Fun, cheap road trips are possible through South Texas

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Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This is the first in a monthly series exploring inexpensive weekend road trip options. This week, we’ll explore Canyon Lake, New Braunfels, and Gruene, Texas.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe there is a world outside of Austin, Texas. The city seems to offer everything from eclectic food to late night haunts, but sometimes an escape from the day-to-day is necessary. Texas offers a variety of weekend getaways that are inexpensive and don’t even require a full tank of gas. From nature-filled hikes at Canyon Lake to small town shopping in Gruene, this three day trip will leave you longing to discover more of what Texas has to offer.

Friday

Throw in a favorite mix CD, and hit the road. No matter what time you leave, you can be sure you will hit traffic on I-35 leaving Austin, so make sure everyone is happy with the song selection. A fun sing-a-long session (preferably to old school Britney Spears or Boyz II Men) makes any traffic jam more bearable.

Fridays are typically for unwinding from a stress-filled week. And Canyon Lake, located about 70 miles from Austin, is the place to do just that. What better way to forget that Red Bull-fueled all-nighter you pulled on Wednesday than kayaking on a lake that covers over 8,000 acres?

Camping is available at Canyon Lake through various private companies, and rates range from $12-24 a night. Split the cost between your parties, and suddenly you have an affordable accommodation. Tent sites include water, electricity and river access.

Saturday

Vacations are for sleeping in, but for early risers, a morning dip in the lake is the perfect way to get your blood flowing. After a quick swim, pack up the tent and head down the road 20 miles to New Braunfels.

New Braunfels is much more than Schlitterbahn Water Park. The city you once went to as a child with the hope of conquering the Master Blaster slide has so much more to offer.

First stop, Naegelin’s Bakery. Texas’ oldest continuously operating bakery has been in New Braunfels since 1868. The town has a high German population that settled in the area during the mid-19th century, so you know the strudel at Naegelin’s is authentic.

A quick walk away from Naegelin’s is the farmer’s market. Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., local vendors sell a variety of goods from natural soap to smoked meats. The vendors are friendly and talkative. Grab some fresh-from-the-farm fruit, homemade bread and sandwich meat and head over to Landa Park for a picnic lunch.

At Landa Park, you can rent a paddleboat, play miniature golf or check out the natural springs. A few hours later, head back into town and check out the little antique shops. The real gold mine is Downtown Antique Mall. Located right in the center of town, this antique mall has everything you would expect: creepy dolls, stacks of vintage glassware and political buttons. The key is to head straight to the back of the shop. One of the vendors sells a great selection of vinyl for affordable prices. Cat Steven’s Teaser and the Firecat for $5? Sold.

Avoiding the clothing stores in town is probably your best bet. The recurring trend seems to be rhinestone cowgirl — not a great look. New Braunfels has proven you can put a rhinestone cross on anything: baseball hats, key chains or cheetah print jeans.

For dinner, the Red Rooster Café is a New Braunfels favorite. Breakfast is served all day and is praised by the locals. The food is fairly priced, which means you will certainly have money to spend on a few beers afterwards. Right down the street is the Phoenix Saloon, which has live country music on Saturday nights.

When you’re ready to kick off your dancing shoes, make the 15-minute drive north from New Braunfels to Gruene, Texas and check into the Gruene Mansion Inn for the ultimate bed and breakfast experience. Each room boasts its own unique décor, brimming with Southern charm, from the claw foot tubs to the wood-burning fireplaces next to old photographs on the wall of women in hoop skirts. The inn requires you make your reservations in advance and notify them ahead of time if you intend to check in after 9 p.m. Rooms vary by size and range from $190-$220 per night.

For more budget-friendly accommodations, reserve a room at any one of the motels alongside I-35 between New Braunfels and Gruene, including the Red Roof Inn and Best Western Inn and Suites.

Sunday

After sleeping in head over to Gruene’s claim to fame, Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest continually operating dance hall for their Gospel Brunch. With heaps of Texas barbeque and roast, a ragtime gospel band and a conga line, this isn’t your mother’s worship service. Buy your $25 tickets in advance online at gruenehall.com.

After brunch, there are plenty of house-turned-boutique shops along Hunter Road just outside of Gruene Hall. Though most of the stores tend to have the same items — spreads and dips in Mason jars, jingling charm bracelets, Vera Bradley bags — each store’s maze-like layout makes wandering through as fun as smelling the uniquely scented soy candles.

After browsing the boutiques, make your way over to the Grapevine Texas Wine Bar for an informal wine tasting that features Texas wines. Your first three samples at the wine bar are complimentary, and glasses after that range from $4 to $11, with bottles ranging from $10 to $30. Keep in mind that Texas alcohol laws restrict alcohol purchases to be made after noon on Sundays.

For dinner, locals and tourists can agree on The Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar, a converted cotton gin tucked under swooping oak trees and overlooking the Guadalupe River. The popular restaurant’s menu offers southern comfort food, like the bacon-wrapped filet and “Gruene beans” simmering in secret ingredients, but locals know the best dish isn’t on the menu. One glance over at the table next to yours, overflowing with baby-back ribs, and immediately you will have the courage to order the Gristmill’s secret entree.

After dinner, grab some Jack Daniels Pecan Pie to munch on the ride home or save it for when Monday night rolls around and you were wishing you back in vacation mode. Well, there’s always next weekend.