Exploring Austin and the Texas Hill Country

Situated in Central Texas with its own version of the Colorado River running through it, Austin delivers an experience unlike any other in the Lone Star state. From the opulent state capitol decked out in more stars than you can possibly count to the live music spilling out of the bars on Sixth Street to the Mexican free-tailed bats making sunset appearances from their roost under Congress Bridge, there’s an adventure…and a touch of weirdness…at every turn.

Beyond the city, the verdant Texas Hill Country provides an ideal city escape for a weekend getaway. Here you’ll discover small towns filled with unique boutique shops, wine tasting, scenic drives, and Saturday night dance halls. Come along for a Texas-sized good time in Austin and the famed Texas Hill Country.

The Texas Capitol – Where Everything’s Bigger

In keeping with the “everything’s bigger in Texas” motto, this immense three-story structure stands 14 feet higher than the U.S. Capitol building. Constructed with Sunset Red Texas granite, it’s a beauty and holds the title of largest capitol in the country.

Inside, look for opulent details like giant brass door hinges. As you explore the House of Representatives Chamber take note of the brass chandeliers with light bulbs spelling out T-E-X-A-S. And there are stars, plenty of stars everywhere you look.

At the top of this architectural marvel stands a 16-foot tall, 2,000-pound Goddess of Liberty statue complete with a huge sword and, of course, a golden star. The equally impressive Capitol grounds span 22 acres and feature 17 monuments dotting the beautifully landscaped lawn.

Exploring Austin at the Texas State Capitol
Texas State Capitol Terri Marshall | Travel Squire

Embrace Nature in the Center of the City

Austin’s 300+ days of sunshine enhance the city’s plentiful outdoor activities. From smaller urban parks with playgrounds to expansive green spaces for hiking and biking, you’ll find a plethora of options for outdoor pursuits. Stroll or bike along the Butler Hike and Bike Trail, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard in Lady Bird Lake or dip your toes into the Barton Springs Pool – a local favorite.

Just west of downtown, the Barton Creek Greenbelt provides a peaceful escape from city life. Rock formations within the Barton Creek Wilderness Park beckon climbers with challenging routes. And hikers breathe in the fresh air along dog-friendly hiking trails. With 350 acres, Zilker Park also boasts plentiful hiking and biking trails along with access to the Barton Creek Greenbelt and the aforementioned Barton Springs.

Exploring Austin on TravelSquire
Austin Skyline View from Lady Bird Lake Shutterstock

Exploring Austin’s Eclectic Music Scene

Don’t think for one minute Austin limits its music scene to country as you might expect in Texas. When the Germans settled in the area, they brought their musical heritage along. By the 1880s German music halls lined Pecan Street, now known as Sixth Street. Mexican settlers also contributed to the musical mix and the scene grew from there.

Today there’s folk, reggae, rap, blues, jazz, and more in this eclectic music scene. Take a stroll down Sixth Street and you’re bound to find your style of music. Or you can do what my friend and I did. Pop into the tourist-filled Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar with all the bachelorette parties and sing along!

Exploring Austin on TravelSquire
Cozy Corner at Stephen F. Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel Terri Marshall | Travel Squire

Libations and History

When you’re ready to leave the singing bachelorettes behind, focus on the quieter grown-up scene at Stephen F. Austin Royal Sonesta. Start with a cocktail at Stephen F’s Bar & Terrace overlooking Congress Avenue with idyllic views of the historic Paramount Theater and the shimmering Texas State Capitol.

History lives within the walls of the hotel. Named for Stephen Fuller Austin, the “Father of Texas,” responsible for leading 300 families to the region now known as Texas, the hotel first opened its doors on May 19, 1924.

So much has happened within these walls. In 1937, it served as the headquarters for Lyndon B. Johnson’s successful run for House of Representatives. In 2000, George Bush, Sr. utilized the hotel in his presidential campaign. And the Capital Ballroom was featured in a scene for “Miss Congeniality” starring Sandra Bullock.

Insider tip: The hotel sits on the former location of the state War Building. One of the War Building’s walls still stands and has the distinction of being the oldest wall in Texas. Step into the alley behind the hotel to take a look.

Exploring Austin and the Texas Hill Country
Boots on the Fence at Willow Loop Terri Marshall | Travel Squire

Head for the Hills

When you’re ready to leave the city behind for a quieter pastoral setting, head for the Texas Hill Country. Stretching from Austin to San Antonio, the Texas Hill Country reveals a different side of Texas. Here, cool springs, stony hills and steep canyons fill the landscape.

For a dramatic view of the varied landscapes this little piece of Texas paradise has to offer, take a slow scenic drive along the Willow City Loop. Winding 13 miles through deep canyons carved by Coal Creek where meadows dressed in shades of blue, yellow, orange and white showcase seasonal wildflowers. Time your visit between March and May to catch bluebonnet season, the official Texas state flower.

Texas bluebonnets while exploring austin on TravelSquire
Texas Bluebonnets Terri Marshall | Travel Squire

Wining and Dining

Across the 13 towns in the Texas Hill Country, you’ll find plenty of food and drink. With over 100 wineries in the region, tasting rooms beckon wine lovers. Fredericksburg serves as the epicenter for wine with more than 50 wineries, vineyards, and wine-tasting rooms located in town and nearby.

Founded in 1846 by German immigrants, Fredericksburg maintains its heritage with beer, authentic German cuisine, and touches of traditional architectural features throughout its charming downtown.

Beyond Fredericksburg, Texas-style barbecue remains the favorite cuisine and there’s no better place to experience this true Texas flavor than Salt Lick. Located in Driftwood, Salt Lick BBQ might be the most popular barbecue joint in all of Texas. With a BBQ pit dating back to the 1960s, this family-owned treasure serves up smoked brisket, sausage, ribs, pork and beef. Try to save a little space for dessert; the peach cobbler and chocolate pecan pie are legendary.

Enchanted Rock Summit in Texas Hill Country
View from the Summit of Enchanted Rock Terri Marshall | Travel Squire

Hit the Trails

Indulging in Texas-sized portions may inspire you to hit the trails for some exercise. You’re in luck in the Texas Hill Country where recreational opportunities abound. One of the most popular destinations is Enchanted Rock State Natural Area with 11 miles of hiking trails. At its center, a massive pink granite dome rises above the landscape. Known as the Enchanted Rock, the dome has drawn people here for thousands of years. It’s a short steep climb to the summit, but you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the surrounding Texas Hill Country.

Luckenbach Texas
Luckenbach Texas Terri Marshall | Travel Squire

Saturday Night at the Dance Hall

In the Texas Hill Country, local dance halls have been the place to be on Saturday night since the 19th century. People go to listen to live music and two-step through the night. Two notable ones to consider are Gruene Hall and Luckenbach.

Located in the heart of Gruene — a historic town between Austin and San Antonio — Gruene Hall is considered the oldest remaining dance hall in Texas. It’s also one of the most popular attractions in the Hill Country drawing visitors for shows featuring well-known artists like George Strait, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris and more.

The subject of a Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson song, the entire town of Luckenbach is two buildings: a combination post office and general store that doubles as a bar with a stage out back, and a dancehall. That’s it. It’s quirky, fun and feels somewhat like being in the middle of an old-time movie. Come on, let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas!

Texas Hill Country
Texas Hill Country Mindset at Ranch 3232 Terri Marshall | Travel Squire

Where to Stay

Stephen F. Austin Royal Sonesta – Located in the heart of downtown Austin, the Stephen F. Austin combines history and comfort with a touch of elegance. Three onsite dining options include  Café Fuller with a delicious buffet breakfast, Roaring Fork serving Old West-inspired cuisine, and Stephen F’s Bar & Terrace with the only outdoor dining terrace on Congress Avenue. Peloton bikes in the hotel fitness center help balance those calories!  701 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701; (512) 457-8800;  www.sonesta.com/royal-sonesta/tx/austin

Ranch 3232 – Embrace nature in the Texas Hill Country at Ranch 3232 where the motto is “Unwind, Unplug, Uncork.” Sleep beneath the stars in one of the campground’s charming cabins. No need to rough it here! The climate-controlled cabins feature comfy beds, ensuite baths, and Texas-inspired art. A communal campfire area provides the ideal place to end the day under the vast star-studded Texas sky. If you’re up for a bit more adventure, book one of the glamping tents. 1712 Ranch Rd 3232, Johnson City, TX 78636; www.ranch3232.com