Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Hitting the scenic and culinary highlights of the Texas Hill Country

Ricky Stein

The drive through the Hill Country is filled with unexpected sights and experiences, including exotic scenery, local color, and delicious food. All UT students would benefit from this short, inexpensive road trip.

Of all the beautiful drives in the world, few afford such an excellent opportunity for escape and reflection as the rich, scenic ramble through the Texas Hill Country. Oak-covered hills, grazing livestock and amaranthine skies paint the backdrop along U.S. Highway 290, tempting the mind to wander along every dried-up creek bed and solitary country road.

An hour-and-a-half drive west leads you past dozens of roadside diners, town squares and homegrown peach stands before ultimately arriving at the picturesque German town of Fredericksburg. Its proximity to Austin, small-town charm and strong local flavor make it an excellent daytrip for Longhorns, perfect for getting away from the books for a little while.

After stopping at one of the region’s famed peach stands to whet your appetite, head for the Ausländer Restaurant and Biergarten, a local institution for over two decades. Try either the Reuben or Opa’s sausage sandwich. Either way you can’t go wrong, especially if you wash it down with any number of the dozens of Eastern European beers offered on tap.

Next stroll down the über-Deutsch Main Street (or ‘Hauptstrasse,’ as it was originally known to the first German settlers in the 1840s). Brewers, bakers, chandlers, winemakers, chocolatiers, antique-and-art dealers, jam-and-salsa makers and fruit-and-veggie picklers represent only a cross section of the vendors to whom you will feel compelled to give money (this writer fell victim to the General Store’s free sample of pecan honey butter — best $8.99 ever spent.)

After taking your fill of small-town Texana, drive 18 miles north on FM 965 to world-famous Enchanted Rock State Park for some of the best hiking and most mesmerizing vistas in the state of Texas. A geographical wonder, the 425-foot pink granite batholith challenges adventurers to a 30-minute trek to the summit. Once reached, climbers are rewarded with a hefty breeze and an unobstructed view of some of the most beautiful natural landforms known to man. Admission to the park is $6, overnight camping $17.

Before dusk, head back south through Fredericksburg and take a right on Old San Antonio Road. A winding, looping country byway conducts you to Old Tunnel State Park, named after a ghostly abandoned railroad underpass. Each evening at sunset between May and October, the spectral nature of the scene is intensified when three million Brazilian free-tailed bats come billowing out of the tunnel in search of their evening meal. The bat colony, along with the abandoned tunnel, qualifies the site as one of the spookiest haunts in the Texas Hill Country.

Another famous haunt (though hardly spooky) awaits 10 miles to the northeast. Luckenbach Dance Hall and General Store has been a legendary hangout for generations of Central Texans. Made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker’s seminal 1973 album Viva Terlingua and popularized worldwide by Waylon Jennings’ smash hit single, the ‘town’ is as rustic as it gets, consisting of the dance hall, the store (which serves equally as a saloon) and whoever happens to be hanging around at any given point in time.

The venue hosts popular regional acts on the weekends, but the best time to go is when it’s still light outside. If you play guitar, bring it with you. If you know any Jerry Jeff songs, you’ll have friends for life.

Cold beer, warm smiles and the best $7 pulled pork sandwiches west of the Balcones Fault flow together like harmony lines in a familiar country song at this Central Texas cultural gem. An hour-and-a-half drive later, you’re back in Austin with plenty of time left to go out on a Saturday night.

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Uncovering gems in Hill Country

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Hitting the scenic and culinary highlights of the Texas Hill Country