Hold on to your cowboy hats and hit the gas: In the Texas Hill Country, just west of San Antonio and Austin, roads flanked by bluebonnet-filled pastures link charming towns that deliver on food, fun and “Yee-haw!”-worthy adventures.
PLAYTIME AND PIONEERS
The town of Fredericksburg has long been a getaway for couples drawn to its 19th-century streets, romantic B&Bs and haute boutiques. It also has plenty of pit stops for families.
Kids can play historic house at the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, in the 732-acre Lyndon B. Johnson State Park. Pretend pioneers can dress up and make toys just as they would have in the early years, when youngsters fashioned dolls from cornhusks and balls from pigskin.
Back in town, shopping awaits. Old-fashioned amusements, such as wooden puzzles and hand puppets, line the shelves at Fitz and Hollerin. Across the street, style-savvy girls and boys find hip clothing at Beulah’s, stocked with frilly dresses and mini fedoras by New York and Texas designers. While the prices have gone up at Dooley’s 5-10 & 25¢ Store, since it's opening its wide aisles are still worth exploring for rubber snakes, Rubik’s cubes and paper planes.
See real airplanes in flight at the Hangar Hotel’s Airport Diner, where Flying Flapjacks and Bomber Burgers are served in a old fasion-inspired space overlooking the local airport’s runways. Save room for ice cream—Mexican vanilla, pecan and amaretto are three favorites—at Clear River Pecan Co.
FOR COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS
Even tykes wear starched white button-downs and wide-brimmed hats in Bandera, the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World. Get ranch-ready at Bunkhouse Leather, where owner Michael Hancock tools just about anything out of leather: reins, saddles and, for city slickers, cell-phone holsters. Around the corner, the Bandera General Store sells vintage embroidered boots.
Bandera is surrounded by guest ranches—working farms with overnight accommodations. Many of these offer trail rides to nonguests. Dixie Dude Ranch has 24 horses for wannabe cowboys to ride on the property’s 725 bluebonnet-filled acres.
In the evening, take your half-pints out to chow down on grilled steaks at the 11th Street Cowboy Bar and two-step to live country music.
DANCING AND DRESS-UP
New Braunfels, known for its German roots, is located off Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin. A few blocks from the highway, historic neighborhoods unfold. Gruene (pronounced “green”) is the most famous, thanks to Gruene Hall, a saloon that’s the oldest in Texas. Children are welcome as long as they can tap their feet to the likes of Willie Nelson and Pat Green. Around the corner, families dress up in bonnets, bandanas and chaps at Smiling Eyes Photo Gallery to pose for Old West–style sepia portraits.
Climbing roads cut across pecan tree–covered slopes in Wimberley, a great springtime stop for adventure. Kids line up for rope swings at the Blue Hole, a natural swimming hole surrounded by picnic tables. Older daredevils can soar over central Texas’s limestone cliffs with Wimberley Zipline Adventures. Animal fans will love Old Oaks Ranch, an alpaca farm and yarn store where kids can pet the soft-footed animals and learn about carding wool, knitting and weaving.
GALLERIES AND GIRAFFES
The area around the small city of Kerrville is armed and ready with fun and educational activities for youngsters. At the Museum of Western Art, follow the fictional life story of a pioneer boy headed west. Everyone will enjoy the exotic animals at Y.O. Ranch. The terrain at this 40,000-acre park is similar to that of southern Africa, and 55 animal species—wildebeests, rheas, even giraffes—thrive here. The two-hour tour ends with a chuckwagon lunch.
Relax by Ingram Dam, a favorite swimming hole that’s a great spot to people-watch on weekends. On weekend nights from May through September, head to Crider’s Rodeo. Before the main event—a rodeo and live country music—youngsters can try their hand at mutton bustin’ (riding sheep).
Traveling with kids isn’t always easy, but enjoy these moments while they last. Soon enough your “babies” will grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls.
Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm: 199 State Park Rd., Stonewall; 830.644.2252; tpwd.state.tx.us
Fitz and Hollerin: 247 E. Main St.; 830.990.0111
Beulah’s: 308 E. Main St.; 830.990.2932
Dooley’s 5-10 & 25¢ Store: 131–133 E. Main St.; 830.997.3458
Airport Diner: 155 Airport Rd.; 830.997.9990
Clear River Pecan Co.: 138 E. Main St.; 830.997.8490
Bunkhouse Leather: 1207 Cedar St.; 830.796.3690
Bandera General Store: 306 Main St.; 830.796.4925
Dixie Dude Ranch: 833 Dixie Dude Ranch Rd.; 830.796.7771; dixieduderanch.com
11th Street Cowboy Bar: 307 11th St.; 830.796.4849
Gruene Hall: 1281 Gruene Rd.; 830.606.1281; gruenehall.com
Smiling Eyes Photo Gallery: 1263 Gruene Rd.; 830.629.7474; smilingeyesphoto.com
Blue Hole: Blue Hole Lane; friendsofbluehole.org
Wimberley Zipline Adventures: Winn Ranch; 512.847.9990; wimberleyzipline.com
Old Oaks Ranch: 601 Old Oaks Ranch Rd.; 512.847.8784; theoldoaksranch.com
Museum of Western Art: 1550 Bandera Hwy; 830.896.2553; museumofwesternart.com
Y.O. Ranch: 1736 Y.O. Ranch Rd., Mountain Home; 800.967.2624; yoranch.com
Ingram Dam: 610 State Hwy. 39, Ingram; 830.367.7255
Crider’s Rodeo: 2301 State Hwy. 39, Hunt; 830.238.4441; cridersrodeoanddance.com