A Visit to Texas Hill Country

This was my view for the past week.

Canyon Lake.

Canyon Lake.

We spent a relaxing week exploring southern central Texas.  Our week included plenty of thrilling water sports, a little more relaxing water chilling, and some serious city hopping in Austin and San Antonio with shopping and dining galore.  Here are the highlights:

EAT!

Banger's... Austin

Austin's outdoor dining scene is unbeatable.

Austin's outdoor dining scene is unbeatable.

Quality sausages and a hundred beers on tap.  Banger's was by far our favorite food stop in Austin.  When I asked around about the food/bar scene in Austin before our trip, the most popular advice I got was to avoid the tourist trap that is Sixth Street and head straight to Rainey Street.  Rainey is a historical district with beautifully renovated old bungalow style homes that have turned into classy cocktail joints.  There are plenty of incredible food trucks, bars, and restaurants like Banger's.  All of these little homes have great al fresco set ups with draped lights and lots of backyard games set up.  I could've spent every night on Rainey basking in the perfect night heat with a cocktail in hand.

But I digress... back to Banger's.  We had some beer flights and enjoyed a variety of sausages and poutine.  Yes, Texas poutine.  Good stuff.  Everything was mind blowing.  If you're anywhere near Austin, Banger's is a must.

The Esquire Tavern... San Antonio

Overlooking what is otherwise a typical tourist trap, this gem on the San Antonio Riverwalk gave us an extremely memorable evening.  We enjoyed incredible cocktails here. The food was fantastic (unique burgers... pub food with a Texas twist), but we came here for the cocktails, and we surely weren't disappointed.  The Esquire opened in 1933 as a celebratory close of Prohibition.  As the oldest bar on the riverwalk, it also has the longest wooden bar top in Texas.  Everything is bigger in Texas after all, right?

The fella had an Old Fashioned (spy the awesome coaster under his ice cube?) and I had the En Pointe which was a fabulous concoction of gin, lemongrass, lime, and cilantro-wormwood bitters.  It was the perfect drink to enjoy on the outdoor patio overlooking the river in the hot humidity.

Esquire Tavern is also just a few short blocks away from the Alamo which we went to explore after our dinner, in addition to exploring the haunted Menger Hotel.

Remember the Alamo!

Remember the Alamo!

The Blackheart... Austin

Blackheart was my favorite of the Rainey Street bars.  With New Orleans inspired decor, we sipped our drinks out front and enjoyed people watching as the Rainey crowd started the night.  

I was really fond of the silver mug that my brother-in-law's Moscow Mule came in!  

I was really fond of the silver mug that my brother-in-law's Moscow Mule came in!  

EXPLORE!

Longhorn Cavern State Park... Burnet

Quite the day trip from Austin down winding country roads, but so well worth the trek.  Longhorn Caverns is a sight to see.  We took the hour long tour down the caves and were mesmerized by the awe-inducing geological features.  The coolest thing about the park is that they offer a really neat opportunity down in unmaintained areas of the cave that the tour doesn't go.  You're given a headlight and set loose on your own thrilling adventure trying to navigate the cave.  Had we known about this, you bet we would've done it.  We'll have to go back again for the adventure.

The tour is still well worth it.  In the years preceding World War II, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked hard to navigate the caves and create the walkable areas that are explored on the tour.  Even before this, the caves were used during Prohibition as an underground speakeasy.  I cannot imagine walking down in complete darkness to then happen upon a full speakeasy set up.  So neat! 

Hamilton Pool... Dripping Springs

We spent one refreshing day exploring the local swimming holes.  We had two major contenders and the jury is out on which was better.  My personal vote goes for Hamilton Pool.

After getting turned around at the gate one day due to too many visitors and over a two hour wait to get in, we came back the next day at opening.  This gem gets busy quickly.  Coming back was so worth it.

We extended our hike by continuing to the equally gorgeous, less populated Pedernales River.  Although not technically a swimming hole contender, it was a gorgeous river and we certainly enjoyed swimming in it without the crowd.

Here gator, gator, gator!

Here gator, gator, gator!

Jacob's Well... Wimberly

It at first looks like a serene pool.  The mouth of Cypress Creek is anything but that.  The hauntingly lovely pool descends into a deadly three chamber cave system where at least eight divers have died.  On a summer day it looks like a beautiful swimming hole with kids jumping in, turtles swimming around, and happy people basking in the sun and it is almost easy to forget about the perils that lurk under the calm water's surface...

... you can bet I did not forget about the perils and I held my breath as I watched my guy dive into the deadly pond and stay under for a very long minute. 

This is the view from under the water's deceptive surface!  Very cool sight if you're brave enough to venture into the chambers on a free dive.

STAY!

Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake.

Canyon Lake.

We stayed just a hope and a skip up from this view.  Our family is renting a lake house for the month (the entire MONTH... so lucky!).  This is heaven for water sports enthusiasts.  If you have any desire to spend some time out on the lake tubing, jet skiing, wake-boarding, etc., this is the spot.  It is a little bit off the beaten path, but so worth it.  Absolutely beautiful and so convenient to be staying right on the lakeside. 

Gruene Mansion Inn 

The view from the suites overlooking the Guadalupe River.

The view from the suites overlooking the Guadalupe River.

With beautiful suites located right on the Guadalupe River in the quaint historic town of Gruene, this is high on our list of places to stay next time.  Gruene is, in one word, charming. It is a tiny town with some great wine tasting (check out The Grapevine!), antique shops, great restaurants, and home of the oldest still running dance hall in Texas.  What appears to be a sleepy little town at first has its fair share of local offerings.

A vision of us in fifty years.

A vision of us in fifty years.

We fell in love with beautiful inn.  I just can't walk past a wrap-around porch and not sit on it for a while.  Wrap-around porches are the epitome of southern hospitality in my mind.  The inn offers just that.

Plus, some Elvis humor in the parking lot.

Plus, some Elvis humor in the parking lot.