Austin may be the attraction that drew you to Texas, but it’s not the only thing in the 268,820 square miles (696,200 km2) of the state. From ranches to swimming, the Lone Star State is filled with cultural gems and hidden hotspots that sometimes the locals like to keep that way. So venture outside the city of the weird and see what the rest of Central Texas has to offer.
If you’re into aquatics, which you should be if you’re living in Texas, you need to carve out some time to visit Hamilton Pool. Secluded down at the end of a winding dirt trail, after a hot, dusty hike, you’ll suddenly find yourself face-to-face with a 50-foot (15.2-meter) waterfall. It flows into the non-chemically treated pool and large stalactites grow from the ceiling, where moss, maidenhair fern and cliff swallows are also visible. Enjoy wading, swimming or a back massage from the surge. Or if you aren’t ready to swim, wander around the rock outcroppings above and behind the waterfall for a beautifully distorted view of your surroundings. Thousands of years ago, the dome of an underground river collapsed, forming the natural pool, located approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Austin. It consists of 232 acres of natural habitat, featuring a green pool surrounded by slabs of limestone. Due to the natural water of the pool, officials monitor the water quality, restricting swimming if necessary.
Everyone is always talking about Fredericksburg, and with good reason. In a little under two hours, you’re a world away from Austin. This little town is lined with antique shops and on just about every street corner you can try some Hill Country wine. Whether you stay overnight or just come through for the day, you’ll find yourself lulled into the pace of small-town life with a pull so strong that you’ll find yourself returning more frequently than you ever thought possible.
Speaking of wineries, while one doesn’t normally associate Texas with wine, in the last decade this semi-arid state has progressed by leaps and bounds in their viticulture. From Driftwood to Fredericksburg, the Texas Hill Country is dotted with vineyards as far as the eye can see. Just make sure you have a designated driver with you when you go. Or you can forego the risk of drunk driving altogether and hitch a ride on the wine bus.
If you need an outdoorsy trek to satisfy your spirit, look no further than the gigantic lump of pink granite that is Enchanted Rock. This truly enchanting hill of stone sprawls 640 acres and elevates to nearly 2,000 feet above sea level. With so much space, there’s always a spot for visitors to seclude themselves and explore its caves, stargaze and bird-watch, or you can join with a party and rock climb before a picnic. Just try to go on off-hours. Afternoon weekends present a parking challenge.
If you’re really, really into Texas barbecue, you need to take a day trip out to Lockhart. To arrive in the barbecue mecca of Central Texas, it will require about the same amount of time that it would take for you to wait in line at Franklin Barbecue. Actually, you could probably get there, eat and then drive home in the amount of time it would take you to wait in line at Franklin’s. In any case, Lockhart is packed with regional Texas barbecue gems like Smitty’s Market, Kruez Market and Black’s Barbeque, all of which are a must try if you’re fastidious about your smoked meats. Plus, it’s nice to get away from the city and enjoy the real Texas country.