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Four Reasons to Love the Texas Hill Country

Take a trip to Central Texas for historic sites, distilled spirits, and outdoor fun.

By Mitzuko Byres

The Texas Hill Country is a large region in Central Texas extending just north of San Antonio and west of Austin to the towns of Brownwood in the north and Sonora in the west. This subtropical area offers some of the most scenic spots in the state for outdoor recreation with its sunny skies, mild winters, and air conditioning through the hot summer months. Major cities in the Hill Country include Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels, and Fredericksburg, plus numerous small towns each with its own traditions and places of interest. 

Visitors gather for banjo and guitar tunes at the General Store in Luckenbach. March 16, 2023
Visitors gather for banjo and guitar tunes at the General Store in Luckenbach. CREDIT Jason Risner

While the Texas Hill Country abounds with leisure activities, it’s also a scenic destination for meetings, corporate events, leadership retreats, and conferences. With its rolling hills, remarkable culture, and rich history, the area offers plenty of activities to keep attendees engaged and entertained. From hiking and biking to cultural attractions like museums and galleries, there is something for every kind of traveler. Additionally, convenient access to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and the airports of other major cities in Texas makes travel in and out of the region easy.

Outdoor Adventure

Pedernales Falls State Park is a natural paradise located in the Hill Country, just west of Austin. It is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts who want to experience the beauty of nature. The park features stunning views of the Pedernales River, lush greenery, limestone rock formations, and, of course, the park’s namesake series of waterfalls. Visitors can explore the park’s diverse terrain, including rugged hills and valleys, verdant vegetation, and towering cypress trees. There are also opportunities for camping, fishing, swimming, and other activities that make it an ideal spot for a weekend getaway. Rock climbing, backpacking, and picnicking are popular, so reservations to visit the state park are always a good idea.

For something out of the ordinary, go to the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin at sunset. You’ll witness the largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in North America fly out from under the bridge in large, dark clouds. There can be up to 1.5 million bats over Lady Bird Lake at a time—watched by a large crowd lined up along the bridge—but the show lasts for at least two hours, so you should have a chance to get a good view of the spectacle.

One of the most popular activities in the region is floating down the Comal or Guadalupe rivers in an inner tube or a kayak. Visitors can relax and take in the views of rolling hills, oak forests, and diverse wildlife along the riverbank. Take a bus to a specific spot on one of the rivers and hop back on after you’ve floated downstream. Don’t forget the floating beverage cooler!

People kayaking and tubing on the Guadalupe River. March 16, 2023
Kayaking and tubing on the Guadalupe River CREDIT Visit San Marcos

Homemade Spirits

Central Texas is known for having some of the best distilleries, breweries, and wineries in the state. 

One of the most popular distilleries is Still Austin, where patrons can tour the facilities and sample spirits at the bar. Other options include Treaty Oak in Dripping Springs, which offers live music, games, and an on-site restaurant, and Desert Door, boasting a unique offering of sotol, a spirit made from plants native to the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico—and, notably, smells a lot like tequila but tastes more like gin. For one of the best bourbon distilleries around, head west on U.S. Route 290 from Austin to try the award-winning spirits at Garrison Brothers in Hye.

Hill Country wineries have grown in number and prestige over the last decade, making them a top destination for visitors from around the state. The greatest concentration of wineries is around Fredericksburg, where there are lots of places for wine tasting while you tour the small town with a German heritage. Augusta Vin, with its gorgeous vineyard views from its elegant patio and deck, is a Fredericksburg favorite. You can also attend a tasting at Slate Theory, a newer addition to the Central Texas wine scene that has a cool underground wine cellar for tastings. Becker Vineyards and Pedernales Cellars also offer high-quality wines with the beautiful Hill Country in the background.

Aerial shot of Meanwhile Brewing Co. March 16, 2023
Meanwhile Brewing Co. CREDIT Ray Palmer

Residents of Central Texas love their breweries, and there are a lot of them to choose from—some even with event space. Middleton Brewery in San Marcos has a popular IPA and offers wine, locally made ciders, and food trucks outside. If you’re in Austin and want to bring a large group together for libations and relaxation, Meanwhile Brewing Co. has 20 rotating beers, a coffee bar, and low-proof cocktails, as well as a soccer field for some friendly competition. In the small town of Wimberley, you can visit Wimberley Brewing Co. and Brewster’s Pizza for a beer and a slice before going on a forest hike and a swim at the locally famous Blue Hole Park.

Local History

Hill Country history is rich with stories, architecture, and cultural sites. Some of the most beautiful buildings in the state are called the Painted Churches, built by Czech and German immigrants in the 19th century when they settled many of the region’s towns. Echoing the architecture they were used to back home, the settlers built Gothic-inspired structures and created richly decorated interiors with painted blue skies, elaborate decorative vines, and colorful stained-glass windows.

Pedernales Falls State Park. March 16, 2023
Pedernales Falls State Park CREDIT Victor Mata

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is in Stonewall, which is a little over an hour’s drive from both Austin and San Antonio. It’s a beautiful and tranquil place where visitors can learn about the life of the 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson and his family. The park features several historic buildings, including the LBJ Ranch House where Johnston once lived, the one-room schoolhouse where he learned to read, and the family cemetery where President Johnson and the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, are buried. You may also see wildlife like deer, foxes, and native birds in the surrounding countryside.

The LBJ Ranch House at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park. March 16, 2023
The LBJ Ranch House at Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park CREDIT Public Domain

Music and Culture

Luckenbach,  made famous by the Waylon Jennings song “Luckenbach, Texas,” is just 14 miles southeast of Fredericksburg and attracts visitors from all over the world. The town is known for its unique blend of country music, outdoor activities, and historical sites. Dating back to the mid-1800s, it was first settled by German immigrants. 

Live music venues, art galleries, and the occasional celebrity sighting keep things lively, and activities like hiking, camping, and fishing give outdoor enthusiasts plenty to do during the daytime. The town looks like a Wild West ghost town with gray, weathered wood buildings, but it offers modern amenities for music festivals and headline concerts in a rustic setting.

People listening to country music at Gruene Hall. March 16, 2023
Listening to country music at Gruene Hall CREDIT Erich Schlegel

If you bring your boots, go two-stepping at Gruene Hall. This historic live music venue in Gruene, a 20-minute drive south of San Marcos, opened in 1878 and has hosted country music headliners like Willie Nelson and George Strait. You can dance across the original wood floors, buy a longneck beer at the bar, and relax on the patio on summer nights. You’ll find live music every weekend on both indoor and outdoor stages, and the hall is available for event rental. 

With all these activities, historic side trips, and tempting places to enjoy a drink, the Texas Hill Country has much to offer.