Pullquote: Banjo pickers, barbecue, LBJ, Enchanted Rock, and more
By Michele von Dambrowski Gothberg
Prompted by a free airline ticket and accompanying two-night hotel stay in Austin for business, my husband, Mark, and I decided to extend our trip to cover the capitol and more of Texas Hill Country.
Known for its food and live music, Austin doesn’t disappoint on either count. At night Sixth Street rocks, helped by some of the 50,000 students at the flagship of the University of Texas. The city is also very walkable. Located downtown is Lady Bird Lake, where a path circles the lake and footbridges connect opposite shores. Kayakers, paddleboarders, and anglers share the water.
The Texas State Capitol, with its towering dome, is worth a brief visit. So is a walk-through of the opulent lobby of the Driskill. Built in 1886, the landmark hotel showcases gleaming marble floors, cowhide upholstery, a giant stained-glass dome, and the head of a Texas longhorn mounted over a fireplace.
By far our favorite site in Austin was the LBJ Presidential Library. Our visit made us recall not just the Johnson of the Vietnam War, but his legacy in civil rights, education, war on poverty, health care, the arts, and the environment. An introductory video didn’t sugarcoat the 36th president, referring to him as “caring and crude.”
From Austin we drove to Marble Falls, where we spent two nights in a hotel overlooking a lake of the Colorado River, to explore the environs. Texas barbeque, especially Mark’s favorite of brisket and ribs, is king in Hill Country. So are many parks, such as one where we hiked three miles to pristine Gorman Falls. A private, 115-acre property in Spicewood, Krause Springs is also worth visiting if only for its lovely gardens and the butterflies they attract. Luckenbach isn’t really a town, but a re-creation of a frontier town with saloon, post office, general store, and dance hall. The latter is the venue for a full calendar of dances and live music.
Next stop was Fredericksburg, which was the most charming of all the towns we visited. Its claim to fame is its German heritage, with plenty of restaurants featuring the cuisine. (I like German food as much as I like Texas barbecue. Thank goodness for Tex-Mex!)
Our hotel, the Hangar Hotel, was also most charming of all. Located in the county airport and looking from the outside like a hangar (but with windows!), it tried to emulate on the inside the flyboy days of the 1940s. “The Officers’ Club” offered piano music, games, and, of course, cocktails.
Fredericksburg has a huge museum devoted to the Pacific Theater of World War II. Its location doesn’t make sense, unless you know that the town is the birthplace of U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. Mark and I spent an afternoon and morning in the museum and probably only took in 50 percent of the exhibits. Like the presidential library, the National Museum of the Pacific War was well worth our time.
Not too far from Fredericksburg is the pink Enchanted Rock, which is the nation’s second largest granite dome, only dwarfed by Georgia’s Stone Mountain. You can hike to the top of the rock or on the many trails at the base.
Our next stop was San Antonio, where we spent a lot of time strolling the city’s riverwalk. We also took a 45-minute moderated river barge cruise, which was a bit hokey. There is not much of the Alamo to see. The central courtyard, anchored by a 140-year-old “live oak” tree, is of the greatest visual interest. To understand the magnitude of this historic place, a guided tour or an audio guide is a must. Mission San Jose, a few miles from the city center, is worth visiting for the restored 250-year-old buildings and peaceful surroundings.
San Antonio presented some of the best dining experiences. Zinc in downtown offered a lovely patio seating area and excellent crab cakes for lunch. A short drive from the city center, La Fonda featured a charming outdoor area which, despite heaters, was a bit cool for evening dining in late October. Cured had great atmosphere (including a glass-fronted meat locker) and attentive service for dinner. You just had to love cured meat!
The author and her husband with Enchanted Rock behind them
Karuse Springs attracts butterflies and those travelers looking for lovely gardens.
Things are looking up in the La Villita artists’ area
Live music in Luckenbach
Mission San Jose in San Antonio
On a river barge cruise in San Antonio