Best of Houstonia

On the Road Again: 53 Weekend Getaways for 2016

We’ve got a road trip for every weekend of the year, and every occasion you can imagine.

By Layne Lynch, Marianella Orlando, Sarah Rufca Nielsen, and Brittanie Shey January 5, 2016 Published in the January 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

We know what you’re thinking: why 53? Aren’t there only 52 weekends per year? That’s where you’re wrong—at least in regard to glorious 2016, which both starts and ends with a weekend, bringing the tally to, yes, 53. And we’ve planned a road trip for every single one of them.

Whether you’re looking for a guys’ or girls’ weekend, a romantic getaway, an arts & culture junket, an outdoors escape, a food & drink whirlwind, a history excursion or a family affair, you’ll find it among these 53 trips across Texas (with a few tossed in for Louisiana!). All are less than six hours’ drive from Houston, and they come complete with recommendations for food, festivals, lodging and more. So fuel up, head out and embrace the road-trip weekend in 2016. If the calendar is any indication, it’s going to be a very good year.


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Denton's historic limestone courthouse, built in 1896

Image: Shutterstock 

Jan. 1–3 • Arts & Culture • North Texas • 280 miles • 4.5 hrs

Kick off the weekend at the First Friday art market (, where you can wander the town square and shop for local artwork, vintage pieces and turquoise jewelry. Saturday, feast on the best-ever waterfowl—duck leg gnocchi with house-made ricotta and crispy duck and bacon confit—at Hannah’s Off The Square (, have a drink at Harvest House’s beer garden (, and behold the universe itself at the Saturday Star Party at Rafes Urban Astronomy Center ( Conk out at the adults-only Old Irish B&B, which boasts charming guest cottages where no two rooms are alike.

Rooms from $129/night, 3030 N. Trinity Rd., 214-505-0754,

San Marcos

Jan. 8–10 • Girls' Weekend • Hill Country • 165 miles • 2.5 hrs

Deals abound in January, when stores are desperate to clear out merch after the holidays. What better time, then, for an excursion to San Marcos Premium Outlets ( and Tanger Outlet San Marcos (, which hold a combined 227 stores including Prada, Banana Republic, Diane von Furstenberg, Adidas and Restoration Hardware. Refuel in between purchases at Cody’s Bistro ( just across I-35, and skip the interstate-adjacent motels in favor of Alexandra’s House, a modern Hill Country B&B just 10 minutes away.

Rooms from $150/night, 250 Hugo Rd., 512-667-0107,

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All the meat you can eat at Luling City Market

Luling & Lockhart 

Jan. 15–17 • Food & Drink • Hill Country • 141 miles • 2 hrs

At least once a year, true Texans hit the road in search of the best bovine, swine and fowl. At Luling City Market (, oak-smoked proteins like melt-in-your-mouth pork ribs are second to none. Lockhart, on the other hand, boasts the best beef cuts: shiny, marbled brisket at Smitty’s ( and smoky, tender ribs and turkey at Kreuz Market ( Fall into a meat-induced coma at the rustic Ainsworth House Inn.

Rooms from $120/night, 214 South Pecan, 830-875-3435,


Jan. 22–24 • Food & Drink • North Texas • 270 miles • 4.5 hrs

Victorian architecture, mom-and-pop shops and wineries are the attractions in this picturesque town. Kick off your trip with a vino tour, hitting the quaint Barking Rocks Winery (, family-owned Pemberton Cellars ( and gorgeous Bluff Dale Vineyards (—and don’t pass up Revolver Brewing (, one of the best craft breweries in the state. Reserve a dinner date at Farina’s Winery ( for baked lasagna, a fluffy staple since 1951—and be sure to save enough room for the cappuccino pie. After the caffeine buzz fades, settle in at the Inn on Lake Granbury, a boutique resort with waterfront views.

Rooms from $195/night, 205 W. Doyle St., 817-573-0046,

New Iberia, LA.

Jan. 29–31 • Outdoors • Louisiana • 238 miles • 3.75 hrs 

New Iberia gets its annual Cajun Groundhog Day forecast on Tuesday, Feb. 2, from a nutria named Pierre C. Shadeaux, who predicts either a pleasant spring or the swift return of summer humidity. The weekend before Shadeaux’s judgment, explore the resplendent natural wonder of Jungle Gardens ( on nearby Avery Island, a legacy of Tabasco heir Ned McIlhenny, featuring over 170 acres of exotic birds and botanicals. Book a cottage at the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, and bliss out on the picturesque grounds for days.

Rooms from $120/night, 5505 Rip Van Winkle Rd., 337-359-8525,


Feb. 5–7 • Girls' Weekend • Piney Woods • 220 miles • 3.5 hrs

What began in the mid-1800s as a traders’ market has become a flea market extraordinaire. Bargain for a shabby-chic dresser, wrought-iron hardware and home décor of every type, then recharge with a fried peach pie from Baker’s Ribs ( before checking in to one of Mill Creek Ranch Resort’s country cottages. If you can, extend your weekend and hit February’s First Monday Trade Days (, which attracts thousands of vendors and eager shoppers in search of antique furniture and rare treasures.

Rooms from $130/night, 2102 N. Trade Days Blvd., 877-927-3439,


Feb. 12–14 • Romantic • Hill Country • 78 miles • 1.25 hours

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A treat from The Inn at Dos Brisas, Washington 

Indulge in the ultimate romantic retreat close to home at the Inn at Dos Brisas, a former family ranch that’s been converted into one of the most impressive properties in Texas. Spend your days taking horseback rides for two and strolling through the rose garden, and your nights roasting s’mores by the fire pit while gazing at the heavens. Or hole up in your hacienda for a couple’s massage, an en-suite dinner from the inn’s five-star restaurant and a dip in your own heated plunge pool.

Rooms from $389/night, 10000 Champion Dr., 979-277-7750,


Feb. 19–21 • History • The Valley • 311 miles • 5 hrs

The town’s annual Washington’s Birthday Celebration takes federal holidays to a whole new level. The party (Feb. 11–22; includes a carnival where visitors enjoy midway food, roller coasters, novelty shops and games. For a dose of history, check out the Villa Antigua Border Heritage Museum ( and the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum, the latter located on the grounds of the historic La Posada Hotel. Don’t forget to stop by Las Kekas Restaurant for some flaky, fried empanada-like kekas.

Rooms from $119/night, 1000 Zaragoza St., 956-722-1701,


Feb. 26–28 • Arts & Culture • The Valley • 350 miles • 5.25 hrs

The Charro Days Fiesta (Feb. 25–Mar. 6,, founded during the Great Depression, is a family-centric party featuring carnival rides, Mexican cuisine and infectious music. Feast on funnel cake after riding the stomach-churning tilt-a-whirl, then visit the Mitte Cultural District (, packed with history, art and family museums and parks. Book early at the popular Inn at Chachalaca Bend, minutes from the South Padre waters.

Rooms from $159/night, 36298 Chachalaca Bend, 956-233-1180,

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Inner Space Caverns, Georgetown


March 4–6 • Outdoors • Hill Country • 175 miles • 2.75 hrs

Inner Space Caverns ( is a jaw-dropping sight, adorned with beautiful rock formations shaped like icicles and drapes that were discovered by highway construction crews building Interstate 35 in 1963. Visitors here can also see a mammoth tusk and a direwolf jawbone straight out of the movie Ice Age. Return to the 21st century with a trip to Georgetown Square in Old Town for artisan crafts, handmade chocolates, antiques and jewelry from local shops. Dine on grilled ruby trout and kale at Eats on 8th (, then check in at the cute-as-a-button Sweet Lemon Inn.

Rooms from $130/night, 812 S. Church St., 512-270-0812,


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Dixie Dude Ranch, Bandera

Image: Matthew Mahon

March 11–13 • Family • Hill Country • 244 miles • 4 hrs

This Hill Country town calls itself the cowboy capital of the world, and considering that there are close to a dozen dude and guest ranches within city limits, it’s hard to refute the claim. The quaint, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it historic Main Street is worth a visit on any day but especially each Saturday afternoon, when it’s brought back to frontier life with strolling cowboy crooners, covered wagons and gunfight reenactments (
Stay on-theme—but with all the modern amenities—at the Flying L Guest Ranch.

Rooms from $99/night, 566 Flying L Dr., 800-292-5134,

St. Francisville, LA.

March 18–20 • Outdoors • Louisiana • 300 miles • 4.5 hrs

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The Audobon pilgrimage, St. Francisville

Artist and naturalist John James Audubon arrived in St. Francisville in 1821, declaring that the variety of bird species “all excited my admiration.” Today, the tiny town’s moss-draped oaks and stately gardens stir the same reaction from visitors, especially during spring. For 45 years, St. Francisville has celebrated the ornithologist’s brief residency with the Audubon Pilgrimage (Mar. 18–20;, featuring tours of historic homes, churches and gardens, plus a working rural homestead, children’s maypole dancing and locals dressed in period costumes from the 1820s. Book a rustic hilltop cabin at the Shadetree Inn, which draws plenty of birds to its bucolic grounds.

Rooms from $95/night, 9704 Royal St., 225-635-6116,


March 25–27 • History • Hill Country • 95 miles • 1.5 hrs

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St. John the Baptist Church in Ammannsville, near Schulenburg

Image: Shutterstock

What better time than Easter to reflect on the beauty that faith can inspire? Built approximately a century ago, the historic churches of Praha, Ammannsville, Dubina and High Hill ( were built by Czech and German immigrants who wanted to retain their native culture while carving out a life in Texas. Each house of worship has a relatively typical Gothic Revival exterior, but their interiors radiate color, with glorious stained glass, frescoes and stencils. Nearby Hattie’s Haus, a remodeled farmhouse that dates to the 1870s, sleeps up to 10 people.

Rooms from $250/night, 979-250-1735,

Round Top

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Round Top Antiques Week

April 1–3 • Girls' Weekend • Hill Country • 95 miles • 1.5 hrs

Whether you’re in the market for high-end finds under the white tents at Marburger Farm ( or prefer to do your exploring in open fields full of junk, there’s something for everyone at the epic biannual Round Top Antiques Weekend (Mar. 19–Apr. 3;, which extends to neighboring towns like Carmine and Warrenton. Don’t miss an opportunity to eat a slice of pie from Royer’s (, and book early for an overnight stay at picturesque country compound The Prairie.

Rooms from $195/night, 5808 Wagner Rd., 979-836-4975,

Chappell Hill

April 8–10 • Outdoors • Hill Country • 64 miles • 1 hr

Each spring, crowds descend upon this charming town’s Chappell Hill Bluebonnet Festival (Apr. 9–10; for live music, great people-watching and, of course, sausage and kolaches. There’s a reason they call it a bluebonnet festival: The surrounding fields, bursting with color, are an invitation to forget what the GPS says and take the slow road, reveling in the impossible beauty of a Texas country day. Continue your commune with nature in neighboring Burnet at the Rainbow Hearth Sanctuary, which offers a laid-back vibe and views of Lake Buchanan.

Rooms from $129/night, 1330 Waterway Ln., 512-756-7878,

San Antonio

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Fiesta San Antonio

April 15–17 • Family • Hill Country • 197 miles • 3 hrs

True to its name, Fiesta San Antonio (Apr. 14–24; is the state’s biggest party. The 125-year-old celebration features more than 20 different events, including parades, carnivals, marathons, soccer tournaments and cook-offs. On Sunday, don’t forget to witness the crowning of El Rey Feo, a.k.a. the people’s king, and be sure to visit Market Square for Mexican food and music. Recover in style at the swanky new Hotel Emma on the grounds of the revitalized Pearl Brewing Co. compound.

Rooms from $445/night, 136 E. Grayson, 210-448-8300,

Fort Worth

April 22–24 • Arts & Culture • North Texas • 262 miles • 4 hrs

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Bass Concert Hall, Fort Worth

Think the only culture in Fort Worth involves two-stepping at Billy Bob’s? Who told you that, someone from Dallas? Bass Hall ( is arguably the most beautiful and acoustically excellent performance hall in North Texas. Discover it, along with a pair of opera premieres—JFK and Buried Alive-Embedded—during the Fort Worth Opera Festival (Apr. 23–May 8; Cap off your fancy night out with dinner at Modern American eatery Grace ( before walking back to the stately, centrally located Ashton Hotel. Don’t forget to grab an art-filled brunch—the crab puff napoleons are a must—at The Modern ( on your way out of town.

Rooms from $209, 610 Main St., 817-332-0100,

Lake Charles, LA.

April 29–May 1 • History • Louisiana • 143 miles • 2.25 hrs

Legend has it that Jean Lafitte docked his boat and buried his treasure along the banks of Lake Charles. Celebrate the pirate mastermind during Contraband Days (Apr. 26–May 8; by dressing up as a buccaneer, forcing the city mayor to “walk the plank” and eating your weight in Cajun cuisine. Win your own treasure during a stay at the L’Auberge Casino Resort, and fly the Jolly Roger while floating down its lazy river.

Rooms from $119/night, 777 Ave. L’Auberge, 337-395-7777,

Corpus Christi

May 6–8 • History • Gulf Coast • 208 miles • 3.25 hrs

Shake your bidi bidi bom bom at Fiesta de la Flor (May 6–7;, which memorializes Selena, the Queen of Tejano, and all of her hits. When your vocal chords have had enough, step aboard the USS Lexington aircraft carrier ( for a lesson on WWII, then tear apart chef Sterling’s fish tacos at Snoopy’s Pier ( Wind down at the Omni Corpus Christi, with its incredible views of the bay.

Rooms from $299/night, 900 N. Shoreline Blvd., 361-887-1600,

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Enchanted Rock, Llano

Image: Shutterstock


May 13–15 • Outdoors • Hill Country • 235 miles • 3.75 hrs

Enchanted Rock is Texas’s most-visited state park for a reason. Round the bend on Ranch Road 965, and you’ll see its bright pink batholith rising out of the ground like a beacon. In the 16th century, the Tonkawa Indians thought the cracking noise the granite made as it cooled each evening was the sound of their ancestors’ fires. Today, visitors have free rein to climb all over the stone wonder, which includes caves and hiking trails as well as unique vernal ponds housing delicate ecosystems. For more peace and quiet, skip Fredericksburg (where the park is technically located) for the relaxing environs of the stately Walden Plantation on the banks of the Llano River.

Rooms from $79/night, 1690 County Road 102, 325-247-2046,


May 20–22 • Arts & Culture • Hill Country • 95 miles • 1.5 hrs

Each year, the Fayetteville Chamber Music Festival (May 8–22; attracts world-class musicians from as far away as Poland to perform masterpieces by Mozart and Beethoven. Stop at the Texas Czech Heritage Center (—which houses reams of genealogical research and historic artifacts—and finish up at Joe’s Place ( for the massive rib eye. Stay at the Red & White Inn, the oldest commercial building in town, which also features an art gallery and theater downstairs.

Rooms from $150/night, 102 W. Main, 713-818-9766,


May 27–29 • Outdoors • Gulf Coast • 187 miles • 3 hrs

Unlike most Gulf Coast haunts, this artsy little town offers an upscale seaside experience. Hunt for blue crabs, hook a redfish or take a guided kayak tour, then pop into the galleries. Don’t miss Sunday brunch at Glow (, a boathouse eatery frequented by locals and out-of-towners alike. While options like fried chicken with green chile gravy are tantalizing, the crab cake Benedict with buttermilk biscuits is the thing to get. A stay at the Lighthouse Inn features salty breezes and scenic views.

Rooms from $119/night, 200 S. Fulton Beach Rd., 866-790-8439,

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French Quarter, New Orleans

Image: Shutterstock

New Orleans, LA.

June 3–5 • Food & Drink • Louisiana • 348 miles • 5.5 hrs

While Jazz Fest and Voodoo Fest are both a great time, their biggest draw is the great local bands. Visitors can get the same musical experience—minus the enormous crowds—at lesser-known food festivals like Oyster Fest (June 4–5;, which features sets by Royal Southern Brotherhood, Marcia Ball, and others, plus briny deliciousness from some of the most famous oyster bars on the planet—Drago’s, Acme Oyster House, and Jacques-Imo’s among them. If all goes according to plan, be among the first to book a room at the forthcoming Ace New Orleans, the first hotel in the South from the Portland-based hipster hotel brand, expected to open mid-2016 in a 1920s art deco building in the warehouse district.

Prices and phone pending, 600 Carondelet St.,


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Image: Shutterstock

June 10–12 • Food & Drink • Hill Country • 203 miles • 3.25 hrs

What’s cheaper and easier than a trip to Provence? Taking in the majestic purple hills at Blanco’s 12th annual Lavender Festival (June 10–12;, where the dry weather and limestone soil create perfect conditions for growing the fragrant flowers. The festival includes tours of local farms and a lavender market at the town’s historic courthouse. While you’re here, further indulge your senses at Real Ale Brewing Co. ( and, in nearby Hye, the Garrison Bros. Distillery ( Make the most of a stay at the bucolic Juniper Hills Farm with a cooking class at the adjoining Onion Creek Kitchen.

Rooms from $165/night, 5818 Ranch Rd. 165, 830-833-0910,

Glen Rose

June 17–19 • Family • Hill Country • 255 miles • 4 hrs

Nothing makes science come alive like finding a giant dinosaur footprint in the bed of the Paluxy River at Dinosaur Valley State Park ( But if exploring 20 miles of trails where sauroposeidons and acrocanthosauruses roamed isn’t interactive enough for you, head over to Dinosaur World ( to pose with 150 life-size dinos, or hang out with modern-day beasts at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center ( Treat the family to a stay at Rough Creek Lodge, where activities include tomahawk throwing and rock climbing.

Packages from $328/person, 5165 County Rd. 2013, 877-907-0754,

Port Aransas

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Port Aransas

Image: Shutterstock

June 24–26 • Outdoors • Gulf Coast • 207 miles • 3.75 hrs

Have you ever imagined flying alongside a glassy wave? Well, you can get a taste of what that feels like thanks to Texas Surf Camp’s ( Saturday lessons. You’ll get a five-hour crash course complete with safety and surfing basics lessons, land-based training, board rental, wave-riding time and lunch. Re-energize at one of Port Royal Ocean Resort’s many outdoor pools, and feast on a hearty meal at their in-house eatery, Restaurant 361.

Rooms from $189/night, 6317 State Hwy. 361, 361-749-5011,

South Padre Island

July 1–3 • Romantic • Gulf Coast • 374 miles • 5.75 hrs

If it’s true that practice makes perfect, then no place in Texas is as masterful at the art of the fireworks display as this one—after all, visitors take in a bombastic light show over the bay every Friday and Saturday night. The best places to watch are the Palm Street Pier (, at any of the bars along Laguna Boulevard, or on a fireworks cruise over the open water ( If you don’t want the trip to remind you of that one debauched spring break of yore, book a room at the Pearl South Padre Hotel, whose ambience is the perfect balance of fun (hello, swim-up bar) and refined.

Rooms from $109/night, 310 Padre Blvd., 956-761-6551,

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A treehouse at Cypress Valley Tours, Spicewood


July 8–10 • Guys' Weekend • Hill Country • 195 miles • 3.25 hrs

David and Amy Beilharz were looking for a way to share their unspoiled piece of the Hill Country with visitors without, you know, spoiling it. Their solution? A zip line tour through the cypress canopy, which allows guests to careen through the treetops. For total wilderness immersion, book one of the four Robinson Crusoe–inspired treehouses, which offer access to a waterfall-fed bathhouse and incomparable views of sunset over the ravine. After a busy day, enjoy the view and one of the best burgers in the state at Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse (, or revive yourself with a cupping session at Cuvee Coffee (, the state’s most celebrated coffee roaster.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, rooms from $200/night, 1223 S. Paleface RR, 512-264-8880,


July 15–17 • Family • Hill Country • 258 miles • 4 hrs

Thanks to the immeasurable cultural impact of Taylor Swift, taking a date to pick apples during the fall is officially a thing. In Texas, however, it’s a summer thing—as that’s our apple-picking season—and the place to do it is Love Creek Orchards (, where you can also pick blackberries, peaches, figs and persimmons at various times from April through October. Don’t want to pick your own? Hit the (original) Apple Store, where you’ll find “five pounds of apples in every pie”—and a scoop of apple ice cream on every slice. Finally, make time to relax with a spa treatment at Escondida Resort, where the pastoral Hill Country charm is heightened by the luxe Spanish-style surroundings.

Rooms from $279/night, 23670 State Highway 16 N., 830-589-7507,


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Gorman Falls, Bend

Image: Shutterstock

July 22–24 • Outdoors • Hill Country • 245 miles • 4 hrs

Colorado Bend State Park is a true outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Amenities are primitive—up until a few years ago, the road into the park wasn’t even paved—but those who like roughing it will be rewarded with outdoor activities including kayaking, caving, mountain biking and hiking. The jewel of the park is Gorman Falls, a fern-covered, spring-fed, 60-foot waterfall, accessible via a three-mile round-trip trail over rugged terrain or a guided hike that’s only half as long. The river runs wide and slow here, so kayaking upstream into canyons carved by the Colorado is also a good choice. For the ultimate experience, camp right by the river.

Sites from $7/night for four people, 325-628-3240,


July 29–31 • Outdoors • Piney Woods • 134 miles • 2.25 hrs

When the heat of the city gets to be too much, find respite in the shade—and the springs, creeks and rivers—of the Angelina National Forest (, one of four such forests in the state. Once a haven for sawmills and paper factories, it’s returning to its former splendor under the guidance of the Texas Forest Service. Go boating at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, or take a dip in Boykin Springs after hiking the five-mile Sawmill Trail, which includes ruins of old bridges and mills. When you’re finished, rest your weary bones at La Paz Bed and Breakfast, a Victorian-era farmhouse and log cabin on the Angelina River.

Rooms from $159/night, 850 County Rd. 51, 409-383-1301,


Aug. 5–7 • Outdoors • Hill Country • 182 miles • 2.75 hrs

Outdoorsy types adore this town for its natural wonders, which include the Hill Country’s largest continuously flowing spring, Jacob’s Well (, and the swimming holes of Blue Hole Regional Park ( But what’s often overlooked is the fine dining. Stop at the Leaning Pear ( for chicken with green chile–bacon grits or Korean-barbecued pork, then do a wine and olive oil tasting at the Bella Vista Ranch ( Find chic refuge at the pet-friendly Cypress Creek Cottages.

Rooms from $129/night, 1004 & 104 Scudder Ln., 512-847-5950,

New Braunfels

Aug. 12–14 • Family • Hill Country • 175 miles • 2.75 hrs

There are certain inevitable truths to every tubing trip: you will get sunburn on a part of your body on which you never imagined getting sunburn, someone will forget to pay attention and go over the Comal River chute the hard way, and you will hear the music of David Allen Coe. This is essential Texas, after all, and although the rules may get tweaked now and then, the experience of floating the river stays the same, in the best possible way. After a day on the river, indulge in a German feast at Alpine Haus (, and stay at the charming Lamb's Rest Inn, with its large suites, beguiling gardens,  and a huge, tranquil deck that boasts hammocks, rockers and an unbelievable view overlooking the Guadalupe River.

Rooms from $160, 1385 Edwards Blvd., 830-609-3932,


Aug. 19–21 • Romantic • North Texas • 323 miles • 5 hrs

At Elm Creek Manor, you can check in and never leave—at least for the weekend. Surrounded by pecan trees and an abundance of farm life, the getaway spot offers pure bliss, including a full spa menu. The most gratifying experience, however, is found on the dinner plate, as all ingredients are produced right on the grounds, from greens to soft goat cheese to eggs to beef.

Rooms from $259/night, 2287 FM 2739, 940-759-2100,

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Templin Saloon, Gonzales

Shiner & Gonzales

Aug. 26–28 • Guys' Weekend • Hill Country • 127 miles • 2 hrs

The Spoetzl Brewery ( started in a tin shed back in 1909, so renovations and additions—like the one the brewery got last fall—are nothing new. Tours are offered only Monday through Friday, so try to make it a three-day weekend. If that’s not possible, you can still stop by for some free tastings and a stroll through the gift shop on Saturday.

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Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner

Make sure to grab a hand-tossed barbecue chicken pizza and a Shiner at the 110-year-old Templin Saloon ( in nearby Gonzales before visiting the original Come and Take It cannon at the Gonzales Memorial Museum ( Stay at the Alcalde Hotel, and ask for the Bonnie & Clyde room, from whose window the outlaws jumped making a getaway.

Rooms from $110/night, 614 Saint Paul St., 830-519-4500,

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Hamilton Pool, Dripping Springs

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Dripping Springs

Sept. 2–4 • Food & Drink • Hill Country • 183 miles • 3 hrs

If you’ve never spent a day at Hamilton Pool (, you need to go immediately. Yes, there will be a wait, especially on Labor Day—an inconvenience, sure, but that’s nothing compared to the haunting beauty of this swimming hole. No trip to the area is complete without a visit to the famous Dripping Springs vodka distillery (, which gives tours twice a day on Saturdays, or the Duchman Family Winery ( and its adjoining restaurant, Trattoria Lisina (, which serves creative modern Italian food alongside Duchman’s 100 percent Texas wines. Stay in a restored Airstream trailer with incomparable views of the night sky at the tiny Star House B&B.

Rooms from $159/night, 3230 Ranch Rd. 165, 512-858-4395,

Canyon Lake

Sept. 9–11 • Food & Drink • Hill Country • 195 miles • 3.25 hrs

True oenophiles know the grapes at La Cruz de Comal are all grown right in the Hill Country, if not entirely on the estate—which isn’t the case at other Texas wineries. At the tiny, Provence-inspired tasting room, try a host of outstanding wines that are among the only Texas offerings at restaurants like Underbelly and Coltivare. Buy a bottle and uncork it while taking in the scenic views from a cabin at nearby Homestead Cottages, or on the patio at Gennaro’s Trattoria (, where you’ll find authentic Naples-style food to pair with your Texas red—just remember to call ahead for a reservation.

Rooms from $157/night, 595 Charter Oak Dr., 830-899-5099,

Breaux Bridge, LA.

Sept. 16–18 • Outdoors • Louisiana • 224 miles • 3.25 hrs

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Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, near Breaux Bridge

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Take an airboat tour with Atchafalaya Basin Landing & Marina ( to explore the endless, swampy waterways of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area and, if you're brave enough, get up-close-and-personal with the birds, nutria, wild alligators and other animals that call this unique ecosystem home. Back on dry land, clean off the bug gunk at Old Castillo B&B, which has a spot on the National Register of Historic Homes, and eat all the boudin and biscuits you can stand during a music-filled brunch at Joie de Vivre (

Rooms from $350/night, 220 Evangeline Blvd., 337-394-4010,


Sept. 23–25 • Family • North Texas • 257 miles • 4 hrs

The Plano Balloon Festival (Sept. 23–25; includes food, kids’ rides, fireworks, skydivers and live music, but it’s the inflatables themselves that are the main draw, offering rides as well as breathtaking visuals. For a break from ballooning, grab some retail therapy at The Shops at Legacy ( or the nearby Stonebriar Mall ( The local-goat-cheese-and-fig pizza at Taverna Rossa’s waterfront patio ( is a must, as is a stay at the stylish Cambria Hotel & Suites.

Rooms from $129/night, 7500 Parkwood Blvd., 972-473-9010,


Sept. 30–Oct. 2 • History • Hill Country • 238 miles • 4 hrs

The biggest and best Oktoberfest in Texas takes place in Fredericksburg (Sept. 30–Oct. 2;, as the town gives over its historic downtown Marktplatz to three days of celebrating fall the German way, with steins of beer from both Texas and the German fatherland; endless schnitzel, sausage and sauerkraut; and four stages of music from bands like Oma & the Oompahs and the Tubameisters. Had enough polka? The town’s charming shopping destinations, art galleries and restaurants will more than fill your day. Hoffman Haus’s cottages are not only historic but serene and stylish, with a prime location just a block from the action on Main Street.

Rooms from $135/night, 608 East Creek St., 830-997-6739,

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State Fair of Texas, Dallas

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Oct. 7–9 • Family • North Texas • 239 miles • 3.5 hrs

There’s no event in the state that can match the pageantry of the State Fair of Texas (Sept. 30–Oct. 23; That’s especially true on October 8, when the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma take the field at the Cotton Bowl. If football, odd fried foods, carnival rides and big-name musical acts don’t hold your interest, there are no less than five museums and historic sites within Fair Park, plus a parade and nightly light shows. Enjoy another Dallas tradition with a stay at the 104-year-old Adolphus Hotel, which will complete a major remodel this year.

Rooms from $169/night, 1321 Commerce St., 214-742-8200,


Oct. 14–16 • Girls' Weekend • Piney Woods • 201 miles • 3.5 hrs

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Image: Visit Tyler

Beyoncé has nothing on the Rose Queen, whose coronation is part of the annual Texas Rose Festival (Oct. 13–16;, a tradition in this East Texas town that claims to be the rose capital of the world. Could Queen Bey pull off a full Texas Dip—an intricate, to-the-floor curtsey—in an extravagant, sequin-encrusted gown and train? Probably, but these ladies nail it, too. After taking in the rose parade and a show of 14,000 rose blooms, explore the nearby vineyards and hiking trails during a stay at High Hill Farm, and pull off your own impressive feat by finishing an entire plate of brown butter pancakes for brunch at Lago del Pino (

Rooms from $245/night, 12626 Country Rd., 903-730-5055,

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Hotel Van Zandt, Austin


Oct. 21–23 • Guys' Weekend • Hill Country • 165 miles • 2.75 hrs

Where else will you find crowds of swimsuit-clad revelers reclining on sun-covered hills while thundering engines pass by at 200 mph? Formula One racing finally made it to the U.S. when the Circuit of the Americas ( was christened just outside of Austin in October 2012. Sure, you could sit in the stands with the fancy people, but for some real excitement, try picnicking on the hill near turn 6, 7 or 8. Fortify yourself with a fancy hot dog from Bangers (, then crash at the nearby Hotel Van Zandt, a boutique lodging as cool as its namesake.

Rooms from $210/night, 605 Davis St., 877-202-2191,


Oct. 28–30 • Food & Drink • Hill Country • 108 miles • 1.5 hrs

As soon as there’s a hint of chill in the air, it’s time for this town’s annual Czhilispiel (Oct. 28–30;, which honors two pride-inducing dishes: chili and barbecue. The cook-off, which attracts more than 15,000 visitors each year, features homemade chilis, smoked pork ribs, roast chickens and other savory dishes. Live music, car shows and other festival staples (a 5K run, a kids’ carnival) accompany the communal feast. Find shelter at Olle Hotel, a haunted hearth with lots of Texas charm.

Rooms from $114/night, 218 S. Market Ave., 361-772-0310,


Nov. 4–6 • Romantic • Piney Woods • 152 miles • 2.5 hrs

Contrary to popular belief, the Hill Country doesn’t have a monopoly on natural beauty in Texas. Visit the Piney Woods at their peak via the historic Texas State Railroad (, which runs between Palestine and Rusk. The Fall Foliage Brunch Train, offered the first Sunday in November, gives riders a front-row seat to the gorgeous colors over a four-and-a-half-hour round trip. Prepare for your journey the night before by taking in a show at Palestine’s charming Reagan Park, which hosts classic movie screenings under the stars the first Saturday evening of each month. Stay under the spell of East Texas’s rustic beauty at Sabor a Pasion, a bed-and-breakfast and winery run by chef Simon Webster, whose Restaurant Aubergine is a true farm-to-table culinary destination.

Rooms from $150/night, 110 An County Rd. 406, 903-729-9500,

The Colony

Nov. 11–13 • Guys' Weekend • North Texas • 267 miles • 4.5 hrs

The most highly anticipated golf course in the state—the Tiger Woods–designed Bluejack National—is close to home in Montgomery County, but if you can’t find any members to befriend, head north until you hit the Dallas suburb called The Colony. It’s home to two of the top-ranked public courses in the state: the classically designed Old American (, with views of Lake Lewisville, and The Tribute (, a challenging Scottish-style course. If that’s not enough golf, stay at the Westin Stonebriar in nearby Frisco for access to another 18 well-regarded holes. 

Rooms from $175/night, 1549 Legacy Dr., 972-668-8000,


Nov. 18–20 • History • Piney Woods • 235 miles • 4 hrs

Known as the Queen of the Bayou, this was once one of the most important ports in Texas. History and Southern charm abound here. Explore the Greek Revival architecture—nearly every building on Henderson Street has a historical marker—on the Jefferson Ghost Walk (; visit the plush private railway car of railroad tycoon and robber baron Jay Gould, former president of the Texas & Pacific Railway; brunch on the Redheaded Delight (waffles stuffed with strawberries and a secret cream cheese blend) on the adorable patio at the Cork Yard (; and sign the Excelsior House’s guestbook next to names like Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde and Lady Bird Johnson.

Rooms from $134.95/night, 211 W. Austin St., 903-665-2513,


Nov. 25–27 • Family • Central Texas • 188 miles • 2.75 hrs

Homestead Heritage, a small, agrarian Christian community, celebrates the end of the harvest with its annual Homestead Fair (Nov. 25–27;, featuring demonstrations of woodworking, basket-weaving, horse-farming and barn-raising, along with kid-friendly activities and amazing apple-cider cake donuts made with flour from Homestead’s working gristmill. While you’re in Waco, set aside time for pilgrimages to the Health Camp ( for decidedly unhealthy milkshakes and Vitek’s BBQ ( for a Gut Pak—think Frito pie, topped with chopped beef and barbecue sauce. Stay at the Migel House B&B, a newly restored 1910-era mansion designed by the same architect who built the other must-see attraction in town, the Dr Pepper Museum (

Rooms from $225/night, 1425 Columbus Ave., 254-523-6611,


Dec. 2–4 • Family • North Texas • 240 miles • 3.75 hrs

Houstonians who enjoy marveling at twinkle-lit River Oaks mansions during the holidays will love this town’s Whistle Stop Christmas (, with its three million lights and holiday scenery on view at the town’s Hulen Park ( Take in Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol, performed by the Plaza Theatre Company (, and stay warm in a room at the historic Liberty Hotel. Don’t miss the nearby Gone with the Wind Museum ( or the soul-warming chicken and dumplings at local favorite Heroes Café.

Rooms from $89/night, 205 S. Caddo St., 817-556-3700,


Dec. 9–11 • Family • North Texas • 261 miles • 4.25 hrs

The town bills itself the “Christmas Capital of Texas” for the extravaganza of lights on display at its historic downtown district. Stay at the kid-centric Great Wolf Lodge, which features a seasonal Snowland—a winter wonderland with a life-size gingerbread house and visits with Santa—and themed suites decked out in full holiday splendor. Or forget all that and head to the hotel’s massive indoor water park, where more than a dozen water slides and attractions are kept at a decidedly unseasonal 84 degrees.

Rooms from $249.99/night, 100 Great Wolf Dr., 800-693-9653,


Dec. 16–18 • Guys' Weekend • North Texas • 333 miles • 4.75 hrs

There are hundreds of public hunting grounds in Texas, but there’s only one honest-to-goodness castle—ivy-covered turrets included—where hunters can truly feel like they’re part of the grand tradition of the king’s sport. On the grounds of Greystone Castle, guests can hunt whitetail deer, turkey, bobwhite quail, waterfowl and even exotics like impala and blackbuck antelope, or go bass fishing, clay shooting, mountain biking and hiking for a change of pace. You’re guaranteed to work up an appetite for the included three-course dinners, where you can feast like a king, too, on seven-spice crispy quail and bottles of Bordeaux.

Hunting packages from $680, 65756 Interstate 20,

College Station

Dec. 23–25 • Romantic • Central Texas • 95 miles • 1.5 hrs

The town’s Santa’s Wonderland ( dares to ask the question, “What if the North Pole had a dash of Texas flair?” Its mile-long Trail of Lights features more than three million twinklers, plus holiday tunes, hayrides, carriages and Santa’s Town, which combines seasonal cheer with an Old West look and sound.
Make it a real Texas country Christmas with a stay at the 7F Lodge—ask for a cabin with a hot tub on the porch—and a chocolate-chile-coffee-rubbed
tenderloin at Madden’s ( in nearby Bryan.

Rooms from $199/night, 16611 Royder Rd., 979-690-0073,

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Gruene Hall


Dec. 30–Jan. 1 • Romantic • Hill Country • 175 miles • 2.75 hrs 

Standing in the cold of Times Square for hours only to watch a ball drop for ten seconds is a bucket-list experience you never need to have. Instead, spend New Year’s the small-town way at Gruene Hall (, the oldest, most famous continually operating dance hall in Texas, where spirited live performances and a spacious dance floor await. After midnight, crash at the Gruene Mansion Inn, and cure your hangover the next day with the Gristmill’s Texas-Polish wedding sausage smothered in barbecue sauce.

Rooms from $190/night, 1275 Gruene Rd., 830-629-2641,

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