52 Road Trips

Have Fun, Save Money: 5 Budget-Friendly Road Trips

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you should miss out on summer fun.

By Michael Hardy April 30, 2014 Published in the May 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Royers Cafe’s famous pie. Photo courtesy Royers Cafe.

Scenic Hill Vacations, a collection of 10 rustic wood cabins outside of Brenham, somehow manages the feat of being both economical and convenient—it’s just 90 minutes northwest of Houston. The property, on heavily wooded acreage across the fence from a field of lowing cattle, offers cabins with porch swings, barbecue grills, and plenty of outdoor picnic tables. Inside with a glass of wine on the couch, watching the trees outside blowing in the wind, you’ll feel like you’re in a different era.

I’d reserved the 400-square-foot Treehouse, which as you might guess is 16 feet above the ground, for $145 a night (for two, $170 for three, $195 for four). That might not sound like a particularly great deal until you consider that all Scenic Hill cabins boast fully equipped kitchens, which saves you the expense of eating out every meal. When I arrived, the refrigerator was already stocked with breakfast fare—eggs, sausage, biscuits, orange juice, and coffee—as well as a plate of pecan pie muffins. Pick up a few more groceries in town, and you’re good to go for the whole weekend. Not only that, the place provides its own entertainment, thanks to the outdoor game area and the selection of board games and DVDs in each of the cabins.

Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site

As it happens, Washington County, of which Brenham is the largest town and hub, offers plenty of inexpensive options for the cost-conscious Houstonian. The morning after my arrival, I drove a half-hour west to Round Top, which, despite boasting only 90 residents, is home to several antique shops that are fun for browsing. For a few bucks, you can get a slice of one of Royers Cafe’s famous pies before heading over to the Winedale historic village four miles away, which is best known for its Summer Shakespeare Festival but also offers free tours of its century-old buildings year-round by appointment. On the way back to Brenham, stop by Pleasant Hill Winery, where a bottle of Texas Rosé will set you back just 10 bucks, perfect for splitting with your cabinmate over a home-cooked meal.

You’ll also want to make reservations for a 45-minute tour of Brenham’s 1907 Blue Bell Ice Cream Creamery, a good deal at $6 when you consider the generous sample cup they give you at the end—I chose mocha almond fudge. Afterward, I walked it off by strolling around the quaint downtown, the epitome of small-town Texas charm, stopping into more antique shops and an excellent used bookstore, The Book Nook. Sadly, it was time to turn home, but I couldn’t resist one final stop: Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, where Texas declared independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. Admission to the park is free, and a guided tour will set you back only $5. 

History, ice cream, pie, and a chance to unplug—now that’s a deal.

Also Consider

Instead of staying in a chain motel or an overpriced B&B in Wimberley, try the Dixie Daisy—a vintage Airstream trailer situated along the banks of Smith Creek that’s been converted into a vacation home complete with an antique queen bed and fully equipped kitchen. In addition to 12 sprawling acres to explore right outside, the DD also offers a clay fire pit and hot tub on a charming wooden deck.… In Livingston, the annual Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Powwow in June is a must for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the area’s Native American history—plus, it’s only $7 a day. After that, bunk down on the reservation in a cabin on the TomBigBee Lake campgrounds, catch a fish dinner from the lake itself, cook it over the campfire, and admire the quiet beauty of the starry night sky.… A mere $5 gains you access to three massive telescopes in the George Observatory in Needville—a satellite of the Houston Museum of Natural Science located inside Brazos Bend State Park. There, you can spend a Saturday night investigating the mysteries of the universe (anyone over 12 has to pay an additional $7 to get into the park itself). In addition, the 5,000-acre state park offers an abundance of wildlife, hike-and-bike trails, fishing, and well-equipped campsites.… And you can’t call yourself a true lover of kitsch until you’ve spent a night at the roadside Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, one of only four thusly-themed motels left in America. Built in 1942 and renovated in 2006 by lottery winners Barbara and Bryon Woods, the motel provides a night of ersatz nostalgia for less than $70.

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