Road Trips from Austin: Weekend Destinations

Craggy rocks rise up from the calm surface of a lake while a small waterfall spills down into the lake.

Falls Creek Falls at Lake Buchanan. Photo © John W. Schulze, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

As fun as it is to spend a few days in Austin, there are only so many daiquiris to drink and museums to meander through. Consider taking a weekend road trip to experience more Central Texas culture. In Texas, that means barbecue, and those interested in sampling some of the finest the Lone Star State has to offer should make a pilgrimage to the meat mecca of Lockhart. The region’s other college towns offer a fresh take on university life outside a large metro area, and the Highland Lakes are renowned for their placid waters and abundant recreational opportunities.

Jump down to: San Marcos, Bryan-College Station, Lockhart


The Highland Lakes

A series of dams was built along the Colorado River in the late 1930s, resulting in the creation of seven lakes. The three most popular (and navigable) are Lakes Travis, LBJ, and Buchanan, 20–60 miles northwest of Austin. These clear, clean bodies of water are a welcome respite from Texas’s hot summers, offering an ideal place for residents and visitors to swim, sail, fish, drink, and water-ski.

Information and Services

The best way to find out about up-to-date lodging and event information is through the various chambers of commerce scattered throughout the Highland Lakes region. They’ll also provide plenty of handy maps and brochures with helpful info about places to go and things to do in the area.

For Lake Travis area information, visit laketravis.com or contact the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce (1415 RR 620 S., Suite 202, 512/263-5833). For the upper Highland Lakes, contact the Burnet Chamber of Commerce (229 S. Pierce, 512/756-4297), the Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce (801 Hwy. 281, 830/693-4449), and the Llano Chamber of Commerce (100 Train Station Dr., 325/247-5354).

Sights in the Highland Lakes

Lake Travis

Lake Travis is an extremely popular destination for Austinites looking to get away for some r&r on the weekend; so popular, in fact, it’s often difficult to navigate around all the party barges and ski boats that descend on the lake during the summer months. Beware (or seek out) Devil’s Cove, in particular. Sailors, parasailers, windsurfers, fishers, scuba divers, Jet Skiers, and partiers occupy most of the space, and when things are hoppin’ on the lake, it’s quite a spectacle to behold. One of the busiest places is Volente Beach (16107 FM 2769, 512/258-5109, $15– 20), offering sandy shores (as opposed to the lake’s typical limestone banks) along with water slides, a swimming pool, volleyball courts, and a restaurant. Lake Travis boasts 18 parks, eight marinas, more than a dozen restaurants, several nature preserves, and a variety of fishing and sporting goods businesses providing boat and equipment rental. For more information about these services and a comprehensive listing of upcoming lake events, visit laketravis.com.

Lake LBJ

Named after President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lake LBJ is a 21-mile-long constant-level body of water, making it ideal for sailing, boating, and other water sports. Aside from Lake Travis, this is one of the most developed of the Highland Lakes, with hundreds of homes on the shoreline, most of them occupied by retirees and weekenders. If you’re looking to rent a condo or lakefront home in a quiet, relaxing environment for a few days, this is the place to be. Anglers flock to Lake LBJ for the abundant largemouth and Guadalupe bass, and the lake’s white crappie population is considered the best of any of the Highland Lakes chain. Those angling for a tasty bite to eat have plenty of options at the cafés and Tex-Mex restaurants in the small nearby communities of Horseshoe Bay, Kingsland, Granite Shoals, and Sunrise Beach.

Lake Buchanan

This is a big ol’ lake in a sparsely populated area. Lake Buchanan isn’t the hot spot destination for partiers or retirees, and that’s its appeal. Tree-lined shores and vast open stretches of blue (sometimes brownish) water are welcome scenery for the boaters and fishermen who dot the lake’s surface. Lake Buchanan is well known for its striper (striped bass) fishing, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department helps keep this reputation thriving by stocking the lake with the species. Fishing guides are available to take visitors to the best spots. Much like the other nearby lakes, accommodations on Lake Buchanan range from campgrounds and RV parks to rental homes and even houseboats.

Those in the area November through March should consider taking advantage of a unique opportunity to commune with nature. The Vanishing Texas River Cruise (800/474-8374, $13–20) offers a rare chance to see one of the largest colonies of American bald eagles. The Texas Eagle II, a 70-foot, 120-passenger vessel, has two observation decks and covered viewing areas for catching a glimpse of the magnificent bald eagle in its natural habitat.

Accommodations and Camping in the Highland Lakes

The upper Highland Lakes region (northwest of Lake Travis) is surrounded by small communities, most with populations of 5,000 or fewer, so there’s a wide range of accommodations to choose from. Many are cheap chains on state highways, others are fancy resorts on the lakeshore, and others are quaint bed-andbreakfasts in historic downtowns. The three “big” cities in the region are Burnet (pronounced BUR-nit), Marble Falls, and Llano. A comprehensive list of accommodations in these communities and outlying areas is available at lakesandhills.com. Most visitors to Lake Travis stay in Austin or at one of the nearby campgrounds.

Camping

Camping options in the upper Highland Lakes region are plentiful, but a few parks stand out among the rest. Lake Buchanan’s immense size and absence of development make it a good place to enjoy remote, natural conditions (or a comfortable lodge, if you choose). One of the best places to pitch a tent is Black Rock Park (on Rte. 261 north of Rte. 29, 512/793-3138, $4 entry fee, call for current campsite and cabin fees). The 10-acre park offers 25 tent sites, 15 RV sites, and 6 cabins with heat and A/C. One of the park’s biggest draws is its sandy beach, and the ample shoreline is also popular with bank fishers.

Less rustic is the nearby Canyon of the Eagles (16942 Ranch Rd. 2341, 800/977-0081, average cottage/room $159, average campsite $14), a 940-acre resort containing a cozy lodge and campsites. Canyon of the Eagles offers 64 cottage and lodge rooms designed to blend in with the natural beauty of the surrounding Hill Country. Each cabin features wooden rocking chairs on the front porch, some with spectacular views of Lake Buchanan. Camping is also available, with 25 spacious, shaded sites including a paved pad and picnic table. Some of the sites have a limited view of the lake, and all have access to the property’s amenities. Those seeking primitive camping have two options—Chimney Slough, located in a peaceful cove on the lake with 23 tent sites and potable water, and Tanner Point, containing 10 sites with no water. Canyon of the Eagles also features a restaurant, swimming pool, and recreation room.

Another popular option is Inks Lake State Park (3630 Park Rd. 4 W., 512/793-2223, $5 per day). Camping, backpacking, hiking, swimming, and fishing are popular activities, along with the park’s guided nature walks and canoe tours. Small cabins and primitive campsites are available, and the park even includes a nine-hole golf course, store (offering boats and bikes for rent), and Wi-Fi access.


San Marcos

Located 26 miles south of Austin, San Marcos (population 47,181), home of Texas State University, can rightfully claim the title of I-35’s “college town” now that the metropolis to the north has seemingly outgrown the term. Appropriately enough, it’s well known for the laid-back recreational activity of tubing, where young adults lounge around half-dressed drinking beer, all while floating on an inner tube down a refreshingly cold river. Despite the appeal of this pursuit, it doesn’t draw nearly as many visitors as the outlet malls on the outskirts of town.

Information and Services

San Marcos has two visitors centers offering plenty of helpful brochures and maps about attractions in the area. For general information, contact the Tourist Information Center (617 I-35 N., 512/393-5930, Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–4 p.m.). Another reliable source is the San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau (202 N. C.M. Allen Pkwy., 512/393-5900, open weekdays 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.).

Recreation in San Marcos

Tubing the San Marcos River

Compared to New Braunfels, San Marcos’s tubing scene is pretty tame. Despite the proximity of Texas State, tubing in San Marcos is marketed as a family activity, resulting in fewer booze cruises and less questionable activity than in New Braunfels. Regardless, the appeal remains the same—escaping from the Texas heat by floating in a refreshingly cold river (approximately 71°F) through picturesque countryside with a beverage in hand. For the most part, the pace is slow and relaxing; however, there are occasional swiftly flowing areas, and a river chute on a dam creates a fun rapids effect. The entire trip takes about an hour and a half. The best place to begin your trek (equipment rental, transportation upriver, etc.) is San Marcos Lions Club Tube Rental (at City Park off Charles Austin Dr., 512/396-5466, open daily in the summer, weekends Mar.–May and Sept., tube rental $7–9, $20 tube deposit required).

Aquarena Springs

Serving as the source of the San Marcos River, Aquarena Springs discharges 150–300 million gallons of water daily and is the focal point of Texas State University’s Aquarena Center (921 Aquarena Springs Dr., 512/245-7570, daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m., $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 children 4–15). For much of the 1900s, the area was a resort and entertainment park known as Aquarena Springs, featuring amusement-park-style rides, water shows with mermaids, and Ralph, a pig that swam around in the river performing amazing tricks. Texas State University purchased the aging theme park in 1994 and transformed it into a nonprofit nature center dedicated to conserving natural resources and educating the public about the role water plays in daily life. The park has a natural aquarium with local endangered species and archaeology exhibits with 12,000-year-old artifacts. One of the most popular attractions is the glass-bottom boat tour, offering a spectacular view of the bubbling San Marcos River springhead and the plants and animals that rely on its cool, clear water.

Wonder World

Take a break from shopping to visit Wonder World (1000 Prospect St., 512/392-3760, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily Memorial Day–Labor Day, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. weekdays, until 6 p.m. weekends Sept.–May, $19.95 adults, $14.95 seniors and children 6–12). The main attraction is an enormous cave formed by a prehistoric earthquake along the Balcones fault line, resulting in distinctive geographic formations not found in typical erosion-based caves. At the end of the tour, visitors ascend the 146-foot-tall Tejas Tower via elevator, offering a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the region’s geographic features. Other park attractions include a train ride through a wildlife park and a wacky antigravity house.

Shopping in San Marcos

San Marcos’s outlet stores rank among the top four tourist destinations in Texas. Depending on your perspective, this is either fascinating or depressing. Regardless, shopping for bargains is a phenomena that’s unlikely to wane in popularity anytime soon, so people will continue to flock to San Marcos to spend hours or even days sifting through racks of clothes, shoes, accessories, and housewares in search of the ultimate deal at one of the nearly 250 stores in two main centers. The biggest is Premium Outlets (3939 I-35 S., 512/396-2200, Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–7 p.m.).

Unironically designed after a classic shopping plaza in Venice, Italy, Prime Outlets offers more than 130 luxury and brand-name shops such as Last Call by Neiman Marcus, Giorgio Armani, Lacoste, Salvatore Ferragamo, Polo Ralph Lauren, Barney’s New York Outlet, Banana Republic Factory Store, Nike Factory Store, J. Crew, and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th Outlet.

The other main attraction, located just north of Premium Outlets, is Tanger Outlet Center (4015 I-35 S., 512/396-7446, Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–7 p.m.). Tanger contains more than 100 stores, including Calvin Klein, Charlotte Russe, Cavender’s Boot City, Kenneth Cole, Liz Claiborne New York, Hot Topic, Samsonite Company Stores, and Wilsons Leather Outlet.

Accommodations in San Marcos

If you’re looking for an affordable hotel to go with your bargain purchases at the outlet mall, one of the better deals in San Marcos is Rodeway Inn (1635 Aquarena Springs Dr., 512/353-8011, $69 d). It’s quite close to Texas State University— within walking distance of Bobcat Stadium, in fact—and offers a free continental breakfast, Internet access, and an outdoor pool.

If proximity to the outlet malls is a top consideration, it doesn’t get much closer than Baymont Inn and Suites (4210 I-35, 512/392-6800, $79 d). The hotel features an indoor pool (heated November–March), a fitness center, free Internet access, and a free continental breakfast.

A bit pricier yet slightly more upscale is Hampton Inn & Suites (106 I-35, 512/754-7707, $129 d), offering free Internet access, a free continental breakfast, an outdoor pool, and exercise room.

Those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle can stay at Crystal River Inn (326 W. Hopkins St., 888/396-3739, $105–150), a bed-and-breakfast and garden complex with 13 rooms in three buildings. The quaint structures surround a garden with roses, fountains, and stately pecan trees, and Crystal River’s gourmet breakfasts offer a wonderful way to fuel up for a day of shopping without dropping.

Food in San Marcos

Mexican

One of San Marcos’s most popular restaurants is the consistently satisfying Herbert’s Grocery & Taco Hut (419 Riverside Dr., 866/721-3530, $6–13). Originally a takeout taco stand, Herbert’s has evolved into a first-rate Tex-Mex establishment, drawing students and locals with its flavorful tacos and extremely prompt service (food often arrives in mere minutes). The most popular dish is Herbert’s Special, a combo plate featuring a taco, enchilada, and chalupa.

Another well-liked Mexican food joint is Mamacita’s Restaurant (1400 Aquarena Springs Dr., 512/353-0070, $7–14). This family-friendly spot is a favorite for quick lunches and group outings, and it’s an ideal place to take newcomers, since the spices are relatively mild. Popular dishes include the sour cream chicken enchiladas and the beef fajitas.

American

There’s something to be said for a collegetown restaurant that’s endured for more than 30 years. Grin’s (802 N. LBJ Dr., 512/392-4746, $9–21) is a classic all-American family restaurant that’s been (here it comes) putting smiles on people’s faces for decades with its tasty burgers, steaks, and sandwiches. The chicken-fried chicken is another signature dish. Located just up the hill from Texas State University, Grin’s is popular with students and families, and the huge treeshaded deck is an ideal place to enjoy a meal. More student-oriented is San Marcos River Pub & Grill (701 Cheatham St., 512/353-3747, $9–19). Pub grub is the specialty here (anything fried is good), but the other menu items are also noteworthy, including salmon, catfish, and pecan-crusted chicken. The restaurant contains two levels of outdoor decks overlooking the river and features live music most weekends.


Bryan–College Station

Best known as home to Texas A&M University, the Bryan–College Station area is truly representative of the A (agriculture) in A&M. Ranches, farms, and rolling prairies surround the two cities, which serve as agricultural supply and market centers for the small surrounding communities. Despite rumors to the contrary emanating from Austin, College Station is actually a cultural asset to the area by drawing educated instructors and students, and regularly scheduling impressive exhibits and speakers.

In fact, College Station’s influence—particularly from Texas A&M University—has had a major impact on the region’s development. Texas A&M opened in 1876 as Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, a maleonly military institution with Corps of Cadets participation required. During the early 1900s, Texas A&M kept a strong military association, but in 1963 the Texas Legislature approved a bill changing the university’s name to Texas A&M, ushering in a new era. Women were officially admitted, and the Corps of Cadets became a voluntary organization. An enrollment surge followed, with a mighty increase from nearly 8,000 students to more than 25,000 in 1976.

The university has positively influenced the region’s history and culture by bringing in an impressive range of faculty, students, and ideas from across the globe. Texas A&M has created opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist in this part of the state, including professional connections, diversity, and a lot of money that have improved the lives of people in Bryan–College Station for the better.

Information and Services

To learn more about Texas A&M or to take a campus tour, contact the Appelt Aggieland Visitor Center (located on the first floor of Rudder Tower, 979/845-5851, Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m.). For information about the Bryan–College Station area, including maps and brochures related to attractions and lodging, stop by the Bryan–College Station Convention & Visitors Bureau (715 University Dr. E., 979/260-9898, Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.–2 p.m.).

Sights in Bryan-College Station

Texas A&M University

Home to more than 49,000 students, Texas A&M University is one of the country’s premier schools for agriculture-related studies (veterinary medicine, geosciences, and landscape architecture in particular). Aggieland is truly a phenomena—the immense school pride manifests itself in ubiquitous “Gig ’em Aggies” signs and stickers, the omnipresent color of maroon, and “yell practice,” a pep rally event in which the name alone prompts rival students at the University of Texas to guffaw. Aggies’ attempts to insult UT (referring to the school as t.u. and calling them “tea sippers”) don’t tend to rile up the Longhorns, but the Aggies’ nostalgic sense of being true to their school is endearing if not commendable.

Texas A&M has a proud history dating back to 1871 as the all-male Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. In the 1960s, it opened its doors to women and changed its name to Texas A&M. Until that time, all students were required to undergo military cadet training, and although it became optional afterward, the school still has the largest uniformed cadet corps in the nation (outside the service academies). More than 2,000 male and female students serve as military cadets each academic year, and their Fightin’ Texas Aggies Band, which performs mesmerizing precision-filled routines at football halftime shows, is the world’s largest military marching band.

Those interested in touring the campus should contact the Appelt Aggieland Visitor Center (located on the first floor of Rudder Tower, 979/845-5851, Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m.). Corps of Cadets Center (979/862-2862, Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–5 p.m.), showcasing the proud history of the university’s iconic cadets. Dozens of displays feature artifacts and pictures documenting the cadets’ occasionally eyebrow-raising rituals such as Fish (freshmen) Drill Team, yell practice, 12th Man, and the Aggie Band.

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

One of College Station’s biggest claims to fame is former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush. Although he didn’t even attend Texas A&M, Bush was so impressed with the school after accepting an invitation to deliver a commencement address, he agreed to have his presidential archives preserved and displayed there. It’s well worth making the trip to Aggieland to experience the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum (1000 George Bush Dr. W., 979/691-4000, Mon.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., $7 adults, $6 seniors, $3 students 6–17).

Renovated in 2007 to add interactive touch-screen and video displays (check out the clip of Bush’s first steps in 1925), the museum’s main exhibits demonstrate the life and times of Bush Sr. Popular displays include a section of the Berlin Wall, a Gulf War exhibit, an Avenger similar to the plane Bush flew in World War II, and a replica of the White House situation room. One of the most memorable portions of the museum is the Oval Office exhibit that allows visitors to sit in the “seat of power” and have their photo taken behind the president’s desk.

Another popular draw is the White House in Miniature, offering visitors a peek into the residence George Bush once called home. Now that Bush and his wife, Barbara, have an apartment on the museum grounds, they make occasional “surprise appearances,” shaking hands, signing autographs, and interacting with visitors.

In addition to these exhibits, the site also contains an archives with more than 38 million pages of personal papers and official While on the campus, visitors can also experience the Sam Houston Sanders documents from the vice presidency and presidency, an extensive collection of audiovisual and photographic records, and approximately 60,000 historical objects including personal items and gifts from the American people. Of particular interest is the exhibit dedicated to gifts given by international dignitaries and supporters, ranging from small painted rocks to a gilded replica fortress.

The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History

Regional heritage is on display at Bryan’s small yet interesting Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History (3232 Briarcrest Dr., 979/776-2195, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., $5 adults, $4 seniors and children 4–17). The museum has plugged steadily along since 1961, achieving its mission to increase the public’s awareness of the region’s cultural and natural heritage. The museum features permanent displays with artifacts, maps, and photos, highlighting the events and people that shaped the area’s history along with regular traveling exhibits.

Accommodations in Bryan-College Station

One of the more affordable A&M-area options is the College Station Super 8 (301 Texas Ave., 979/846-8800, $80 d). Located three blocks away from campus, the hotel offers free Internet connections and a complimentary breakfast. Another noteworthy spot is the nice, new Courtyard College Station (3939 Hwy. 6 S., 979/695-8111, $109 d), offering a free healthy breakfast and complimentary Wi-Fi access. The Comfort Inn & Suites (2313 Texas Ave. S., 979/680-8000, $124 d) features free Internet access, a free hot breakfast, an exercise room, and a seasonal outdoor pool.

Just down the road in downtown Bryan is the beautifully restored LaSalle Hotel (120 S. Main St., 979/822-2000, $119 d), a 1928 boutique hotel that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The LaSalle exudes vintage charm with a seamless integration of modern amenities, including free Internet access in each room. A complimentary breakfast is also served. Those willing to splurge on a suite ($139) receive the extra benefits of a refrigerator, microwave, Jacuzzi tub, separate living room with pullout sleeper sofa, and three TVs (in the bedroom, living area, and bathroom).

Food in Bryan-College Station

American

You can’t go to College Station without stopping by the Dixie Chicken (307 University Dr., 979/846-2322, $5–12). Though it’s better known as a bar than a restaurant, “the Chicken” can squawk about its tasty food, too. It’s mainly pub grub (burgers, sandwiches, fried stuff), but the unique atmosphere certainly enhances the dining experience. Mounted animal heads loom over deeply carved tables and walls, and the place reverberates with the sounds of college students— clinking beer bottles, whoops and laughs, and classic country music. Order a Shiner and soak up the scene. Sister property Chicken Oil Co. (3600 S. College Ave., 979/846-3306, $4–9) serves up the best burger in Aggieland. Despite the name (a reference to a former service station), this restaurant offers top-notch beef in a down-home atmosphere.

Slightly more refined is Blue Baker (201 Dominik Dr., 979/696-5055, $5–12), which prides itself on madefrom- scratch breads, pastries, and pizza dough. Patrons can watch the bread making and baking process while waiting for a signature brick-oven pizza, mouthwatering sandwich, or homesick-inspiring chocolate chip cookie.

Another classic College Station hangout is Layne’s (106 Walton Dr., 979/696-7633, $4–7), which has carved out a distinctive niche in the local culinary scene. Layne’s serves one type of food only: chicken. Chicken fingers, in particular. It’s also known for its special dipping sauce (a peppery recipe that’s sworn to secrecy) and funky, some might even say dumpy, atmosphere. Those feeling adventurous can order one of Layne’s only other menu items—a chicken finger sandwich.

For those who still have yet to sample the Southern delicacy known as chicken-fried steak, head straight to Bryan’s Longhorn Tavern Steak House (1900 Hwy. 21 E., 979/778-3900, $8–24). People come from miles around to satisfy their craving for the Longhorn’s famous CFS, but there are other worthy items on the menu—sirloins, rib eyes, T-bones, and New York strips.

Mexican

For a memorably fun and tasty dining experience, drop by Freebird’s World Burrito (original location at 319 University Dr., four other locations, 979/846-9298, $5–9). Enormous burritos are the specialty here, and diners get to choose items— beef, chicken, rice, cheese, veggies, salsa, etc.—as they proceed down the counter. The natural ingredients come with a healthy side of good-natured attitude from the employees, and patrons are encouraged to create and leave behind the sculptures they make from the leftover tin foil overwrap.

Another popular nearby Mexican restaurant is Zapatos Cantina (211 University Dr. W., 979/260-0662, $5–12). Located in the Northgate section of town across the road from A&M, Zapatos serves up fish tacos, fajitas, and an amazing salsa. Look for live music on the patio most weekends. Down the road in Bryan is local legend Pepe’s Mexican Cafe (3312 S. College Ave., 979/779-2457, $7–15). Considered the original fast-food restaurant in Bryan, Pepe’s still offers freshly made tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and other Tex-Mex specialties.


Lockhart

Lockhart (population 14,237) is the true mecca for barbecue lovers, with four legendary restaurants offering enough lore and smoked meat to satisfy connoisseurs of this uniquely Texas food style. In fact, barbecue is Lockhart’s biggest draw, making it an ideal place for a quick 30-minute road trip from Austin. Visitors can walk off their brisket-and-sausage laden meal by strolling around the small historic downtown area, punctuated by the majestic and magnificently restored Caldwell County Courthouse.

Information and Services

Lockhart doesn’t have a convention and visitors bureau or chamber of commerce, but you can direct general questions about area attractions and lodging to the city hall at 512/398-3461 or visit the city website.

Food in Lockhart

Kreuz Market

For many barbecue aficionados, this is as good as it gets in Texas, or anywhere else for that matter. Kreuz Market (619 N. Colorado St., 512/398-2361, Mon.– Sat. 10:30 a.m.–8 p.m., $9–20) is legendary, and among the four famous restaurants in town, it tends to receive the most accolades for “best barbecue” from state and national publications. This is hard-core stuff, so you won’t find the typical barbecue combo plates offered at most Texas restaurants. First, there’s no sauce, and for good reason—why would you want to taint the perfectly smoked high-quality meat by dousing it in something to mask the taste? Second, orders are placed at the counter, where succulent sausage, thick pork chops, and hearty ribs and brisket are served by the pound on butcher paper. Third, there aren’t any utensils. Well, except for the plastic knife that’s used for slicing off chunks of meat, cheese, avocado, tomato, and jalapeño. These side items, along with crackers, bread, pickles, and onions, stem from Kreuz’s origins as a meat market and grocery store, where patrons—mostly ranchers and farmhands—would buy vegetables, bread, and meat and often eat their purchases on-site, using a pocket knife to carve the items. The food at Kreuz remains as expertly prepared as it’s been since 1900 (even though their new digs slightly resemble an industrial warehouse), and it’s worth a visit for the incredible pork chops alone. Wash it all down with a Shiner Bock or Dr Pepper. You’ll be singing the praises of this truly Texas experience for years to come.

Black’s Barbecue

Vying for the crown of best barbecue in Texas (and therefore the world) is Black’s Barbecue (215 N. Main St., 888/632-8225, Sun.–Thurs. 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 10 a.m.–8:30 p.m., $9–24). This is the place to go for time-honored, perfectly smoked, mouthwatering barbecue. There are no pretensions here—no reason to be intimidated by lack of barbecue knowledge or inability to calculate what a half pound of meat translates to on the plate. And there are plates at Black’s (as opposed to butcher paper on a tray). There are sides, sauce, and silverware, too. Of course the meat is the main draw, as it’s been since 1932. Go directly for the pork—ribs, chops, and loins. They’re all fantastic, with the hardwood smoke perfectly accentuating the succulent flavor accented by the basic yet effective salt-and-pepper dry rub. Equal in quality is the sausage, available in a flavorful beef-and-pork combo, garlic blend, and spicy jalapeño version. Most barbecue joints aren’t known for their ambience, and Black’s is no exception, but the crookedly hung black-and-white photos of bygone high school football teams and the longhorns and antlers looming above them lend a touch of rural charm. The sign outside Black’s boasts 8 Days a Week, a reference to the seemingly endless amount of time restaurant staff prepare and dole out their delicious fare (and the fact they’re open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas). Since this is some of the best barbecue available anywhere, it’s well worth the extra effort.

Smitty’s Market

The business hasn’t been around as long as the others (it opened in 1999), but the building itself is legendary at Smitty’s Market (208 S. Commerce St., 512/398-9344, Mon.–Fri. 7 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat. 7 a.m.–6:30 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–3 p.m., $9–24). Smoked meat has been a specialty at this rustic locale for more than a century, and people have been continually flocking here to partake of the juicy goodness. Visitors get an up-close view (and feel) of the decades-old fire-andsmoke- spewing brick pits, located adjacent to the long line that snakes out the back door most weekends. By the time you sit down to eat, you won’t even notice your seared skin and smoke-drenched clothes. The brisket and sausage are specialties, and the tender and delicious pork ribs are available on weekends only. Smitty’s also offers traditional sides such as potato salad, coleslaw, and pinto beans.

Chisholm Trail BBQ

In a town filled with world-famous barbecue restaurants, the locals’ favorite is Chisholm Trail (1323 S. Colorado St., 512/398-6027, daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m., $7–16). A relative newcomer compared to the old stalwarts in town, Chisholm Trail nevertheless holds its own, perhaps because it doesn’t have the New York Times and Food Network hawking its food across the country. They may want to reconsider, since Chisholm Trail offers quality barbecue that would be a stand-alone knockout in most other Texas towns. Their seasoned sausage is a specialty, and locals line up for the ribs, chicken, and turkey. Chisholm Trail has a large cafeteria-style bar with a plethora of side items, including fried okra, potato salad, coleslaw, pinto beans, green beans, squash, and various salads. What sets it apart from the other barbecue restaurants in town is its expanded menu, offering chicken-fried steak, catfish, and other Southern specialties.


Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Texas.

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  1. armidatrentino says:

    I have visited Austin city just once but never got the chance to travel around it. As I have heard a lot about there are various natural beautiful tourist places to visit around Austin, so I would definitely love to be there. I got good and detail information about these places. Thanks for the post.