Whirlwind Texas: Austin, San Antonio, and the Hill Country

A loop from Austin to San Antonio and back, staying three nights in each city, with stops in New Braunfels, Bandera, Fredericksburg, and an overview the beautiful Texas Hill Country


Whirlwind Texas
Overview
We flew into AUS, rented a relatively cheap silver Mustang Convertible (we're kind of hooked) from Budget, and drove to San Antonio, stopping on the way in the historic town of Gruene and New Braunfels.  After spending three nights in San Antonio on the Riverwalk, we made the loop back to Austin, stopping in Bandera and Fredericksburg along the way.  Finally, we spend three more nights in Austin before heading back home.  It was a great overview of both cities and the famed Texas Hill Country, and took only 7 days (both travel days included).

Outbound
JetBlue is always our preference, but they didn't have direct flights from Austin.  Instead, we went with Delta, "Comfort Plus" (premium economy), and our tickets were partially reimbursed with the slew of $50 Delta gift certificates we accumulate each year courtesy of Amex Platinum reimbursements.  It's a pain, especially compared to how much easier travel reimbursement credits are with other cards (read: Chase Sapphire Reserve), but we have both cards, so it's mandatory in order to get value from the Business Platinum Card and offset the $450 annual fee.

Gruene
The kitschy Gruene General Store
Mustang in hand (not literally -- that would be a very tiny car), we pulled out of AUS and hit the road.  New Braunfels (and historic Gruene) are just about an hour southwest.  It was a Sunday afternoon, and the area around the neat Gruene General Store was bustling.  After browsing novelties for a while, we headed down to the Gristmill Restaurant, a converted cotton gin from the 1870s.  The food was great, the weather on the outdoor patio was perfect, and we heard the band rocking next door at the Gruene Dance Hall (the oldest live music venue in Texas, so they say).  In general, although old Gruene has built itself up as a bit of a tourist way station, it's still got a ton of authentic charm.

San Antonio
The Alamo at sunset, just across the street from the Hyatt Regency
Another 45 minutes southwest of Gruene is San Antonio.  We were staying at the Hyatt Regency, right in the middle of the famed Riverwalk.  The location was great, and we had a one bedroom "Riverbend Suite" (although the bedroom windows for our room, and for many others as well, overlook the lobby for some bizarre reason).  Otherwise, it's directly across the street from the Alamo, so as far as downtown hotels go, the location is hard to beat.  Fun fact: they (supposedly) abruptly stopped construction on the Hyatt Regency when they realized the building would cast a shadow on the Alamo near sunset if it were any higher.  So said our Riverwalk tour boat guide, anyway.  Speaking of which, the Riverwalk boat tours are worth it for a partial overview of downtown with some historical perspective and fun facts thrown in the mix -- and they last under an hour.  As for the Hyatt, aside from being across the street from the Alamo, it's also a stones throw from some great places to eat, like the (unoriginally titled) BierGarten Riverwalk (where the giant stuffed pretzel is a meal unto itself) and our favorite Tex-Mex spot, the Iron Cactus.

Bandera
Socks and Rock, residents of the Dixie Dude Ranch
We left San Antonio and headed an hour Northwest to Bandera, which bills itself as the "Cowboy Capital of the World".  We had made plans for horseback riding at the Dixie Dude Ranch, which would have been a great place to stay overnight if we were sticking around.  Day riders can call the ranch in advance to make sure they have availability, as they may only accommodate guests staying at the property on busier days.  Mrs. W and our toddler were allowed to ride together, and the whole thing cost $90 bucks for about an hour.  Totally worth it -- there's nothing like taking in the scenery of the Hill Country on horseback (or mule back -- that behemoth carrying Mrs. W is technically a giant hybrid!), even for someone like myself who's never been on a horse in my life.  It was an incredible hour of rolling hillsides and clip-clop-clip-clop.

Fredericksburg
The Fredericksburg Pioneer Memorial
In the afternoon, we headed another hour north to Fredericksburg, probably the largest and most notable German outpost in Texas.  After a late lunch at the fantastic, mess hall-themed Hondo's on Main, we strolled downtown Fredericksburg, stopping in for a slice of mouth watering orange bourbon pecan pie at the Fredericksburg Pie Company.  There are about a dozen antique stores and assorted boutiques on every block along Main Street, and if antiquing is your kinda thing, you could probably spend all day here.


The Colorado River, from the top of Mount Bonnell

Austin
Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, a costume shop along funky
South Congress Ave
After just under two hours on the road eastward from Fredericksburg, we were back where we started, in Austin.  We stayed the final three nights at the Element Austin Downtown.  It's centrally located and millenial-targeted, and for some reason shares the same building as the Aloft Austin Downtown -- it's a bizarre setup in which exiting the elevator and going to your right leads to Aloft rooms, while going left leads to Element rooms.  And it makes even less sense given that both brands are targeting roughly the same audience, and are both owned by the same company, SPG.  Seriously, someone explain this to me.


The ornate entrance to Fonda San Miguel
Highlights in Austin included Home Slice Pizza on South Congress (one of the few places we've ever been to that can refer to itself as NY-style without our derision), the views from the top of Mount Bonnell (a very quick and easy climb from the parking area below), and a surprisingly upscale, can't-miss Mexican dinner at Fonda San Miguel (you owe it to yourself to try their mezcal mule).  I'll also give a nod to Recess Arcade Bar on 6th street, which is Austin's admittedly cut-rate version of Barcade.  If you're traveling with kids, I'd also highly recommend the Zilker Zephyr miniature train, which tours Zilker Park for about 20 minutes and offers some nice views of Barton Creek and Lady Bird Lake.

Inbound
Delta, "Comfort Plus", and another pile of $50 gift certificates.

Points redemptions:
None this time around.  Boo hoo!

Guide used:
Lonely Planet Texas


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