Getting back to the land. For those living in an urban landscape, the notion can conjure thoughts of wide-open spaces or familyowned farms and ranches. Thankfully for Texas planners, transporting your guests to the quiet and splendor of the outdoors can be just a short drive away.
For guests wanting to get back to the land, these four venues provide opportunities for planners to get out into the Texas Hill Country, or bring the country to them by transporting sustainable, locally sourced food to an urban event.
PRESERVING A PIECE OF HISTORY
The Cypress Falls Event Center sits near one of the widest portions of Cypress Creek in Wimberley, located about an hour from both Austin and San Antonio. The event center and adjacent Lodge at Cypress Falls were purchased in 2007 by a family familiar with Wimberley’s charms.
Lynnsey Jones Hastie, venue director at Cypress Falls Event Center, spent time in Wimberley growing up. “We loved the Wimberley area when I was younger and used to camp there,” she says. “When we saw the building was for sale, it tugged at our heartstrings. We bought it to save it.”
The event center and Lodge at Cypress Falls sit alongside the Cypress Falls Swimming Hole, filled by a dam in the creek that also creates the Cypress Falls Waterfall. Eagle Rock, a natural rock formation, is cut out like a cave and was historically used for shelter by both Native Americans and Texas soldiers.
“The area is teeming with history,” Hastie says. “You can definitely feel that by walking through it.”
Hastie says her family wanted to preserve the 1949 historic hotel and ensure the property remained as untouched as possible. The property, previously called the Corral of the Longhorns when it was operated by the University of Texas, was used to hold corporate retreats in the 1970s.
After graduating with an MBA from Texas State, Hastie decided to use part of the building as a venue space. She has served as the venue director at Cypress Falls Event Center since 2010. Hastie says she wanted to build a “yes” venue. “When I was looking at venues for my wedding, we had a lot of ‘no’s,’ and there were a lot of restrictions on what we could do,” Hastie says. “We pride ourselves on having a nonrestrictive format.”
Planners are welcome to use any outside vendors. They can also order a buffet or plated menu from Cypress Falls’ custom catering; its kitchen is located off the event space. Cypress Falls offers rentals for furniture and décor.
The Lodge at Cypress Falls offers 22 rooms and a capacity for 75 people and features a tavern and an independently operated café. The café offers barbecue and burgers with views of Eagle Rock and Cypress Creek.
Cypress Falls can accommodate up to 300 people in its indoor and outdoor spaces. Groups can hold a presentation or meeting indoors before taking a break to have lunch on the creek or walk the grounds. Canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are just a few of the activities available nearby.
AN OUTDOOR VENUE WITH GARDEN FLAIR
Those looking for a garden party feel in Texas Hill Country will enjoy the privacy of The Lookout, located a 30-minute drive outside of Austin.
The Lookout is located on Ann Jones’ 6-acre property. The venue is entirely outside, including a 1,600-square-foot open air pavilion. Located atop a hill, the property has a 30-mile view of the surrounding Hill Country, perfect for watching the sunset. The lawn has large covered and uncovered patios, an aviary, pond, rose garden and bocce ball court. The Lookout can accommodate up to 150 guests with seating in the open-air pavilion or on the patios.
Jones has lived in the Austin area for 35 years. She moved onto her current property 15 years ago. After hosting weddings for her friends’ daughters, Jones said she started hosting events on her property nine years ago. Her home has also been used for garden tours. “I love having people in my gardens,” Jones says.
Jones’ gardens are on about an acre and a half of her land. The rest of the land is mowed but left natural. Jones’ gardens are filled with mainly native plants and are almost all organic (Jones says preventing fire ants keeps her from being entirely organic). All of the nonparty space is covered in wildflowers. There are 25 olive trees, 100 oak trees, as well as roses and antique climbing roses on the property.
With about 15 events per year, she says that the space doesn’t feel too commercial. Since her venue is entirely outdoors, Jones mainly hosts guests in the spring and fall. Planners can work through Jones’ preferred caterer, 3 Horns Catering and Design, which can provide décor, setup, teardown, bar service and catering. Planners are free to use other vendors as well.
The space has been used for weddings, tea parties, garden shows, fashion shows and small group meetings. Jones says that while groups have held business meetings in the space, it’s less suited for presentations and getting work done. “It’s a pretty versatile space,” Jones says. “It’s a beautiful space and you want to use it for some place to relax, have a good time and enjoy what you’re doing.”
A TASTE OF RANCH LIVING
Widely known for its catering services across the state, Don Strange of Texas Inc. also man - ages the Don Strange Ranch outside of San Antonio. Don Strange Ranch was purchased in 1982 by the Strange family.
“My dad knew that people who came to San Antonio wanted to get outside of town and visit a historic, authentic working ranch with longhorns and really have a wonderful Texas experience from a culinary standpoint,” says Brian Strange, CEO and president of Don Strange of Texas Inc. “It’s pure fun.”
Purchasing the property was strategic. “It’s a beautiful authentic place that was designed for entertaining,” Strange says.
The property is about a 40-minute drive from San Antonio, since research at the time showed that guests didn’t want to be on a bus for more than 45 minutes. The roads leading to the property are designed to handle motor coaches.
The venue can host 1,200 people indoors and up to 10,000 people outside. In the early 1990s, the family built a second venue on the property called Kendall Creek. Kendall Creek can host up to 400 people inside, although most events average about 200-300 people, Strange says.
Once guests arrive, they’re treated to a full rodeo and many other activities on the ranch. That includes feeding the longhorns, line dancing or enjoying trick ropers or card sharks. There’s also zip lining, armadillo races, cowboy Olympics, and catch and release fishing. The property also features the Adventure Challenge Course that can be used for team-building, with both a low and high ropes course.
Many guests, however, are content to just enjoy the fresh Hill Country air. “Guests appreciate how authentic we are with our food and our property,” Strange says. “The Hill Country charm and beauty encapsulates our ranch instead of trying to make it what it’s not.”
That authenticity extends to the event’s menu. “We take wonderful recipes developed over the last 67 years,” Strange says. “There are several items that are unique to us that people expect to see.”
Those items include grilled white wings, which were originally developed for Prince Rainier of Monaco, and multiple dishes that are prepared in front of guests. Those include hand-patted gorditas and Sautéed Oysters Ernie. Strange says Don Strange is also the “only caterer in the nation” he’s aware of that can cook a whole side of beef and carve it in front of guests.
Ingredients are sourced from around the state, from sausage made in San Antonio to venison and game from Broken Arrow Ranch in Ingram.
The company takes a unique spin on Texas cuisine, says Di-Anna Arias, vice president of sales and culinary vision for Don Strange of Texas Inc. “We want to have our guests to walk away feeling they’ve experienced some authentic, Texas-style food,” she says. To do that, Arias has put local Texas goat cheese in homemade empanadas and created chicken-fried quail with a jalapeno cream gravy.
“Even our salad dressing is made with a little touch of prickly pear nectar that gives it a different flair from your typical vinaigrette,” Arias says.
Drawing inspiration from Texas’ multicultural heritage, Don Strange uses recipes from German, Hispanic, Czech and Italian cultures, among others. One example of this is their venison crepe, which combines the southwestern flavor of Texas venison with French culture.
Strange says his staff considers themselves to be ambassadors of Texas. “Everything’s done with that Texas hospitality and passion to share our heritage and to share our state.”
A FLEXIBLE SPACE WITH LOCALLY SOURCED DINING
Olive & June opened in downtown Austin in 2012, offering Italian cuisine and 12 kinds of handmade pasta prepared in-house daily. The restaurant is named after the grandmothers of chef Shawn Cirkiel and his wife, Bria.
The three-story building offers indoor and outdoor dining, including a first floor outdoor patio, a private chef’s table that can accommodate 18 people, a second floor cocktail patio and a third floor reserved for private groups and events. On the third floor, about 50 people can be seated inside and about 50-60 people can be seated outside. The third floor outdoor patio can also accommodate a standing cocktail reception of 150 people.
A major focal point of the restaurant is its 200-year-old oak tree. “The great thing is the oak tree provides natural ambiance,” says Amanda Harrison, events manager at Olive & June. “If someone is looking for something elegant and simplistic, it is naturally provided by that tree.”
Because of the multiple dining areas, Harrison emphasizes the flexibility of the space to planners. A group can start off on one floor for cocktails before moving into another for dinner, for instance. “The event is not just stuck in one place, so it creates a really warm, inviting environment,” she says.
Using local, sustainable ingredients is an important focus for Olive & June. Chef Shawn Cirkiel is involved in several sustainable initiatives in the community, including working on healthy eating, exercising and gardening at a local school. He is also the founding chef of the Sustainable Center’s Farmers Market in downtown Austin.
The restaurant uses Gulf fish and produce sourced from local farms, and the staff sometimes takes field trips to local farms to learn more about where those ingredients come from. To keep its ingredient sourcing sustainable, the restaurant’s menu changes frequently based on what farms are producing at any given time. Olive & June also has an on-site herb garden; herbs are used in many cocktails and dishes, including a rosemary-infused vodka or a sage brown butter.
Because of this, Olive & June typically doesn’t confirm a menu sooner than two weeks before a private event to ensure that the freshest possible ingredients are used.
Harrison says the restaurants’ polenta with farm egg and foraged mushrooms is a signature dish of the rotating menu, and the restaurant’s seasonal crostini is another popular offering.