Looking for a weekend getaway less than 250 miles from home? We’ve found four small towns worthy of such a trip along and five interesting, fun, or quirky hotels to explore them from—no generic chains or seedy Interstate motels need apply. (Wharton, home of the fifth hostelry, only merits an overnight stay rather than a whole weekend.)
So whether you are a history buff, bass fisherman, beer lover, wine aficionado, birdwatcher or antique hound; a reveler in kitsch, an ice cream junky or a kolache fiend, we’ve found the towns and inns for you.
The Town: Palacios is a scruffy but utterly tranquil shrimp port on the shores of Tres Palacios Bay, home to a large population of Vietnamese fishermen and popular among birders for its high count of some 250 native species, more than anywhere else in the USA, they claim. Knock back a cold one and chow down on dock-fresh shrimp at the Outrigger Grill or American breakfasts and lunchtime banh mis and other Chinese and Vietnamese delicacies at Kim’s Kitchen .
The Place to Stay: The sprawling, gracious Luther Hotel is probably the most famous building in Matagorda County. The hotel dates back to Palacios’s long-gone boomtown days, when northern investors flocked in to town to speculate on fruit orchards. There was a time when the Luther boasted the longest front porch in Texas, employed a full-time in-house orchestra, and over the years it has counted among its guests Rita Hayworth, Artie Shaw, Harry James, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Those palmy days are gone, and today’s Luther fairly defines the shabby-genteel ethic, the paint often peeling from its white clapboard walls. Checking in to the Luther is to check in to 1947. Rooms are very low-tech, but there’s a library in the lobby. Grab a pulpy paperback, plunk down in a rocking chair on the porch with a bevvy of your choice, listen to the seagulls squabble over shrimp scraps and chill the hell out.
408 South Bay Blvd.
The Town: Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, is a plum destination for lovers of Texas history and nature. No town revels more in East Texas heritage; there’s the Millard’s Crossing Historical Village and the Durst Taylor House and Gardens, both of which transport visitors to the 19th Century, not to mention the 183-year-old Sterne-Hoya home, which now houses a museum. There’s another museum in the Old Stone Fort on the campus of Stephen F. Austin university: a fort that never served as a fort and that has been torn down three times by men and rebuilt three times by women. To find out why, you’ll have to visit Nac, and spend a day or two in the lakes near the town or on one of the hundreds of forest trails spiderwebbing the area.
The Place to Stay: NOTE! 2014 UPDATE: THIS HOTEL HAS CLOSED. And you didn’t think Nac-a-nowhere could pull off Mad Men style...The swanky Mid Century Mod (built 1955) Fredonia looks for all the world like somewhere Don Draper would squire a mistress and lapse into some ingenious reverie in the saltwater pool. Some travelers complain about the cramped rooms (especially the bathrooms), but most look past that and rave about its period furnishings, lively bar (popular with locals and guests alike), and lovely lobby, complete with koi pond. The six-story landmark is downtown, a short walk on red-brick streets from the small city’s bevy of mom-and-pop galleries, boutiques, and antique stores.
200 N. Fredonia Street
The Town: Wharton feels less like Texas than a small-town county seat in Mississippi or Alabama; not surprising, because it’s in the heart of cotton country. The painstakingly restored 1889 Italianate courthouse is one of the state’s handsomest, and the town has lots of shaded and tranquil Colorado River footage to stroll along or for fishermen and kayakers to launch from. While the town might look like Faulkner’s Jefferson, the Dixie feel does not extend to the food; the town’s landmark restaurant is the original Hinze’s Barbecue, which is as Texas as Texas gets, as is native son Dan Rather. (Playwright Horton Foote is the town’s other local boy made good.) Oh yeah, kids will love the big green life-size dinosaur placed randomly in a small park near the Colorado, and they will also love your choice of lodging, which happens to be pretty much the only reason to stay in Wharton overnight....
The Place to Stay: ...Namely, the Teepee Motel on the outskirts of town. A rare remnant of the golden age of Route 66-style highway (as opposed to Interstate) travel, the Teepee Motel lives up to its name: guests choose from ten recently-restored, mud-colored teepees. That it stands at all is a minor miracle: the motel was built in 1942 and closed about 40 years later. The Teepee spent the better part of two decades moldering toward ruin, until a local couple hit the lottery and bought the motel in 2004 and brought it back to kitschy, glorious life.
4098 E. Highway 59 Business
The Town: Beer is not all there is to Shiner: there is also a lovely old Czech Catholic church atop a hill overlooking town, kolaches galore, steak and karaoke at Kloesel’s in nearby Moulton, the famous fried chicken at Fridays, and three miles east of town, there still stands an operational drive-in movie theater. And yeah, there is also lots of beer in Shiner; sweet, precious beer from the Spoetzl Brewery. But you knew that already.
The Place to Stay: The Old Kasper House Bed and Breakfast, a small campus of colorful cottages set around a gorgeous baby-gingerbread Victorian house built in 1906. The owners will have a basket of breakfast food waiting for you along with the local newspaper when you check in.
The Old Kasper House
219 Avenue C
Shiner, TX 77984
The Place to Stay: Housed in what was built by a Swiss immigrant family as a Renaissance Revival grocery store in 1899, the Ant Street Inn is now a first-class downtown boutique B&B, one lauded by Texas Highways as “one of the most outstanding bed-and-breakfast/small-conference establishments in the state.” The hotel’s 15 rooms -- themed after venerable Southern and Texan cities -- are wonderfully appointed with Victorian antiques, while stained glass windows and Oriental rugs adorn the common areas. A shaded back porch offers rocking chair views of a lush garden complete with fountain.
Ant Street Inn
107 W. Commerce St.