This is the first in a four part series about day trips you can take from Austin, Texas. In each post I’ll showcase a fun destination that’s just a short drive away from Austin in one of the four compass directions: north, south, east, west. First up – heading South. Here’s how to spend a good day in the little German town of New Braunfels.
This may be obvious to some but for anyone not familiar with the area – you will definitely need a car to get around. Public transport isn’t great and even if you find a bus that will get you from Austin to one of these places, you’ll need a car to navigate once you’re there.
South of Austin: New Braunfels
About an hour south of Austin is a quaint German city called New Braunfels, which happens to be my hometown! It might be a sleepy place to live but there is plenty to keep you busy for at least a day. 😉
Float the River
In the summer head to Rockin’ R where you can grab a toob (they’re definitely called toobs) and jump into the river for a long, lazy day of floating and drinking (if that’s your thing). They also rent other things like rafts and stand up paddle boards but toobs are classic. Do NOT skimp on the sunblock or you will regret it. Also, bring your water bottle – hydration is key!
The float will take you a few hours and you’ll be hungry when you’re back on dry land. There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat but if you are in the mood for a hearty sit-down meal, head to The Gristmill in Gruene (pronounced like green) which also happens to be right there overlooking the river.
Or stay true to the city’s German roots and drive downtown to Krause’s Cafe and Biergarten, serving schnitzel and sauerkraut, sausage and pretzels since 1938. Wash it all down with a beer or even a glass of wine.
Shop, Eat, Dance in Gruene
If you like antique-ing, or if you just want to meander around some quaint little shops, stick around Gruene where you can visit the old timey Gruene General Store, refuel your energy at Gruene Coffee Haus (there are no “houses” here btw, this is a German town!) or kick back at The Grapevine tasting room and bar which features a huge selection of Texas wines and craft beers.
In the evening catch a show at Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas. Built in 1878, it has hosted many famous country musicians including Willie Nelson, Gregg Allman, and Hal Ketchum. You can even buy a shirt to prove you were there. I’ve seen a handful of people traveling through Europe and Asia wearing Gruene Hall t-shirts and it was kind of awesome.
The Hottest Coolest Time in Texas…Schlitterbahn
For folks traveling with kids or who just don’t feel like spending the day getting drunk and burnt to a crisp on the river, you can keep cool at Schlitterbahn, a huge water park with slides, rides, a lazy river, and a boogie bahn (surf machine).
The heading for this section is actually their slogan and if you grew up in New Braunfels in the 90s you totally read that to the tune of their ad jingle.
Fall Fun in New Braunfels: Wurstfest
In November, head to Landa Park during the first two weeks of the month for Wurstfest. Translated as “Sausage Fest” this ten day festival celebrates all things German including sausage, beer, pretzels, dancing, and more beer. If you have been waiting for the right time to don your dirndl or lederhosen, this is it. (Heck, if you just want to ride the miniature train around the 51 acre park, and then meander around picking up pecans to bring home, that’s perfectly fine too.)
Wurstfest was a fun, mostly local event when I lived here but over the last couple of decades has grown about a million-fold. It is still fun but extremely crowded. Consider yourself warned.
Sadly, in 2019 the iconic Marktplatz and Wursthalle buildings sustained extensive fire damage (no one was in them at the time, thank goodness). But the show must go on! Like the mail service, neither rain nor snow nor fire nor global pandemic shall keep Wurstfest from its appointed days. As of now that is the promise, but I’d still double check their site closer to November.
It’s a good idea to check websites for all businesses to verify hours, etc. as a lot of places have made changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
If all else fails and you can’t actually make it to New Braunfels but want to live vicariously through a local, check out my friend Lauren’s blog, The Something Garden to see what a badass New Braunfels garden looks like.
My next post will be a day trip West towards Dripping Springs to the myriad breweries, wineries, distilleries, and cideries (!) that have sprung up on the wide open route between Austin proper and the Texas hill country.