl of slow-roasted pork, eggs, Hatch chile peppers, tomatillos and cheese. It’s mildly spicy and seriously delicious. Those with medium-sized appetites and a bit of a sweet tooth will love the harvest blue mini-pancakes and eggs, with potatoes and bacon. The $5 bloody mary bar is also a hit with the locals on Sunday mornings. There’s often a waiting list on weekends, but parties of one or two can get served faster by sitting at the bar.
A beautiful swimming hole on the south fork of the San Gabriel River, Blue Hole is bordered on the north side by limestone bluffs, creating a scenic backdrop. The water is generally cool and slow-moving, and there’s even a small waterfall formed by a low manmade wall across the river. When swimming, keep your eyes at water level, and you’ll see turtle heads popping up from time to time. If swimming with kids, keep in mind that the water depth can change abruptly, particularly near the middle of the waterway. Also, test the bottom carefully before letting your kids get in. The bottom is fairly firm in most places, but it is extremely muddy in others. There is a restroom onsite, but there are no other amenities. Admission is free. There’s a free parking lot near the entrance and a parking garage about 30 yards away that is free only on weekends. Although you’ll have to walk a little farther, the parking garage does a good job of preventing your car from turning into a blazing oven while you’re swimming.
Built out of a historic fire station, the Georgetown Art Center is a small gallery with rotating exhibitions including everything from ceramic pieces to paintings by up-and-coming artists. Most of the artwork is for sale, and there’s something for almost any budget. The center also serves as a community hub, offering classes, artist receptions, guest lectures and student contests. For kids who quietly observe and appreciate the art, there’s a surprise waiting right next door: a splash pad. Built by the City of Georgetown, the splash pad is completely free and open to the public. There’s no staff, so you simply walk up and turn it on yourself.
Led by knowledgeable guides from the nearby Williamson Museum, free tours of the Williamson County Courthouse are offered on Fridays and Saturdays. You’ll learn some of the architectural details of the striking Greek Revival building as well as highlights of the legal history that has occurred within the structure. There are several historical markers around the courthouse that offer glimpses into the county’s early history, but the most intriguing one delves into the Ku Klux Klan trials held there in the 1920s. At the time, the KKK was a politically powerful national group, and the cases are widely seen as the first successful prosecutions of the KKK. Ironically, or perhaps predictably, those members were convicted for flogging and tarring a white traveling salesman, not for their crimes against the black community. Still, the cases began the process of weakening the KKK as a political force.
Still not relaxed enough? How about an 80-minute full-body massage at Spa Luxe? If you’ve got serious knots in your back ask for Marissa. She knows how to gently ask you about the pressure level and adjust accordingly. Maintaining that fine balance between loosening you up and kneading you to a pulp is an important skill for massage therapists. During the massage, you’ll be treated to a pair of collagen booties that soften your feet and a touch of aromatherapy. A couple of times during the session, the therapist holds a handful of herbs underneath your nose and instructs you to take a few deep breaths.
Built out of a cozy old home, Sweet Lemon Kitchen is quickly becoming one of the most popular breakfast and lunch spots in Georgetown. The Better Half, half a sandwich and soup or salad, is just the right size for a satisfying lunch. One of the many sandwich options is a chimichurri steak panini, offering a delectable mix of sweet and spicy flavors and the firm crunch of toasted Italian bread. The chipotle ranch dressing on the salad was another winner. Fresh breakfast options include house-made scones, croissants, breakfast sandwiches and Greek yogurt parfait with berries and lemon curd. The restaurant strives to use only regional suppliers, such as Joli Farms and Thompson’s Eggs.
There’s no pomp and circumstance when it comes to the tastings at Grape Creek Vineyards. You simply walk up to the bar, answer a few questions about your wine preferences, and start tasting. The standard sampling includes six wines. Grape Creek’s Viognier took top honors at the 2018 Lone Star International Wine Competition. The wine has a hint of sweetness along with the slight tang of peach and apricot. The company’s Syrah and Syrah/Cabernet blends have both won prestigious awards at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Other standouts include the Merlot, with hints of vanilla and cinnamon, and the Rose of Malbec, a dry rose with a fruity/floral aroma.
Featuring four dining areas separated by an interior courtyard and floor-to-ceiling windows, El Monumento is a visual delight even before the food arrives. Mexican-style architecture and landscaping make the building and its surroundings seem like a unified whole. An outdoor balcony overlooks the Blue Hole lagoon. The menu may seem short compared to most Mexican restaurants, but the goal here is to do a few things well. The chile relleno is a crowd favorite, with mushrooms, almonds, spinach and a mildly spicy jitomate sauce. Enchilada lovers consistently praise the San Gabriel Special, a combo including beef, chicken and cheese enchiladas. Leave room for the tres leches cake, a sweet, gooey delight.
If it’s fancy American comfort food you’re craving, proceed directly to Brix and Ale. For starters, try the crispy prosciutto flatbread, with smoked almonds, truffle honey, grapes and goat cheese. It’s light but tasty enough to wake up your taste buds for the adventure ahead. One of the chef’s specialties, the Grille Faroe Island Salmon is served with a colorful Mediterranean quinoa salad, comprised of quinoa, mint, green onion, tomato, cucumber and honey. Beef lovers won’t be disappointed with the Grilled Fillet of Beef, which is served with a homemade steak sauce and a twice-baked potato souffle. Finish the meal off with the restaurant’s stellar Lemon Ricotta Doughnuts with caramel and powdered sugar.
While Georgetown isn’t known for its nightlife, Mesquite Creek Outfitters is always hopping on Friday and Saturday nights. The venue is a combo built for Texas, offering outdoor clothing, beer, pizza and country music. While enjoying one of the 16 craft beers on tap, you can shop for a new fishing shirt or cap. The music usually starts around 8 p.m. and includes a mix of local and regional country bands. There’s never a cover. The tables on the sidewalk out front are also often packed, and some people even bring their dogs along for the evening.
When it’s over 100 degrees outside, the best place to be is underground, where it’s always cool. Inner Space Cavern was discovered during the construction of Interstate 35 in the 1960s. It’s a great way to entertain the kids for about an hour that doesn’t require much advance planning. Just show up and take the tour. It’s an easy hike, and you’ll be amazed at the sights inside, from huge chambers to delicate rock formations.